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'Rings' sweeps big prizes at Critics' Choice

'Return of the King' nets awards for best film, director
/ Source: Reuters

In a possible precursor to Oscar night next month, the final installment in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy won four prizes Saturday at the ninth annual Critics’ Choice Awards, an event whose picks are often echoed at the Academy Awards.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the current champion at the worldwide box office, was named best picture at the ceremony, and also snagged awards for best director, ensemble cast and composer.

The blue-collar crime saga “Mystic River” won two prizes, best actor and supporting actor, for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, respectively, while its director, Clint Eastwood, took home a previously announced lifetime achievement award.

Other winners included Charlize Theron as best actress for playing real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster,” and Renee Zellweger for her supporting turn in the Civil War drama “Cold Mountain.”

The Beverly Hills Hotel event was organized by the Broadcast Film Critics Assn., which bills itself as the largest such group in the United States and Canada, with 182 members from the television, radio and online worlds.

In recent years, the event has proved a good barometer of Oscar success, with the last four best-picture winners going on to take the top prize at the Academy Awards. The Critics’ Choice Awards have also matched the director prize seven out of eight times, last year being the exception when fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski’s Oscar win surprised many in Hollywood. More than a third of the group’s acting choices have also gone on to win an Oscar.

Extended version of 'Rings'
Speaking via satellite from his native New Zealand, where he is working on an extended version of “Return of the King” for home video release, “Rings” director Peter Jackson said he was “absolutely humbled” to win the best picture award. He paid tribute to the “hard work and friendships” established over the last seven years.

His movie has earned over $700 million at the worldwide box office after three weeks, and is likely to pass the $1 billion mark, according to executives at its distributor, New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inx..

Eastwood, 73, in picking up his lifetime achievement honor, joked that he was disappointed not to have won the critics’ young actor award, which went to teen-aged New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes, the heroine of the girl-power fable “Whale Rider.”

Other winners included Howard Shore, composer of “The Return of the King,” who previously won an Oscar in 2002 for the first “Rings” installment, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

The writing award went to Irishman Jim Sheridan and his daughters Kirsten and Naomi for their immigrant saga “In America.” “Finding Nemo” won for best animated feature, and ”Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” for best family film.

French-Canadian director Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” was named best foreign language film, while “A Mighty Wind” took home the best song award for its tune of the same name. The TV movie prize went to director Mike Nichols’ recently televised HBO adaptation “Angels of America.” The documentary prize went to “Capturing the Friedmans.”

The ceremony was broadcast across North America on the E! Entertainment cable channel. The next awards show to be televised live will be the Golden Globes Jan. 25. Academy Award nominations will be announced at daybreak Jan. 27, with winners announced Feb. 29.