WW II pic garners three nods

DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan” took its first critical beachhead Saturday, winning three prizes from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., including best picture.

The World War II saga also received kudos for director Steven Spielberg and for Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography.

The L.A. critics previously cited Spielberg for “E.T.” and named that film and “Schindler’s List” the best of their respective years.

This year’s winners’ slate embraced both mainstream and niche players that ranged from Warren Beatty and Bill Murray to up-and-comer Wes Anderson. While a number of indie titles were cited, the list of honorees was dominated by established talent that included Ian McKellan and Ally Sheedy. The L.A. critics will bestow its awards at a dinner Jan. 20 at the Wyndham Bel Age.

McKellan, cited last week by the National Board of Review, repeated with the L.A. critics for his portrayal of film director James Whale in the Lions Gate release “Gods and Monsters.” The only other common winner was vet Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro of “Central Station” who tied for the prize with Sheedy, who won for “High Art.”

This year’s voting — with 41 members in attendance — saw no clear winners and a preponderance of close calls that left a handful of much-admired pics such as “Shakespeare in Love” (runner-up for screenplay) and “The General” (runner-up for director) awardless and others, including “The Butcher Boy” and “A Simple Plan,” garnering prizes in secondary categories. In addition to the best actress category, supporting actor honors wound up in a tie vote between Murray, cited for both “Rushmore” and “Wild Things,” and Billy Bob Thornton for his work in “A Simple Plan.”

The Los Angeles critics employ a two-ballot system in which first-round voting involves a weighted point system to determine the top two titles or artistic contributions for the final runoff.

The only other film to earn multiple awards was New Line’s TV allegory “Pleasantville,” which took top prizes for Jeanine Oppewall’s production design and for Joan Allen — a prior winner for “Nixon” in 1995 — in the supporting actress category. Another former L.A.-prized recipient was Elliot Goldenthal, who previously was cited for “Michael Collins” and was once again honored for a Neil Jordan picture, “The Butcher Boy.”

Warren Beatty won the screenplay category with co-writer Jeremy Pikser for the political satire “Bulworth.”

“This is great,” said Beatty. “Now my goal is to quest Rupert (Murdoch) to tell me what he thinks of the picture.”

Wes Anderson, the writer-director of the current “Rushmore,” was named the New Generation honoree, and the organization cited vet screenwriters Julius Epstein and Abraham Polonsky as career achievement winners at an earlier meeting.The Danish family drama “The Celebration” was named best foreign-language release and Disney/Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” was trumpeted in animation. In the latter category, the group also cited the Dutch short “T.R.A.N.S.I.T.” Best documentary went to “The Farm: Angola USA,” a Sundance prize-winner; and “Shulie,” by Elizabeth Suprin, was the winner in the experimental category.

The group will also present special citations to the filmmakers responsible for the restoration of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” and to Barbara Smith for realizing the vision that has resulted in a permanent home for the American Cinematheque.

This year’s L.A. Film Critics winners are:

Picture: “Saving Private Ryan,” DreamWorksDirector: Steven Spielberg, “Saving Private Ryan”Screenplay: Warren Beatty, Jeremy Pikser, “Bulworth,” Fox

Foreign-language: “The Celebration,” Denmark, October Films

Actor: Ian McKellan, “Gods and Monsters,” Lions Gate

Actress: Fernanda Montenegro, “Central Station,” Sony Classics, and Ally Sheedy, “High Art,” October Films

Supporting Actor: Bill Murray, “Rushmore,” Buena Vista, and “Wild Things,” Sony; and Billy Bob Thornton, A Simple Plan, Paramount

Supporting Actress: Joan Allen, “Pleasantville,” New Line

Production Design: Jeanine Oppewall, “Pleasantville”

Music: Elliot Goldenthal, “The Butcher Boy”;

Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski, “Saving Private Ryan”;

Documentary: “The Farm: Angola USA,” Jonathan Stack, Liz Garbus, Wilbert Rideau;

Animation: “A Bug’s Life,” John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Buena Vista; T.R.A.N.S.I.T., Piet Kroon.

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