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National Society of Film Critics honors Charlize Theron's performance as Aileen Wuornos

National Society of Film Critics honors Charlize Theron's performance as Aileen Wuornos

American Splendor, the innovative account of the life of file clerk turned comic book author Harvey Pekar, was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics. Bill Murray captured the group's best actor honors for his performance as a disillusioned actor stuck in a Tokyo hotel in Lost in Translation, and Charlize Theron took the best actress honors for her warts-and-all portrayal of real-life lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. By selecting Splendor, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the NSFC tossed another unpredictable element into this year's awards race, since it is the first major critics group to single out the film. In earlier awards selections, the New York Film Critics Circle selected The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King as the year's best, while the National Board of Review opted for Mystic River. Splendor narrowly beat out Clint Eastwood's Mystic River when the NSFC voted on its annual best-of Saturday in New York at the showbiz haunt Sardi's. Sofia Coppola's Translation came in a distant third under the NSFC's weighted balloting system. Eastwood was named the year's top director in a decisive vote that left King helmer Peter Jackson and Coppola as runners-up. Berman and Pulcini also were tapped by the NSFC as the best screenwriters of 2003, beating out Mystic River's Brian Helgeland and out writer Craig Lucas (The Secret Lives of Dentists). Splendor won top prizes at both the Sundance and Cannes festivals last year and has been named the year's best feature by a handful of individual critics. Murray continued an impressive awards season run by outdistancing Mystic River's Sean Penn and American Splendor's Paul Giamatti in NSFC balloting. Murray also has been named the year's best actor by the New York Film Critics Circle, Boston Society of Film Critics, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and Toronto Film Critics Association. He is up for both an Independent Spirit Award and a Golden Globe. Theron, who underwent a drastic physical transformation to portray Wuornos, has also nabbed Indie Spirit and Golden Globe nominations as well as honors from the National Board of Review and the San Francisco critics. Hope Davis (The Secret Lives of Dentists) and Naomi Watts (21 Grams) trailed Theron on the NSFC's list. Supporting acting honors went to Peter Sarsgaard, who plays a magazine editor fighting to uphold editorial standards in Shattered Glass, and Patricia Clarkson, who was cited for her roles in both The Station Agent and Pieces of April. Runners-up for best supporting actor were Tim Robbins for Mystic River and Alec Baldwin for The Cooler. On the distaff side, the runners-up were Maria Bello for The Cooler and Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog. Finnish helmer Ari Kaurismaki's The Man Without a Past handily topped the NSFC's foreign-language film category. To Be and to Have, Nicolas Philibert's examination of life in a rural French one-room schoolhouse, nabbed a surprise win for best documentary. Russell Boyd won the cinematography prize for his work on Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The NSFC comprises 55 of the country's leading movie critics and is chaired by New York magazine's Peter Rainer. The group correctly foreshadowed Oscar's best director, screenplay, and actor last year when Roman Polanski's The Pianist made surprise wins in all three categories on Academy Awards night.

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