The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures gave its best-picture award Monday to "Good Night, and Good Luck," George Clooney's sparse, black-and-white depiction of Edward R. Murrow's on-air battles against Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
The group spread the awards around, naming Ang Lee as best director for the cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain."
Two performers who underwent significant transformations for their roles received the top acting honors: 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 News anchor who criticized McCarthy for his 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."
Supporting acting honors went to Jake 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 Film Critics Association 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.
"Syriana" also was among the group'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."
Also on Monday, the New York Film Critics Circle planned to announce its choices for the top films of 2005. Golden Globe nominations were scheduled for Tuesday morning.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, formed in 1909, is composed of film historians, students and educators.