Pour it on for Payne

'Sideways' on top in Gotham critics' voting

NEW YORK — “Sideways,” from indie auteur Alexander Payne and Fox Searchlight, continued its winning ways Monday as the New York Film Critics Circle named it the year’s best film.

Circle bestowed its actor prize on “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti, while supporting actress went to Virginia Madsen for her perf as a wistful wine-country waitress in the pic.

Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor drew the screenplay nod for “Sideways,” although the Circle initially posted on its site in error that Charlie Kaufman’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was its top choice.

But Payne was bested by Clint Eastwood in the director derby, with the latter’s boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” knocking out the New York critics.

“At some point you have to give awards to some other films,” chair Thelma Adams said of the otherwise smooth ride enjoyed by “Sideways.” “I think that the film really appeals to so many people. It’s not a film that divides.”

“Sideways” also has been tops with critics’ groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.

Imelda Staunton, who stars for helmer Mike Leigh in Fine Line’s U.K. import “Vera Drake,” drew actress kudos, and Clive Owen was the Circle’s choice for supporting actor for his work in Mike Nichols’ “Closer,” a Sony release.

Pedro Almodovar continued a long run as a critical fave with his latest, “Bad Education,” named the year’s best foreign-language film. Pic, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, is in release through Sony Pictures Classics.

On the toon front, Pixar/Disney’s critical and B.O. hit “The Incredibles” unsurprisingly took animated pic plaudits.

Adams said the docu race was the tightest, with Michael Moore’s controversial “Fahrenheit 9/11” squeaking by to win when ballots were cast. Pic, which grossed nearly $120 million in theaters, was rolled out by Lions Gate Films, IFC Films and Harvey and Bob Weinstein after the Walt Disney Co. blocked Miramax from distributing the project.

Cinematography laurels went to Christopher Doyle for his work on Miramax’s martial arts epic “Hero.”

Joshua Marston won the first feature award for his Spanish-lingo drug drama “Maria Full of Grace,” rolled out by HBO and Fine Line.

Adams pointed out that Martin Scorsese and his high-flying “The Aviator” were surprisingly absent from the New York Film Critics Circle list.

“One of the headlines was that Scorsese got shut out,” she said. “He’s a hometown New Yorker, and there just wasn’t support for ‘Aviator’ amongst the (Gotham critics).”

The film received six Golden Globe nominations Monday.

Circle will hand out its awards Jan. 9 at Gotham’s Roosevelt Hotel.

The 33-member critics org’s top pick last year, New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” went on to win the best picture Oscar.

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