Finding Neverland, the whimsical, wistful story of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, topped the National Board of Review's list as the best film of 2004. Jamie Foxx was named best actor for his convincing portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray, and Annette Bening took the top female acting honors for Being Julia, a showy role in which she plays an aging British stage star. Annie Schulhof, president of the National Board of Review, described Finding Neverland as "visually magical.... The group also felt the movie transported them to another time and place," Schulhof said Wednesday after the winners were announced. "I think all the elements hit the page for a best NBR film--the acting, the costumes, the set design, the music, and especially the cinematography." No single film dominated the group's winners, although Sideways, about best friends on a wine-tasting road trip, was honored in three categories: Thomas Haden Church won the supporting-actor award for his role as a swaggering, washed-up TV actor; director Alexander Payne and his writing partner, Jim Taylor, shared the adapted screenplay honors; and the film was listed among the group's 10 best of the year.
Laura Linney won the supporting-actress category for Kinsey, in which she plays the wife of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. The cast of Closer--Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman--were honored for best acting by an ensemble. The Pixar hit The Incredibles, about a family of superheroes, was named best animated feature. The Sea Inside, a Spanish film starring Javier Bardem as a quadriplegic fighting for his right to die, was the top foreign language film. And Born Into Brothels was the group's choice for best documentary.
Michael Mann won the best-director award for Collateral, starring Tom Cruise as a hit man on the prowl in Los Angeles. Writer Charlie Kaufman's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, about a man (Jim Carrey) who wants to erase the memory of a failed romance, won for best original screenplay. And Clint Eastwood received special filmmaking achievement honors for the boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he directed, produced, and stars in and for which he composed the score. The group's top 10, in order: Finding Neverland, The Aviator, Closer, Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Kinsey, Vera Drake, Ray, Collateral, and Hotel Rwanda.
The number 1 choice of Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, came as no big surprise to Tom O'Neil, out host of the awards-handicapping Web site GoldDerby.com. "The board traditionally likes movies based on real-life characters--movies with literary credentials based on real-life characters, like The Hours and Quills," O'Neil said. "And they have certainly demonstrated that they have a profound impact on the Oscars," he added. "They put Halle Berry on the map with Monster's Ball. Halle Berry's win at the National Board of Review was the only major industry award she won in the Oscar home stretch."
But the organization--traditionally the first to announce its top film picks each year--doesn't always jibe with the eventual Academy Award winner. In recent years, the National Board has chosen Mystic River, The Hours, Moulin Rouge, and Quills, none of which won the best-picture Oscar. In 1999, however, it matched up with the Oscars, picking American Beauty. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, formed 95 years ago, is composed of film historians, students, and educators. (AP)