Peter Pan picked

'Neverland' takes org's top nod

See winners

NEW YORK — Awards season kicked off in earnest Wednesday as Miramax Films’ Johnny Depp starrer “Finding Neverland” was voted best film of the year by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.

“Neverland” — which centers on the life of “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie — narrowly beat out another Miramax property, Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” which flew into the No. 2 spot on the NBR’s 10 best list. Warner Bros. will roll out that pic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a young Howard Hughes, on Dec. 17

Annette Bening took the actress nod for her role as a famed London stage thesp in Istvan Szabo and Sony Pictures Classics’ period piece “Being Julia.”

Jamie Foxx’s dramatic turn as soul singer Ray Charles in Universal’s “Ray” drew actor kudos in what is shaping up as the year of the biopic come Oscar time.

Another Foxx project, the digitally shot “Collateral,” propelled helmer Michael Mann to the top of the NBR’s director list.

The National Board of Review, which has no commercial ties to the film biz and aims at recognizing excellence and free expression in film, will present its awards Jan. 11 at Gotham’s Tavern on the Green. In spite of its name, the org does not consist of film reviewers. Rather, it is a smattering of lawyers, teachers, editors and others — mostly New Yorkers — who form a sort of film appreciation society and whose identities are kept secret to avoid pressure and lobbying from studios.

Ensemble award

An ensemble acting award went to Sony’s “Closer,” directed by Mike Nichols and starring Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman.

Perfs in a duo of Fox Searchlight films were winners in the supporting acting categories: Thomas Haden Church took supporting actor for Alexander Payne’s arty twist on the buddy comedy, “Sideways,” and Laura Linney took supporting actress for her role in Bill Condon’s controversial “Kinsey,” yet another biopic, about sex research pioneer Alfred Kinsey.

“Sideways,” which led the competition earlier this week when the Independent Spirit Awards unveiled its noms, also took the NBR’s top honor for adapted screenplay. Script was penned by Payne and Jim Taylor.

Original screenplay prize went to Charlie Kaufman for his nonchronological love story “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” rolled out by Focus Features.

‘Sea’ rises

In the foreign-lingo derby, Alejandro Amenabar’s Spanish-language “The Sea Inside” floated to the top. The film — a true-life story of a man seeking euthanasia — was acquired this year on the fest circuit by Fine Line Features.

The foreign category showed the strength of this year of Spanish-lingo cinema, which took four of the top five picks, including “Bad Education,” “Maria Full of Grace” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Miramax’s Gallic “Les Choristes” rounded the foreign quintet.

A possible best pic contender come Oscar time, Disney/Pixar toon “The Incredibles” unsurprisingly took animated feature.

In the docu category, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s Sundance standout “Born Into Brothels” took top honors, beating out Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” “Brothels” is being distribbed through HBO and ThinkFilm.

Special awards

“Fahrenheit,” however, was tapped to share a special NBR award for freedom of expression with Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and John Deery’s controversial “Conspiracy of Silence,” which looks inside the Irish Catholic Church.

Another special award, for filmmaking achievement, will go to Clint Eastwood for producing, directing, acting and composing the score of his upcoming boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby.”

Half the films landing on the NBR’s top 10 list after the org voted Wednesday were biopics. Following “Neverland” and “Aviator,” the top vote-getters were “Closer,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Sideways,” “Kinsey,” “Vera Drake,” Ray,” “Collateral” and “Hotel Rwanda.”

“We had a wealth of movies to choose from this year,” said NBR prexy Annie Schulhof. “It was not an easy year, and if you look at the list, you have big films as well as indie films.”

She added that the two Miramax films at the top were coincidental. “They are very different films, although they are biopics,” she said. “The group looks at films individually; I don’t think they pay any attention to (the distributors).”

Youth is served

Zack Braff’s “Garden State” (Fox Searchlight), was voted the year’s best directorial debut. Other young talent acknowledged by the NBR this year included Topher Grace, who was named breakthrough actor for perfs in “P.S.” and “In Good Company,” and Emmy Rossum, who appears in upcoming musical feature “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Zhang Yimou’s ambitious martial arts epic “House of Flying Daggers” (Sony Pictures Classics) was lauded as having the year’s best production design.

As previously reported, Jerry Bruckheimer will receive the NBR’s producers award, and critic Richard Schickel has been tapped as the recipient of the William K. Everson Award for Film History.

Vet actor Jeff Bridges, who starred this year in Focus’ “The Door in the Floor,” will take a career achievement honor.

NBR cited 13 films with excellence in filmmaking mentions, including “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” “Before Sunset,” “Door in the Floor,” “Enduring Love,” “Spotless Mind,” “Facing Windows,” “Garden State,” “A Home at the End of the World,” “Imaginary Heroes,” “Since Otar Left,” “Stage Beauty,” “Undertow” and “The Woodsman.”

And the winners are…

FILMS OF 2004
1. “Finding Neverland”
2. “The Aviator”
3. “Closer”
4. “Million Dollar Baby”
5. “Sideways”
6. “Kinsey”
7. “Vera Drake”
8. “Ray”
9. “Collateral”
10. “Hotel Rwanda”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMS OF 2004
1. “The Sea Inside”
2. “Bad Education”
3. “Maria Full of Grace”
4. “Les Choristes”
5. “The Motorcycle Diaries”

DOCUMENTARIES OF 2004
1. “Born into Brothels”
2. “Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession”
3. “Paper Clips”
4. “Supersize Me”
5. “The Story of the Weeping Camel”

FILM
“Finding Neverland”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
“The Sea Inside”

DOCUMENTARY
“Born into Brothels”

ANIMATED FEATURE
“The Incredibles”

ACTOR
Jamie Foxx, “Ray”

ACTRESS
Annette Bening, “Being Julia”

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Thomas Haden Church, “Sideways”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Linney, “Kinsey”

ACTING BY AN ENSEMBLE
“Closer”

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE ACTOR
Topher Grace, “In Good Company” and “P.S.”

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE ACTRESS
Emmy Rossum, “The Phantom of the Opera”

DIRECTOR
Michael Mann, “Collateral”

DIRECTORIAL DEBUT
Zack Braff, “Garden State”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“Sideways,” Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Charlie Kaufman

PRODUCTION DESIGN
“House of Flying Daggers”

CAREER ACHIEVEMENT
Jeff Bridges

FILMMAKING ACHIEVEMENT
Clint Eastwood, for producing, directing, acting, and composing the score of “Million Dollar Baby”

WILLIAM K. EVERSON AWARD FOR FILM HISTORY
Richard Schickel

PRODUCERS AWARD
Jerry Bruckheimer

SPECIAL RECOGNITION OF FILMS THAT REFLECT THE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
“Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Conspiracy of Silence”

SPECIAL MENTION FOR EXCELLENCE IN FILMMAKING
“The Assassination of Richard Nixon”
“Before Sunset”
“The Door in the Floor”
“Enduring Love”
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
“Garden State”
“A Home at the End of the World”
“Imaginary Heroes”
“Since Otar Left”
“Stage Beauty”
“Undertow”
“The Woodsman”

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