By Chris Michaud
The National Society of Film Critics bucked a trend on Saturday and named the Spanish-language fantasy film "Pan's Labyrinth" the year's best picture ahead of next month's Academy Awards.
Helen Mirren in "The Queen" and Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland" took the critics' top acting honors, adding to their growing list of awards and setting them up as Oscar front-runners.
Directed by Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro, "Pan's Labyrinth" tells the story of little Ofelia, played by Ivana Baquero, who is enraptured by fairy tales and magic lands and who comes to live in an enchanted forest with her mother in the era of Spanish fascism.
With its use of fantasy creatures such as fairies, insects and toads, the movie stands apart from films based on real events such as "The Queen," "United 93" and "Letters From Iwo Jima," which have dominated the early awards season and appear poised to score at the Oscars.
"United 93" director Paul Greengrass was named best director for the September 11-themed film about passengers who rebelled against hijackers on the jet that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Peter Morgan won best screenplay for "The Queen," the hit drama about Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, played by Mirren, during the days after Princess Diana's death.
Honors for best supporting performances went to Mark Wahlberg for the crime drama "The Departed" and Meryl Streep for two roles, as a tough fashion editor in the comedy "The Devil Wears Prada," and as a singer in the film adaptation of Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion."
The film critics, in their 41st annual awards, named "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on Al Gore's educational campaign about global warming, as the year's best nonfiction film.
The awards to Mirren and Whitaker were their latest for their portrayals of real people. Whitaker plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, continuing the recent trend of top honors -- including the Oscars -- going to actors playing nonfiction roles.
Oscar nominees will be named January 23, and winners will be unveiled at the annual star-filled Hollywood gala on February 25.
Other National Society of Film Critics awards went to Emmanuel Lubezki for best cinematography for "Children of Men," and to "Inland Empire" for best experimental film.
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