NEW YORK (Reuters) - Grim crime thriller "No Country for Old Men," from brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, was named best film of 2007 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures on Wednesday in the first major award of Oscar season.
George Clooney won best actor for his role as a conflicted attorney in "Michael Clayton" and Julie Christie earned the best actress honor playing an Alzheimer's disease sufferer who puts herself into a nursing facility in "Away From Her."
"No Country," which also won awards for best adapted screenplay and best ensemble cast, is the 12th in a series of odd, ironic feature films written, produced and directed by the Coen Bros, including "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Fargo."
The often bloody film stars Josh Brolin as a hunter who absconds with millions of dollars he found after a drug deal gone awry. Javier Bardem plays an assassin on his trail and Tommy Lee Jones is the sheriff chasing both.
NBR members include educators, historians and film industry professionals, and its awards can portend winners at the Oscars, the world's top movie honors presented in February by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Still, NBR honors are no guarantee of Oscar success. The board sometimes disdains box office blockbusters in favor of more esoteric choices, and two years ago delayed announcing winners after garnering criticism for omitting directors of critically acclaimed films like "Capote" and "Walk the Line."
This year, Tim Burton took the best director award for musical "Sweeney Todd," featuring his wife Helena Bonham Carter and "Pirates of the Caribbean" star Johnny Depp.
Amy Ryan won the best supporting actress award for Ben Affleck's dark kidnapping saga, "Gone Baby Gone," which secured the best directorial debut award for Affleck.
His brother Casey Affleck was named best supporting actor playing the man who murders outlaw Jesse James in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
The NBR's list of top 10 films includes "Assassination of Jesse James," "Atonement," Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" and "The Kite Runner," as well as action film "The Bourne Ultimatum."
Notably absent was director Ridley Scott's crime epic "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.
Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" won the best foreign film award. "Body of War" won best documentary and "Ratatouille" was named best animated feature.
Emile Hirsch won an award for breakthrough performance by an actor for "Into the Wild," and Ellen Page took the breakthrough performance by an actress award for "Juno."
"Juno" and "Lars and the Real Girl" tied for best original screenplay.
The board also presented a career achievement award to Michael Douglas, an Oscar winner for best actor for "Wall Street" in 1988. He and Saul Zaentz shared a best picture Oscar for producing "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in 1976.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh