‘Malkovich,’ ‘Topsy’ Tops with Critics

And the best picture of 1999 according to the National Society of Film Critics is … a tie.

The period piece “Topsy-Turvy” and the eccentric “Being John Malkovich” shared top honors at the group’s awards ceremony Saturday in New York. It’s the first time in the society’s 34-year history that the best picture vote has been evenly split between two films.

Topsy-Turvy,” a Mike Leigh film about operetta composers Gilbert and Sullivan, had previously been recognized as the top film of ’99 by the New York Film Critics Circle. The co-win for “Being John Malkovich” was its first from major critics’ group, although screenwriter Charlie Kaufman‘s victory for best screenplay mirrored previous accolades from the Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto film critics.

Topsy‘s” Mike Leigh was tapped best director, besting runners-up David O. Russell (“Three Kings“) and Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”). Leigh also was the best director choice of the New York Film Critics Circle.

In the best actor category, “The Insider‘s” Russell Crowe picked up another award, after wins from the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Board of Review, as well as a Golden Globe nomination. At this point, the actor looks to be a virtual lock for an Oscar nod.

Best actress honors went to “Election‘s” Reese Witherspoon. Although the twentysomething star has been critically lauded for her role as a bratty high school opportunist, the win was still somewhat surprising. Hilary Swank, who played a girl masquerading as a guy in the dramatic “Boys Don’t Cry,” was the odds-on favorite after sweeping the New York, Toronto, Boston and Los Angeles film critic awards. Both actresses are Golden Globe nominees, albeit in separate categories. (Reese is nominated as a comedy actress, Swank as a drama actress.)

Christopher Plummer, another Golden Globe nominee for his supporting turn in “The Insider” and a winner with the L.A. Film Critics, received the society’s best supporting actor award. The runner-up in the category was Philip Seymour Hoffman for his double duties in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Magnolia.”

Chloe Sevigny of “Boys Don’t Cry” received the best supporting actress honor, beating out runner-up Julianne Moore, who was recognized for her multiple duties in “Magnolia,” “Cookie’s Fortune,” “Map of the World” and “An Ideal Husband.”

Sevigny previously won the L.A. and Boston film critics awards. Both actresses are also Golden Globe nominees, although Moore will be contending for the best dramatic actress award for her leading role in “The End of the Affair.”

Held at Manhattan’s famed Algonquin Hotel, the National Society of Film Critics awards followed best-of announcements made by the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics, the National Board of Review and others. The society’s 53 members, comprised of many of the nation’s best-known reviewers, also hold membership in many of these other influential critics’ groups.

Also Saturday, the critics formally blasted the Directors Guild of America’s decision to remove D.W. Griffith‘s name from that group’s lifetime achievement award. Griffith was the landmark — and controversial — filmmaker of the racist-tinged epic “The Birth of a Nation.” The film critics issued a statement decrying the notion that Griffith fostered racial stereotypes with “Nation,” saying that that sentiment ignores the rest of his career.

Here’s a complete look at the National Society of Film Critics’ 1999 winners:

Picture (tie): “Being John Malkovich,” “Topsy-Turvy” Director: Mike Leigh, “Topsy-Turvy” Actor: Russell Crowe, “The Insider” Actress: Reese Witherspoon, “Election” Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “The Insider” Supporting Actress: Chloe Sevigny, “Boys Don’t Cry” Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, “Being John Malkovich” Cinematography: Conrad Hall, “American Beauty” Foreign Language Film: “Autumn Tale” Documentary: “Buena Vista Social Club” Experimental Film Award: Robert Beavers