The dark satire was named Best Film of the year Dec. 8 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Directed by first-timer Sam Mendes and starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, "Beauty" was released in September to widespread acclaim and solid box office.
Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of "The English Patient," was named Best Director for "The Talented Mr. Ripley," starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, which was reportedly shown to the board in an unfinished print.
Best Actor honors went to Russell Crowe for his portrayal of tobacco industry whistle-blower Dr. Jeffrey Wigand in "The Insider," co-starring Al Pacino, and British actress Janet McTeer was named Best Actress for the mother-daughter film "Tumbleweeds."
After "American Beauty," the rest of the group's top 10 were named in order: "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Magnolia," "The Insider," "The Straight Story," "Cradle Will Rock," "Boys Don't Cry," "Being John Malkovich," "Tumbleweeds" and "Three Kings."
"Magnolia," directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and opening Dec. 17, won honors for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore. Hoffman was named Best Supporting Actor by the New York-based board for his performance in both "Magnolia" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley." Moore was named Best Supporting Actress for four films: "Magnolia," "A Map of the World," "An Ideal Husband" and "Cookie's Fortune." Anderson's film also won an award for its ensemble, which includes Jason Robards, William H. Macy and Tom Cruise.
"The Insider" director Michael Mann won a Freedom of Expression award, along with Joan Chen for "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl." Tim Robbins, who wrote and directed "Cradle Will Rock," will receive an award for Special Achievement for Filmmaking in 1999.
Best Screenplay honors went to novelist John Irving for adapting his novel "The Cider House Rules," which stars Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine. Clint Eastwood was the recipient of the group's Career Achievement Award, and director John Frankenheimer received the board's Billy Wilder Award.
This year, the Board of Review gave special nod for outstanding independent films. They are "A Map of the World," "A Walk on the Moon," "Election," "Go," "Limbo," "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Man of the Century," "Stir of Echoes," "This is My Father" and "Twin Falls Idaho."
The 90-year-old board, which includes film teachers, actors, writers, critics, film production workers and others, will present the awards at its annual dinner Jan. 18 in Gotham's Tavern on the Green in New York.
Awards by film critics' groups, which also includes the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, are deemed early indications for the Academy Awards, which take place March 26 in Los Angeles.