Philip Kaufman's Quills was named Best Film of 2000 by the National Board Of Review Of Motion Pictures, kicking off an unpredictable awards season with its first surprise.

The Marquis de Sade drama written by Doug Wright from his own play received mixed reviews from critics but has been performing impressively in its first two weekends of limited release through Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film was co-financed by Searchlight and Germany's Hollywood Partners.

Steven Soderbergh was named Best Director for his two films Traffic and Erin Brockovich; Traffic was voted second best film of the year but Erin Brockovich bafflingly failed to make the top ten, despite also winning the Best Actress prize for Julia Roberts. The omission of Erin Brockovich suggests that Soderbergh's double whammy could well split the vote and damage both films' prospects in the forthcoming awards votes.

The top ten list was
1. Quills
2. Traffic
3. Croupier
4. You Can Count On Me
5. Billy Elliot
6. Before Night Falls
7. Gladiator
8. Wonder Boys
9. Sunshine
10. Dancer In The Dark.

Spain's Javier Bardem was named Best Actor for his bravura performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls; Joaquin Phoenix was best supporting actor for his work in three films, Gladiator, Quills and The Yards; and Lupe Ontiveros took the best supporting actress prize for her performance as an amateur theatre manager in Chuck And Buck.

Ang Lee's Taiwanese epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was named Best Foreign Film, with Jose Luis Cuerda's Butterfly (Spain), Bahman Ghobadi's A Time For Drunken Horses (Iran), Giuseppe Tornatore's Malena (Italy) and Patrice Leconte's The Girl On The Bridge (France) runners-up.

Other winners included State And Main for best ensemble acting, Chicken Run for best animated feature, The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg for best documentary and Gladiator for best production design/art direction.

Ted Tally's script for All The Pretty Horses won the best screenplay award; Britain's Jamie Bell was named outstanding young actor for his role in Billy Elliot; and Michelle Rodriguez won a prize for breakthrough performance in Girlfight.

Iceland's Bjork won a special award for outstanding dramatic musical performance by an actress for Dancer In The Dark, while Krzystof Kieslowski's Dekalog - re-released theatrically in the US in 2000 took - an outstanding achievement in foreign film award.

Special achievement awards were given to Ellen Burstyn (career achievement award), Ennio Morricone (career achievement award for excellence in film music scoring) and first-time film-maker Kenneth Lonergan for You Can Count On Me.

Among the several highly-touted films which failed to receive any recognition were: Cast Away, Chocolat, Almost Famous, Shadow Of The Vampire, Jesus' Son and Tigerland.

The NBR, which will make the presentations in New York on Jan 16, also made special mention of ten films for excellence in film-making. They are (in alphabetical order): American Psycho, Best In Show, Chuck And Buck, Girlfight, Hamlet, Nurse Betty, Requiem For A Dream, Shower, Snatch! and Two Family House.

Eight films were given special recognition for reflecting the freedom of expression. They are A Time For Drunken Horses, Bamboozled, Before Night Falls, The Circle, Kadosh, Quills, Sound And Fury and The Visit.

The National Board Of Review of Motion Pictures is a non-profit organisation with no commercial ties to the film industry. Founded in 1909 as an anti-censorship movement, it started announcing its 10 best movies of the year list in 1919. Membership is determined by application and consists of educators, editors, screenwriters, historians and film students who view more than over 300 films annually. Following screenings, members rate each film by ballot which are then tallied at the end of the year.