Clint Eastwood's MillionDollar Baby has been named Best Picture ofthe Year 2004 by the National Society of Film Critics, adding further impetusto the drama's swelling Oscar prospects.
Baby'sHilary Swank tied for best actress with Imelda Staunton for Vera Drake on 54 votes apiece, while Jamie Foxxedged out Paul Giamatti in the actor stakes for his work in Ray and Collateral.
Virginia Madsen from Sideways was the runaway winner in the supporting actress category,although it was a lot closer for her co-star Thomas Haden Church, who wonsupporting actor ahead of Million Dollar Baby's Morgan Freeman by a single vote.
Alexander Payne earned someconsolation for Sideways finishingrunner-up in the best picture stakes when he and writing partner Jim Taylorscooped the screenplay award.
But neither Eastwood nor Paynewon the best director prize which went instead to China's Zhang Yimou for HouseOf Flying Daggers.
Best foreign language honourswent to Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene's female circumcision drama Moolaade, closely edging out House of FlyingDaggers by two votes.
Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation claimed non-fiction honours in another close result thatsaw it narrowly beat Davaa Myambasuren and Luigi Falorni's The Story Of TheWeeping Camel by twovotes.
Xiaoding Zhao won the cinematography award for House Of FlyingDaggers.
Special citations went toRichard Schickel, Brian Jamieson, and Warner Bros Home Video for theirreconstruction of Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One, as well as to Turner Classic Movies for the "breadth and intelligenceof its film programming and its commitment to film history".
Film Heritage Awards to newDVDs went to The Leopard (Criterion), John Cassavetes - Five Films (Criterion), Fritz Lang Epic Collection and M,and More Treasures from American Film Archives (National Film Preservation Foundation).
The National Society of FilmCritics also paid tribute to outgoing chairman Peter Rainer for his 15 years ofservice. He is succeeded by vice chairman David Sterritt.