This article was updated at 5:02 p.m.
“American Splendor,” a stylistically inventive portrait of the life of sad sack comics writer Harvey Pekar, walked off with best picture of the year honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. in voting held Wednesday night.
The Fine Line Features release from HBO Films, launched nearly a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, also snared the L.A. critics’ screenplay award for the wife-and-husband writing and directing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Pic took picture and screenplay awards last weekend from the National Society of Film Critics.
In a voting session that reflected the wide field of critical favorites for 2003 but mostly honored smaller films rather than the big year-end pictures, Bill Murray took actor kudos for “Lost in Translation” and Naomi Watts reigned as actress for “21 Grams.”
Peter Jackson prevailed in the director category for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which also copped an award for Grant Major’s production design.
Supporting actor nod went to Bill Nighy for four films — “Love Actually,” “Lawless Heart,” “I Capture the Castle” and “AKA” — while Shohreh Aghdashloo won supporting actress honors for her work in “House of Sand and Fog.”
Errol Morris’ “The Fog of War” triumphed in the documentary/non-fiction category, while Patrice Lecomte’s “Man on a Train” from France won foreign-language film honors. Animation nod also went to a Gallic feature, Sylvain Chomet’s “The Triplets of Belleville,” with a special citation voted to Disney’s restoration of the 1940s Walt Disney/Salvador Dali short “Destino.”
“Belleville” was a multiple winner, with composer Benoit Charest and songwriter Mathieu Chedid taking the music award. Eduardo Serra drew the cinematography nod for “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”
The Douglas Edwards Independent/Experimental Award was shared by Thom Anderson’s “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” a personal docu about the depiction of Los Angeles in the cinema over the years, and Pat O’Neill’s “The Decay of Fiction,” a visual tone poem about the Ambassador Hotel.
The New Generation Award was voted to Scarlett Johansson, who broke through last year in “Lost in Translation” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” Career achievement award to Robert Altman was previously voted upon and announced.
Competition in numerous categories was widely spread, and tallies were sometimes very close. Runner-up for best picture by a narrow margin was “Lost in Translation,” while Clint Eastwood (“Mystic River”) came in second in an equally close vote for director.
Sean Penn, for “Mystic River” and “21 Grams,” was runner-up in the actor race, Charlize Theron for “Monster” placed for actress, Benicio Del Toro for “21 Grams” was second-best for supporting actor and Melissa Leo for the same picture was the No. 2 choice for supporting actress.
Other runners-up were Andrew Jarecki’s “Capturing the Friedmans” for documentary/nonfiction feature, Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God” from Brazil for foreign-language film, Steven Knight’s screenplay for “Dirty Pretty Things,” Harris Savides’ cinematography for “Elephant” and William Sandell’s production design for “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”
Runners-up in the music category were the eight song contributors to “A Mighty Wind”: Christopher Guest, John Michael Higgins, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Annette O’Toole, Harry Shearer and Jeffrey C.J. Vanston.
The 29th Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards, which at one point were not going to be voted this year at all due to the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s court-dashed screener ban, will be presented at a dinner ceremony Jan. 26 at the St. Regis Hotel in Los Angeles.