"Bugsy," the story of the flamboyant mobster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel, who dazzled Hollywood in the '40s and was instrumental in creating the Las Vegas Strip, was voted best picture of the year by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. on Saturday.
In the first of the major awards by film critics to be presented for the year's movies, the Los Angeles group also honored "Bugsy" with two other awards, Barry Levinson for his direction and James Toback for his screenplay. The movie, distributed by TriStar Pictures, co-stars Warren Beatty in the title role and Annette Bening.
The choice for best picture was seen by some as a minor surprise. According to one member of the Los Angeles critics' association, who did not wish to be identified, "Bugsy" was "the one, major studio, well-crafted entertainment that most critics could agree upon as being good. A lot of the other films that would be contenders have something in them that are objectionable to some of the critics."
Among the other films discussed for best picture were "The Fisher King," "Beauty and the Beast" (which was cited as best animated film) and "Grand Canyon," a new film by Lawrence Kasdan that opens Dec. 25.
Nick Nolte, as the deeply troubled central character in "The Prince of Tides," was selected as best actor. The film, with Barbra Streisand co-producing, co-starring and directing, opens Dec. 25. Runner-up in the category was Beatty for "Bugsy."
Mercedes Ruehl was named best actress for her performance in "The Fisher King," as the lover to Jeff Bridges who comforts him when he is down and then is cast aside when he rebounds. (She won the Tony award earlier this year for her Broadway performance in Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers.") Runner up in the category was Geena Davis, who has a larger role in terms of on-screen time, as one of the two renegades in "Thelma & Louise."
The win by "Bugsy" was shadowed in several categories by "The Fisher King," another movie released by TriStar. "Fisher King" was runner-up in the best film category, as well as for direction (Terry Gilliam), screenplay (Richard LaGravenese) and supporting actress (Amanda Plummer).
The critics' awards often give mixed signals as to how the voting may go for the industry's all-important Academy Awards, to be awarded on March 30 (the nominations will be announced on Feb. 19.). On Tuesday, the New York film critics will vote and on Jan. 5 the National Society of Film Critics will make its choices.
Last year, Martin Scorcese's "GoodFellas" was the choice of the three critics' groups and, while "GoodFellas" eventually received six Oscar nominations, it was "Dances With Wolves" that took home the top Oscars.
The choice of Ruehl for best actress, which many observers had considered a supporting actress role because of its size, was considered another surprise. Another eye-opener was the shutout of Anthony Hopkins, who is widely regarded as a contender for best actor for his role in "The Silence of the Lambs."
The 35-member critics association casts its votes at a private home, using open balloting. The awards will be presented at a Jan. 21 banquet.
The list of winners and runners-up:
* Picture: "Bugsy." Runner-up: "The Fisher King."
* Animated film: "Beauty and the Beast."
* Director: Barry Levinson, "Bugsy." Runner-up: Terry Gilliam, "The Fisher King."
* Actor: Nick Nolte, "The Prince of Tides." Runner-up: Warren Beatty, "Bugsy."
* Actress: Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King." Runner-up: Geena Davis, "Thelma & Louise."
* Supporting actor: Michael Lerner, "Barton Fink." Runner-up: Robert Duvall, "Rambling Rose."
* Supporting actress: Jane Horrocks, "Life Is Sweet." Runner-up: Amanda Plummer, "The Fisher King."
* Screenplay: James Toback, "Bugsy." Runner-up: Richard LaGravenese, "The Fisher King."
* Cinematography: Roger Deakins, "Barton Fink" and "Homicide." Runner-up: Eric Alan Edwards and John Campbell, "My Own Private Idaho."
* Music: Zbigniew Preisner, "Europa, Europa," "The Double Life of Veronique" and "At Play in the Fields of the Lord." Runner-up: Howard Shore for "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Naked Lunch."
* Documentary: Barbara Kopple, "American Dream."
* Independent/experimental feature: Jon Jost, "All the Vermeers in New York."
* Foreign film: Jacque Rivette, "La Belle Noiseuse" (France). Runner-up: Agnieszka Holland, "Europa, Europa" (German-Polish co-production.
* Career achievement: Vincent Price and Elmer Bernstein.
* New Generation award: John Singleton, writer-director of "Boyz N the Hood."
* Special award: National Film Board of Canada on the 50th anniversary of its animation unit.