B’cast crix laud indies

The independent spirit was saluted Monday as the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. presented its annual awards to film and talent from such movies as “Fargo,” “Shine,” “The English Patient” and “Jerry Maguire.”

“We are in your debt,” said winner Anthony Minghella, screenwriter/director of “The English Patient.” “Please keep on supporting independent films. They need your encouragement to reach the widest possible audience.”

The awards lunch at the Sofitel Hotel brought out virtually all this year’s winners, attracting a crowd of about 150. Emceed by comic Richard Jeni, the briskly paced program slowed only when members attempted to outperform winners with lengthy or overly cute intros.

Golden Globe-winner Lauren Bacall received the group’s first lifetime achievement honor. “I’m surprised and flat-tered by any award,” said Bacall. “Something like this makes me wonder if the critics are being nice? Are they running out of people? Or are they just crazy about me?”

Frances McDormand, best actress for “Fargo,” echoed Minghella’s sentiment about independent film, adding that the audience craves “new stories” and needs critical voices to guide them. Supporting actor Cuba Gooding Jr. of “Jerry Maguire” told the crowd that he had great respect for criticism: “I don’t always like what you say, but I learn a lot.”

Other winners present included supporting actress Joan Allen (“The Crucible”) and family film honoree “Fly Away Home’s” director, Carroll Ballard, and its producer, John Veitch. Much sport was made of the fact McDormand sleeps with the “Fargo” director/co-writer Joel Coen, her husband. Coen said there wasn’t much he could add now that his sexual escapades had been applauded.

“Maguire” writer/director Cameron Crowe accepted Renee Zellweger’s breakout artist prize. In addition to paying tribute to the actress, he gave a special mention to Tom Cruise, noting humorously that “it’s not easy being the guy in a Renee Zellweger movie.”

Geoffrey Rush, whose role in “Shine” has won numerous plaudits, admitted a certain ambivalence about such hon-ors. “I think to myself, ‘That’s not why we’re in it,’ ” said the Australian actor. “But I find I’ve warmed to it more in the past couple of weeks.”

However, unquestionably the best speech of the day came from child actor Jonathan Lipnicki. The engaging six-year-old said, “I’d love to do ‘Jerry Maguire” all over again. This is the favorite day of my life. I love everybody.”

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