Written and directed by Paul Greengrass and featuring a cast of unknowns to give it an authentic, documentary-style feel, the film painstakingly recreates the events of that morning. It culminates with passengers bursting into the cockpit and wrestling their attackers for control of the jet, which ultimately plummets nose-first into the ground.
Marshall Fine, the group's chairman, said it was a tough vote for best picture, with critics slugging it out over "United 93," "The Queen" and "The Departed."
In choosing the winner, "I think everybody agrees it was an amazing film in terms of telling the story without pushing a political point of view," said Fine, film and TV critic for Star magazine. "It puts you right in the middle of the scene without telling you what to think or what to feel. It was really one of the most harrowing films of the year."
Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren continue to solidify their positions as Oscar front-runners: Each won the top acting prize from the New York critics, Whitaker for his thunderous portrayal of Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland" and Mirren for her withering take on Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen." Both have received the same awards in recent days from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Online.
Supporting-actor awards went to Jackie Earle Haley for his haunting turn as a sex offender in "Little Children" and Jennifer Hudson, who is emerging as an awards favorite for her showstopping performance in "Dreamgirls." She received the same honor Sunday from the New York Film Critics Online and won a breakthrough-performance award last week from the National Board of Review.
Martin Scorsese was the group's choice for best director for his Boston mob epic "The Departed."
Peter Morgan earned yet another award for his screenplay for "The Queen" after winning the same honor from Los Angeles critics and the National Board.
The penguin musical "Happy Feet" was the New York critics' choice for best animated film, while "Deliver Us From Evil," about a sexually abusive Roman Catholic priest, was their pick for best documentary. And French director Jean-Pierre Melville's "Army of Shadows," a World War II thriller that originally was made in 1969 but just released this year in the United States, was named best foreign film.
Meanwhile, the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association on Monday also announced that they've chosen "United 93" as best picture and honored Whitaker, Mirren and Scorsese.
The New York Film Critics Circle consists of 27 writers for New York-based newspapers and magazines. Last year they made "Brokeback Mountain" their top pick; in 2004, they chose "Sideways."