Clint Eastwood's World War II drama "Letters From Iwo Jima" -- a recollection of the famed 1945 battle told from the Japanese perspective -- was named best movie of the year Sunday by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.
It's the second such honor for the film in less than a week -- the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures also named "Iwo Jima" the top film of the year -- and the decisive wins make it an early front-runner for the Academy Awards.
"I think it is such an intimate film set against such a grand backdrop, it's hard not to be impressed by it," Henry Sheehan, the critics association president, said Sunday.
The film, which opens Dec. 20, is almost entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles. More modest in scope and budget, it was envisioned as a companion piece of sorts to Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," which told the American side of the island battle, in which nearly 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese perished. That movie, released two months ago, has been a box office disappointment.
Eastwood, though, was the runner-up in the best director category. Taking that top honor was British filmmaker Paul Greengrass for "United 93," a documentary-style retelling of the courageous actions of the passengers and crew of the ill-fated flight that was hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
There was a rare tie in the best actor category. Englishman Sacha Baron Cohen was honored for his no-holds-barred comedic turn as the oversexed Kazakh TV reporter in the mockumentary "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
Cohen shares the award with Forest Whitaker for his highly charged performance as the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."
"A funny thing about both performances," said Sheehan, "is that they are designed to keep you off your feet. They are so powerful that you are kind of knocked out by them. We don't usually go for larger-than-life performances, but we certainly did this year."
Helen Mirren was selected by the L.A. critics for best actress for her poignant turn as Elizabeth II of England in "The Queen." Her co-star Michael Sheen was named best supporting actor for his role as Prime Minister Tony Blair. Peter Morgan received screenplay honors for the film.
The L.A. group chose Luminita Gheorghiu best supporting actress for her role as an ambulance attendant in the Romanian black comedy "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu."
Other winners Sunday were "Happy Feet" for best animated film, "An Inconvenient Truth" for best documentary and the German drama "The Lives of Others" for best foreign language film.
Among the high-profile titles missing from the top honors were Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," Bill Condon's "Dreamgirls" -- Jennifer Hudson was runner-up for supporting actress -- Robert De Niro's "The Good Shepherd" and Ed Zwick's "Blood Diamond."
The L.A. group's choice for best film has rarely agreed with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' winner. The last time that both groups have been in accord was 13 years ago, when each selected "Schindler's List."
Last year, though, several of the L.A. critics association winners went on to Oscar glory -- best actor Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Capote," best director Ang Lee for "Brokeback Mountain" and best animated film "Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit."
The critics group will hold its 32nd annual achievement awards ceremony Jan. 14 at the Park Hyatt Hotel in L.A.
The announcements kicked off a bustling week for the awards season. The New York Film Critics Circle is to reveal its winners today and the Broadcast Film Critics on Tuesday, followed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. nominees for the Golden Globes on Thursday.
Other winners Sunday included:
* Production designer -- Eugenio Caballero, "Pan's Labyrinth"
* Cinematography -- Emmanuel Lubezki, "Children of Men"
* Music/Score -- Alexandre Desplat, "The Painted Veil" and "The Queen"
* The Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award -- "Old Joy" by Kelly Reichardt and "In Between Days" by So Yong Kim
* Career Achievement -- director Robert Mulligan ("To Kill a Mockingbird")
* New Generation -- directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton and screenwriter Michael Arndt ("Little Miss Sunshine")