NEW YORK (Reuters) - The apocalyptic psychological drama “Melancholia” was named the year’s best film on Saturday by the National Society of Film Critics, which chose its star Kirsten Dunst as best actress and Brad Pitt as best actor for the baseball drama “Moneyball” as well as “The Tree of Life.”
Lars von Trier lost out on the best director award for his work on “Melancholia” to Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” a mystical period piece which also won the best cinematography prize.
But the big win by “Melancholia” bolstered the offbeat film’s chances for the upcoming Academy Awards, which will announce nominees later this month.
Set against the backdrop of a country wedding, the dark film explores the strained relationship of two sisters, one a bride played by Dunst, while a strange planet threatens to collide with Earth, wiping out all traces of human existence.
Pitt, already a strong contender for the Oscars, was honored for his roles as Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball” as well as a strict father in “The Tree of Life.”
Critics’ awards are important in helping build momentum heading toward the Academy Awards, or Oscars, which are the world’s top film awards given out on the final Sunday in February by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The NSFC includes 58 members from major newspapers in Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities as well as from Time, Newsweek and The New Yorker and newspapers The Village Voice and the Boston Phoenix.
The group’s awards for best supporting performances went to Albert Brooks, who played a small-time hood in the drama “Drive,” and Jessica Chastain, who was honored for performances in “The Tree of Life,” “Take Shelter” and “The Help.”
Both Brooks and Chastain have been honored by other critics groups in early awards this season.
Several highly touted films, most notably “The Artist,” considered a front-runner for the Oscars, “The Descendants” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” were shut out, although Scorsese was a close second in voting for best director.
The award for best foreign language film was won by the Iranian film “A Separation,” about a couple struggling with the decision about whether or not to leave their home country. The film also won the prize for best screenplay.
The film critics named Werner Herzog’s documentary “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a 3D movie about a cave in southern France, as the year’s best nonfiction film.
Ken Jacobs won the experimental film award for “Seeking the Monkey King.”
The critics also announced “film heritage” awards to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for its recent Vincente Minnelli retrospective; to Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema for the restoration of the color version of George Melies’ “A Trip to the Moon”; to the Museum of Modern Art for its Weimar Cinema retrospective; to Flicker Alley for the box set “Landmarks of Early Soviet Film; and to Criterion Collection for its two-disc DVD package “The Complete Jean Vigo.”
Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Eric Walsh