"The Artist," a black-and-white silent film about Hollywood, drama "The Descendants," Brad Pitt, Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick all won big on Sunday among U.S. film critics and industry groups that doled out honors for the year's best movies.
The Boston Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Online all announced their choices for the best films and performances of 2011, kicking off a pivotal week in Hollywood with both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guilds announcing nominations.
The Los Angeles-based film arts and educational group The American Film Institute also issued its list of the year's 10 best films on Sunday.
In Boston, critics chose "The Artist," set against the backdrop of Hollywood moving from silent films to talkies, as the year's best film, becoming the latest top prize for the silent film that has generated buzz in 2011 at festivals.
The film failed to make AFI's top 10, but only because it was not an American-made movie. The group did cite "The Artist" and the "Harry Potter" series for AFI Special Awards.
The AFI top 10 included George Clooney-starring "The Descendants," Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and in a raunchy twist, female comedy "Bridesmaids."
The Boston critics named Pitt best actor for his portrayal of a numbers-crunching baseball man in "Moneyball" and Michelle Williams best actress for her turn in "My Week With Marilyn" playing screen siren Marilyn Monroe.
Pitt already won the New York Film Critics prize, while Williams' much-lauded performance scored one of its first major wins on Sunday.
This coming week, the Screen Actors Guild names nominees for best performances on December 14, and one day later the Hollywood Foreign Press Association similarly unveils its picks to vie for awards such as best film dramas and comedies.
Early nominations and honors help narrow the list of movies, stars and filmmakers who will compete for Oscars, the film industry's top awards to be given out February 26 in Hollywood, where on Sunday L.A. critics' gave top acting honors to Michael Fassbender and Korea's Yun Jung-hee.
Fassbender claimed his best actor win for a group of four movies from "Shame," which featured his full-frontal depiction of sex-addiction," to psychotherapy drama "A Dangerous Method," period piece "Jane Eyre" and action-packed "X-Men: First Class." Yun Jung-hee took the prize for best actress her performance in the Korean film "Poetry."
Scorsese was named best director by the Boston critics for the period 3D film "Hugo," about a boy living in a Paris train station, while the L.A. group chose Terrence Malick for his mystical drama "The Tree of Life."
The L.A. group tipped Christopher Plummer and Jessica Chastain with supporting actor and actress wins, respectively, for his role in gay comedy "Beginners" and hers in six movies that included southern civil rights drama "The Help" and indie darling "Take Shelter."
The Boston critics' supporting acting honorees were Albert Brooks as a small time hood in "Drive" and Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids." The cast of "Carnage" won the ensemble award.
The New York Online critics also chose "The Artist" as the year's best film, and gave its top acting awards to Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" and Michael Shannon for "Take Shelter."
Michel Hazanavicius was named best director for "The Artist" while "Bridesmaids" won the ensemble award.
Among other films on AFI's top 10 list were "J. Edgar," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Help," "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life."