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N.Y. film critics warm to ‘Milk’

Penn, Hawkins, Brolin, Cruz win acting prizes

“Milk” and “Happy-Go-Lucky” came up winners in a contentious year of voting by the New York Film Critics Circle.

Film honors went to “Milk,” and stars Sean Penn and Josh Brolin won for actor and supporting actor, respectively. The prizes continue the momentum for Gus Van Sant’s biopic, which has fared well in the early B.O. running while picking up a handful of year-end kudos.

Mike Leigh won the director prize for “Happy,” and its star, Sally Hawkins, drew the actress nod.

The remaining seven awards went to seven different pics.

Penelope Cruz won for supporting actress in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Cinematography went to “Slumdog Millionaire” d.p. Anthony Dod Mantle and Jenny Lumet won for screenplay for “Rachel Getting Married.”

“Wall-E” took animated feature, “Man on Wire” documentary, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” foreign film and “Frozen River” first film.

“It’s been the kind of year where there are three or four or five films you could get behind,” said Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly critic and chair of the New York Film Critics Circle. “But there’s not that one single film that made you so passionate that you throw yourself behind it.”

The New York Film Critics Circle, founded in 1935, has a disputatious streak. This year, according to an account of the voting leaked by New York Post critic Lou Lumenick, “Rachel Getting Married” came within four points of winning for film.

Another tight race was director, where Leigh nipped “Slumdog Millionaire” helmer Danny Boyle by a point.

Members indicate their support of a pic by putting a 1, 2 or 3 next to it on the ballot, with 3 the best grade. The winner must also be cited on a majority of ballots. Sometimes, as was the case this year, voting goes three or four rounds before a winner is decided.

Awards will be handed out at an evening ceremony on Jan. 5.

The winners of the New York Film Critics Circle are:

Film: “Milk”

Director: Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Actor: Sean Penn, “Milk”

Actress: Sally Hawkins, “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, “Milk”

Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”

First Film: Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”

Foreign Film: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”

Animated Film: “WALL-E

Documentary: “Man on Wire”

Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

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