NBR unveils winners

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"Letters From Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood's companion piece to "Flag of Our Fathers" that explores the World War II battle from perspective of the Japanese, was chosen best film of 2006 by Wednesday by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The movie, which is in Japanese with English subtitles, opens in theaters Dec. 20.

"Flags," a box-office disappointment released in October, was also named among the top 10 films of the year by the New York-based organization.

The NBR selected Forest Whitaker best actor for his performance as the sadistic but charismatic Uganda dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" and Helen Mirren as best actress for her uncanny turn as England's Elizabeth II in "The Queen."

Martin Scorsese was named best director for his hit gangster thriller, "The Departed."In addition to "Iwo Jima" and "Flag of Our Fathers," the Board of Review also selected "Babel," "Blood Diamond," "The Departed," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The History Boys," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Notes on a Scandal" and "The Painted Veil" as their top movies of 2006.

Notably missing from the list was the much-ballyhooed musical "Dreamgirls." The only win it mustered was for breakthrough performance by an actress for Jennifer Hudson.

Now in its 98th year, the nonprofit National Board of Review of Motion Pictures is not a critics' organization such as Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. or the New York Film Critics Circle. The group is comprised of film professionals, educators, students and historians.

Though not known as a true predictor for the Academy Awards, several past NBR winners have gone on to triumph at the Oscars.

Last year's Board of Review best actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, best director Ang Lee, foreign language recipient "Paradise Now" and documentary winner "March of the Penguins" all went on to receive Academy Awards.

The NBR awards will be presented at a gala Jan. 9 at Cipriani's 42nd St. in New York City.

The NBR announcement kicks off a busy week of movie awards and nominations. This Sunday, the L.A. Film Critics Assn. announces their picks for the year; the New York Film Critics' Circle follows suit on Dec. 11; the Broadcast Film Critics release their nominees on Dec. 12 and the Hollywood Foreign Press announce the Golden Globe nominees on Dec. 14th.

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