NEW YORK – Deviating from both the New York and L.A. critics groups, the National Society of Film Critics voted the epic drama “Breaking the Waves” the best picture of 1996. The dissection of love, marriage and sacrifice swept three other major awards: Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier won director, British screen debutante Emily Watson received actress and Robby Muller won cinematography for his impressive hand-held camerawork. Muller was also cited for his stylized black-and-white lensing of Jim Jarmusch’s “Dead Man.”

Reflecting a lackluster year for studio pictures – and a lack of consensus – the voting, which took place at the Algonquin Hotel, lasted close to five hours. With one or two exceptions, it took a number of ballots before clear winners emerged.

By and large, independent films fared extremely well. Jane Campion’s adaptation of Henry James’ novel “The Portrait of a Lady” received the two supporting acting awards: Martin Donovan was singled out in the male category, and Barbara Hershey, who had already won the L.A. critics’ award, in the female. There was a tie in the supporting actor category between Donovan and Tony Shalhoub for “Big Night.” “Portrait’s” distributor, Gramercy, also had the best documentary in “When We Were Kings,” Leon Gast’s reconstruction of the 1974 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight.

Studio-made pictures featured in two categories only. The surprise actor winner was Eddie Murphy, who plays multiple roles in the remake of “The Nutty Professor,” released by Universal. Paramount’s Christmas release “Mother” was singled out for its screenplay, penned by Albert Brooks (who also directed and stars in it) and Monica Johnson. Runner-up in this category was the highly acclaimed indie “Big Night,” co-written by Stanley Tucci and Joseph Tropiano.

The society, which comprises 48 leading film critics from the country’s major national publications and media outlets, also cited James Katz and Bob Harris’ restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, “Vertigo.”

Following is a list of winners:

Picture: “Breaking the Waves” (October).

Director: Lars von Trier, “Breaking the Waves.”

Actor: Eddie Murphy, “The Nutty Professor” (U).

Actress: Emily Watson, “Breaking the Waves.”

Supporting actors (tie): Martin Donovan, “The Portrait of a Lady” (Gramercy), and Tony Shalhoub, “Big Night” (Goldwyn).

Supporting actress: Barbara Hershey, “The Portrait of a Lady.”

Foreign-language film: “La Ceremonie” (Claude Chabrol, New Yorker).

Screenplay: Albert Brooks and Monica Johnson, “Mother” (Paramount).

Cinematography: Robby Muller, “Breaking the Waves” and “Dead Man” (Miramax).

Documentary: “When We Were Kings” (Leon Gast, Gramercy).

Special citation: James Katz and Robert Harris for their “Vertigo” restoration.

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