NEW YORK (Reuters) - Director Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" was chosen the best film of 2009 and Clint Eastwood was named best director by the National Board of Review on Thursday in the first big awards of Hollywood's Oscar season.
"Up in the Air" stars George Clooney as a corporate villain ultimately forced to contemplate his own life. In Eastwood's "Invictus," Morgan Freeman portrays Nelson Mandela trying to unite South Africa through rugby.
Freeman shared the prize for best actor with Clooney, while British actress Carey Mulligan won best actress for "An Education."
Awards from groups like The National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association give filmmakers and actors prestige and help studios promote the films ahead of the Academy Awards on March 7.
Last year's best film Academy Award winner, "Slumdog Millionaire," also claimed the best movie honor from the National Board of Review.
The group's best supporting actor award went to Woody Harrelson for war drama "The Messenger." Anna Kendrick, who plays Clooney's perky colleague in "Up in the Air," pulled in the award for best supporting actress.
"Up in the Air" also won for adapted screenplay for Reitman and Sheldon Turner, from the book of the same title by Walter Kirn. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen won best original screenplay for "A Serious Man."
The National Board of Review, which is composed of academics, filmmakers and others, also puts out a list of top 10 movies. This year it included "Invictus," Quentin Tarantino's war tale "Inglourious Basterds," and romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer."
In a surprise, one of the year's hottest pre-Oscar titles, dark drama "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," failed to make it into the top 10.
Best foreign-language film was won by France's "A Prophet," a critical hit at the Cannes film festival this year. Best animated feature went to Pixar's "Up," one of 2009's best-reviewed movies and one of the National Board of Review's top 10.
"The Cove," about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan was named favorite documentary.
Next week, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle announce their award winners.
On December 15 the nominees for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association' Golden Globe awards will be released. The ceremony is set for January 17.
Reporting by Basil Katz and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Xavier Briand