Peter Jackson's Lord OfThe Rings trilogy finale TheReturn Of The King was named bestpicture of 2003 in the 69th annual New York Film Critics Circle awardsannounced today (Dec 15), taking pride of place among a diverse roster ofmostly independent films.

Bill Murray won best actorfor his role as a disconnected former star in the Tokyo-set Lost InTranslation, which also earned SofiaCoppola the best director award.

American Splendor, an endearingly irascible account of the life ofcomic book writer Harvey Pekar, and Alan Rudolph's marriage drama The SecretLives Of Dentists also won twoawards each. Hope Davis was named best actress for her roles as very differentwives in each film, while writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and RobertPulcini won best first film for Splendor and Craig Lucas won best screenplay honours for Dentists.

Eugene Levy won bestsupporting actor for the folk music "mockumentary" A Mighty Wind while Shohreh Aghdashloo took best supportingactress honours for the drama House Of Sand And Fog. Fernando Meirelles' City Of God, the coruscating tale of gang life in the slums ofRio, won best foreign-language film and Sylvain Chomet's The Triplets OfBelleville took the best animatedfilm prize.

Harris Savides won bestcinematography for his work on Gus Van Sant's dramas Elephant and Gerry while best non-fiction honours went to Capturing The Friedmans, Andrew Jarecki's portrait of a family torn apart bypaedophilia allegations, public hysteria and flawed memories.

"There were a lot of reallygood movies out there," Andrew Johnston, the group's chairman, toldScreendaily. "Some years there is one film the group gets behind and in otherswe spread the awards around and this was one of those years. We recognisedeverything that deserved to be honoured."

Johnston said the screenersban had been "a total non-issue" as far as the group was concerned. He said the35-member panel watched most films in theatres and saw the rest on screenersafter the MPAA's ban was lifted by a New York district judge 10 days ago.

The awards will be presentedat the group's award dinner at Noche in New York on Jan 11.