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L.A. critics love ‘Letters’

'Iwo Jima,' 'Queen' take top prizes

See Winners

“Letters From Iwo Jima,” Clint Eastwood’s account of the fierce World War II battle from the Japanese point of view, was chosen best picture of 2006 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. after spirited voting that saw awards spread among an unusual number and variety of contenders.

“Letters” prevailed despite that fact it was also eligible in the foreign-language film category (the film is in Japanese) and competed against Eastwood’s own “Flags of Our Fathers,” which opened in October and examined the experiences of several American participants in the Iwo Jima fighting and subsequent fund-raising drive. Distrib Warner Bros. decided only at the last minute to move “Letters” up from an early 2007 release to its current Dec. 20 bow (pic debuted Saturday in Japan).

“The Queen,” a take on the back-and-forth between Queen Elizabeth and Tony Blair after the death of Princess Diana, copped the most awards, with four: Helen Mirren for actress, Michael Sheen for supporting actor, Peter Morgan for screenplay and Alexandre Desplat for music (shared with his work for “The Painted Veil”). Miramax release was runner-up for best picture.

Paul Greengrass snared the director prize for his guidance of “United 93,” beating out Eastwood for both “Letters” and “Flags.”

In the tightest race of the Sunday voting session, the actor award was shared by the surprise pair of Sacha Baron Cohen for “Borat” and Forest Whitaker for his turn as Idi Amin Dada in “The Last King of Scotland.” In the case of ties, no runners-up are announced, so suffice it to say that two other actors were but a step behind the winners in this category.

An even greater stunner came in the supporting actress division, where Luminita Gheorghiu snared the win for her role as the nurse who tends to the title character in Romanian fest favorite “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” Jennifer Hudson of “Dreamgirls” was runner-up.

Foreign-language film award went to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s German drama “The Lives of Others,” about East German surveillance of citizens in the ’80s. Pic’s distrib Sony Classics is also releasing the runner-up choice, Pedro Almodovar’s femme ensembler “Volver,” for which Penelope Cruz ran second in the best actress voting.

Davis Guggenheim’s lensing of Al Gore’s global warming warning “An Inconvenient Truth” prevailed in the documentary category, followed by another eco-environmental alarm bell, Hubert Sauper’s “Darwin’s Nightmare.”

George Miller’s splashy musical “Happy Feet” was singled out as animated film, with John Lasseter’s and Joe Ranft’s “Cars” running second.

Cinematography nod went to Emmanuel Lubezki for “Children of Men,” while Tom Stern was runner-up for “Flags” and “Letters.”

Favor for production design fell upon Eugenio Caballero for the Spanish-language “Pan’s Labyrinth,” with Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland for “Children of Men” following.

New Generation award was voted to the creative trio behind “Little Miss Sunshine,” directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and writer Michael Arndt.

The Douglas Edwards experimental/independent film/video award was shared by two works, Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy” and So Yong Kim’s “In Between Days.”

Previously voted career achievement award will be presented to director Robert Mulligan.

Others runners-up were, in the supporting actor category, Sergi Lopez in “Pan’s Labyrinth”; for screenplay, Arndt for “Little Miss Sunshine”; and, for music, Thomas Newman for “The Good German” and “Little Children.”

A special citation was voted to honor Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 World War II drama, “Army of Shadows,” which was released in the United States for the first time this year and which figured prominently in the voting in more than one regular category.

Vet avant-garde filmmaker and critic Jonas Mekas was also singled out for a special citation for his career in cinema.

Awards will be presented at a dinner on Jan. 14 at what is still called the Park Hyatt Hotel but by then will be known as the Loews Century City.

2006 Los Angeles Critics Association winners

Picture: “Letters From Iwo Jima”
Runner-up: “The Queen”

Director: Paul Greengrass, “United 93”
Runner-up: Clint Eastwood, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima”

Actor: Sacha Baron Cohen, “Borat” and Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland” (tie) (no runner-up)

Actress: Helen Mirren, “The Queen”
Runner-up: Penelope Cruz, “Volver”

Supporting actor: Michael Sheen, “The Queen”
Runner-up: Sergi Lopez, “Pan’s Labyrinth”

Supporting actress: Luminita Gheorghiu, “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”
Runner-up: Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”

Screenplay: Peter Morgan, “The Queen”
Runner-up: Michael Arndt, “Little Miss Sunshine”

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Children of Men”
Runner-up: Tom Stern, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima”

Production design: Eugenio Caballero, “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Runner-up: Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, “Children of Men”

Music: Alexandre Desplat, “The Queen” and “The Painted Veil”
Runner-up: Thomas Newman, “The Good German” and “Little Children”

Foreign-language film: “The Lives of Others”
Runner-up: “Volver”

Documentary/non-fiction film: “An Inconvenient Truth”
Runner-up: “Darwin’s Nightmare”

Animation: “Happy Feet”
Runner-up: “Cars”

Douglas Edwards experimental/independent film/video award: “Old Joy” (Kelly Reichardt) and “In Between Days” (So Yong Kim)

New generation award: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (directors) and Michael Arndt (screenwriter), “Little Miss Sunshine”

Career achievement award (previously announced): Robert Mulligan