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L.A. critics pick 'Splendor' as best picture

Murray selected top actor; Watts named best actress
/ Source: Reuters

“American Splendor,” the acclaimed film about an idiosyncratic comic book artist, was voted best picture of 2003 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association  Wednesday, while “Lord of the Rings” wizard Peter Jackson was named best director.

The group spread the awards thinly, with no picture winning more than two awards. “American Splendor,” which also won the screenplay prize for its writer/directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, was one of three double-winners. The other two were “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and the French-language cartoon “The Triplets of Belleville.”

Bill Murray won the best actor prize for playing a disenchanted thespian in “Lost in Translation,” a performance that was also recognized by the New York Film Critics Circle.

English-born Naomi Watts won the actress award for her turn as a woman whose life undergoes a shattering transformation in “21 Grams.”

In a surprise, little-known Englishman Bill Nighy was named best supporting actor for his work in four movies, “AKA,” “I Capture the Castle,” “Lawless Heart” and “Love Actually.” Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo won the distaff prize for ”House of Sand and Fog,” also repeating her New York win.

As an Oscar bellwether, the Los Angeles Critics are not the most reliable. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” was the last film to win the top prize from both the critics and the Academy Awards. The L.A. critics’ best-picture choices, such as the 2002 black comedy “About Schmidt” and 2001’s domestic drama “In the Bedroom,” tend to be too edgy for Oscar.

Appropriately edgy and offbeat, “American Splendor” stars Paul Giammati as comic book icon Harvey Pekar. It has picked up two prizes from the New York critics, five Independent Spirit nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination for supporting actress Hope Davis.

The New York critics named “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” best picture. In Los Angeles, the final installment of the hobbit epic was honored both for Jackson’s direction and for production design. “The Triplets of Belleville” won its pair for for animation and music/score.

“Girl With A Pearl Earring” picked up the cinematography prize. That film’s 19-year-old star, Scarlett Johansson, who also appeared in “Lost in Translation,” received a special “new generation” award.

Director Errol Morris’ “The Fog of War,” a study of former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara, was named best documentary, and the French crime saga “The Man on the Train” best foreign-language film.

The awards will be presented Jan. 26. Nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced the next day.