NEW YORK – The New York Film Critics Circle became the latest group to name the cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" as the year's top film, while the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures gave its best-picture award Monday to "Good Night, and Good Luck," George Clooney's depiction of Edward R. Murrow's on-air battles against Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Both groups selected Ang Lee as best director for "Brokeback Mountain," in which Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal play cowboys who find forbidden, unexpected love in Wyoming during the summer of 1963.
"'Brokeback' was an old-fashioned romance that also fulfilled the group's impulse to be daring and original," said Gene Seymour, film critic for Newsday and president of the New York Film Critics Circle. "It combines the best of both these elements."
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association also chose "Brokeback Mountain" as its top film of 2005. With Golden Globe Award nominations scheduled to be announced Tuesday morning, it's emerging as a front-runner among a wide variety of films that have received acclaim.
The New York critics gave best-actor honors to Ledger, while Reese Witherspoon was named best actress for her spirited portrayal of June Carter Cash in "Walk the Line."
"It seemed like such a daring departure from what he'd been known to do before," Seymour said of Ledger, whose previous films include the comedy "A Knight's Tale" and the skateboarding movie "Lords of Dogtown."
As for Witherspoon, he said, "Even in the Hollywood, commercial, popcorn genre she's worked in, she has extraordinary respect from a cross-section of critics here. She's very, very engaged in her character — she really knows what to do in front of a camera, always."
Two performers who underwent significant transformations for their roles received the top acting honors from the National Board of Review: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in "Capote," and Felicity Huffman as a preoperative transsexual in "Transamerica."
Even though "Good Night" takes place a half-century ago, the National Board of Review was struck by its relevance to the current state of journalism. David Strathairn stars as Murrow, the pioneering CBS newsman who criticized McCarthy for communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Clooney is the director and co-star.
"The press is very much on the tip of everybody's tongue — what they're reporting, how much they're reporting," said Annie Schulhof, National Board of Review president.
"I think it was an extraordinary film. Mr. Clooney really nailed it. He really understood the issues," Schulhof added. "It got people talking, and many times, that's what a good film does."
Two co-stars from the thriller "A History of Violence" received supporting-actor honors from the New York critics: William Hurt and Maria Bello.
The National Board of Review gave its supporting acting awards to Gyllenhaal for "Brokeback Mountain" and Gong Li for "Memoirs of a Geisha." "Mrs. Henderson Presents," about a wealthy widow who started a nude revue in 1930s London, received the ensemble acting award.
The National Board was the latest group to recognize Terrence Howard with a breakthrough-performance honor for his varied work in several films this year, including "Hustle & Flow," "Crash" and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." He received similar honors over the weekend from the Los Angeles critics and the New York Film Critics Online.
Noah Baumbach won the original-screenplay honor for "The Squid and the Whale," his semi-autobiographical story about divorce in a literary Brooklyn family, and Stephen Gaghan won the adapted-screenplay award for "Syriana," his multilayered thriller about oil, power and manipulation in the Middle East. The New York critics also honored Baumbach for his screenplay.
"Syriana" also was among the National Board's list of the year's top 10 films. The rest, in alphabetical order: "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Crash," "A History of Violence," "Match Point," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Munich" and "Walk the Line."
The New York Film Critics Circle, founded in 1935, consists of about 30 reviewers who write for the city's daily newspapers and for New York-based weekly publications.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, formed in 1909, is composed of film historians, students and educators.