New Line pic named film of year by critics

Breaking from the judgments of critical brethren elsewhere to date, the S.F. Film Critics’ Circle selected Todd Field’s “Little Children” for its best picture of 2006.

The New Line-distribbed ensemble drama, toplining Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and Jennifer Connelly, has so far struggled to break out from limited release despite critical acclaim. SFFCC announcement suggested that tide might turn yet, with pic also being the sole feature to win more than one of the body’s current awards-with Jackie Earle Haley named supporting actor for his role as a paroled child molester, while Field and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the original novel) shared adapted screenplay.

Ripped from headlines of a different stripe, “United 93″ earned a director prize for helmer Paul Greenglass.

Elsewhere, S.F. crix were in agreement with others in giving Helen Mirren the actress nod for her turn as “The Queen.” Proving a surprising L.A. Critics’ decision to be no fluke, Sacha Baron Cohen won his second actor nod as “Borat” — suggesting he might well become the first thesp Oscar nommed for a largely improvisational performance. Supporting actress prize went to Adriana Barraza as the eventually panicked Mexican housekeeper-nanny in “Babel.”

Another Spanish-dialogue international co-production, Guillermo del Toro’s serious-minded fantasy “Pan’s Labyrinth,” was chosen for foreign-lnguage picture. Documentary feature prize went to Davis Guggenheim’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” which spread to filmgoers former VP Al Gore’s personal-appearance warnings against the imminent perils of global warming.

At the opposite end of the scale from that pic’s blunt realism, original screenplay went to Amerindie “Brick,” a contempo high school drama told in an ornate hard-boiled slanguage largely invented by tyro writer-director Rian Johnson.

Dedicated this year to recently deceased local critic Arthur Lazare, a Special Citation for an “overlooked gem” in recent release was nabbed by “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” Romanian pic is Cristi Puiu’s sardonic tale of a desperately old man’s very long night amidst the overtaxed Bucharest medical system.

The annual Marlon Riggs Award, given for “courage and innovation” demonstrated by a member of the SF/Bay Area film community, was awarded to S.F. Silent Film Festival co-founder and artistic director Stephen Salmons. Crix credited him with “recognizing a neglected audience for silent film and creating what is now, in its 11th year, the nation’s largest annual silent cinema showcase.”

2006 winners of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle:

Best Picture: “Little Children”

Best Director: Paul Greengrass for “United 93″

Best Original Screenplay: “Brick”

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Little Children”

Best Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen for “Borat”

Best Actress: Helen Mirren for “The Queen”

Best Supporting Actor: Jackie Earle Haley for “Little Children”

Best Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza for “Babel”

Best Foreign Language Film: “Pan’s Labyrinth”

Best Documentary: “An Inconvenient Truth”

Marlon Riggs Award for courage & vision in the Bay Area film community: Stephen Salmons co-founder & artistic director San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Special Citation in honor of Arthur Lazere: “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”

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