Ken Watanabe, center, as General Kuribayashi appear in a scene from 'Letters From Iwo Jima.'
"Letters From Iwo Jima," the second half of Clint Eastwood's two-part look at World War II, is the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures' pick as the best film of 2006.
Also on the list, announced Wednesday: "Flags of Our Fathers," in which Eastwood shows the aftermath of war through the eyes of the military men who raised the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
"This is his masterpiece," NBR President Annie Schulhof said of "Letters From Iwo Jima." "I was blown away by its delicacy, the poignancy of how he talks about war. I think it's also a searing condemnation of war. It was a unique view of the Japanese side of the battle. We don't always see that."
Martin Scorsese was the organization's choice for best director for "The Departed."
Top acting honors went to Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" and Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen." The awards for supporting performances went to Djimon Hounsou in "Blood Diamond" and Catherine O'Hara in "For Your Consideration."
"Letters," which depicts the war from the Japanese perspective with a mostly Japanese cast, originally was scheduled to hit theaters in February 2007, but Warner Bros. recently bumped up the release date to Dec. 20. "Flags" came out on Oct. 20 to good reviews but disappointing box office.
The rest of the group's top 10, in alphabetical order: "Babel," "Blood Diamond," "The Departed," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The History Boys," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Notes on a Scandal" and "The Painted Veil."
The board chose Pedro Almodovar's "Volver" as the year's best foreign film and "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's warning about global warming, as best documentary. In a year that was flooded with animated films, "Cars" was the group's top choice.
"The Departed," about Boston cops and mobsters starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, was singled out for its ensemble cast. Three actors were recognized for their breakthrough performances: Ryan Gosling in "Half Nelson," Jennifer Hudson in "Dreamgirls" and Rinko Kikuchi in "Babel." And veteran actor Eli Wallach, who currently has a supporting role in the romantic comedy "The Holiday," was chosen for a career achievement award.
The National Board of Review is the first out of the gate each awards season but their picks aren't necessarily predictors of the eventual Academy Award winners. In 2004 they chose "Finding Neverland," while the best-picture Oscar went to "Million Dollar Baby." Last year they picked "Good Night, and Good Luck" and the surprise Oscar winner was "Crash." The National Board and the Academy did line up, however, for 1999's "American Beauty."
Formed 97 years ago, the National Board of Motion Pictures is composed of film historians, students and educators.