"Sideways," Alexander Payne's astute comedy-drama about two male friends who take a trip to the Santa Barbara wine country, was voted Saturday as best picture of 2004 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.
The film was the big winner with the critics' group, taking home five major awards.
Payne was recognized as best director and shared the best screenplay award with collaborator Jim Taylor. In addition, Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church won for best supporting actress and best supporting actor, respectively.
"Sideways," Payne's first film set outside Nebraska, also stars his wife, Sandra Oh, and Paul Giamatti, who was the runner-up for best actor.
Payne, 43, has fared well with the L.A. Film Critics. His last movie, "About Schmidt," was selected as the best film of 2002 by the organization, which is made up of Los Angeles-based professional film critics.
The L.A. Film Critics' choices were the second major movie awards announced this month, one of several that kick off a busy awards season. On Dec. 1, the National Board of Review chose "Finding Neverland" as the best film. The Golden Globe nominations will be announced Monday, along with the New York Film Critics Circle picks for the best work in movies of 2004.
The L.A. Film Critics chose Imelda Staunton as best actress for her role as a British working-class abortionist in the 1950s in Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake." Julie Delpy came in second in voting for "Before Sunset."
Liam Neeson was named best actor for his performance as the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in "Kinsey." The Disney/Pixar computer-animated box office hit "The Incredibles," written and directed by Brad Bird, was voted as best animated film and took the honor for best music/score.
Runners-up for best picture and director, respectively, were Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and Martin Scorsese for "The Aviator." Charlie Kaufman was runner-up in the screenplay category for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
Cate Blanchett was runner-up in the supporting actress category for her performances in "The Aviator" and "Coffee & Cigarettes," and Morgan Freeman came in second in the voting for supporting actor in "Million Dollar Baby."
The L.A. Film Critics' choices for best film have not proven to foreshadow Oscar success, with none in the last decade winning an Academy Award in that category. Last year, the L.A. critics group chose "American Splendor" as best picture. The film received only one Oscar nomination, in the screenplay category.
The 30th annual awards ceremony will be held Jan. 13 at the St. Regis Hotel in Hollywood.
The L.A. critics' other winners and runner-ups were:
* Documentary/nonfiction film: "Born into Brothels," written and directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski; runner-up: "Fahrenheit 9/11," directed by Michael Moore.
* Foreign language film: "House of Flying Daggers," directed by Zhang Yimou; runner-up: "The Motorcycle Diaries," directed by Walter Salles.
* Production design: Dante Ferretti, "The Aviator"; runner- up: Huo Tingxiao, "House of Flying Daggers."
* Music/score: Michael Giacchino, "The Incredibles"; runner- up: Alexandre Desplat, "Birth."
* The Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award: "Star-Spangled to Death" by Ken Jacobs.
* Cinematography: Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, "Collateral"; runner-up, Xiaoding Zhao, "House of Flying Daggers."
* New generation: Joshua Marston, writer-director, "Maria Full of Grace"; and Catalina Sandino Moren, actress, "Maria Full of Grace."
* Career achievement: Jerry Lewis.
* Special citation: Brian Jamieson of Warner Bros. and Richard Schickel for the reconstruction of Samuel Fuller's World War II epic "The Big Red One."