LOS ANGELES - Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima," the second of his two World War II sagas this year, was picked as the top movie of 2006 Sunday by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Set for release Dec. 20, "Letters From Iwo Jima" stars Ken Watanabe and chronicles the battle from the perspective of Japanese soldiers defending the island against U.S. troops. The film comes just two months after Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers," which centers on the U.S. troops depicted in the legendary photo of the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima.
The runner-up for best picture was "The Queen," a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family in crisis after the death of Princess Diana in 1997. "The Queen" earned the group's honors for best actress for Helen Mirren, supporting actor for Michael Sheen and screenplay for Peter Morgan.
The New York Film Critics Online Awards on Sunday also were dominated by "The Queen," which earned five honors: best picture, best actress for Mirren, supporting actor for Sheen, director for Stephen Frears and screenplay for Morgan.
Also Sunday, the American Film Institute released its picks for the year's top-10 movies, including "Letters From Iwo Jima," the musical "Dreamgirls," the Sept. 11 drama "United 93" and the outrageous comedy "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."
The Los Angeles critics group split its best-actor prize between Sacha Baron Cohen, who reprised his television character as a Kazakh journalist observing America in "Borat," and Forest Whitaker, who plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."
The supporting-actress honor went to Luminita Gheorghiu for "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu," a Romanian film about an elderly man quietly fading away as he's shuffled from hospital to hospital over the course of one night.
Paul Greengrass was named best director for "United 93," with Eastwood the runner-up.
Among other honors from the Los Angeles critics: animated film, "Happy Feet," documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth" and foreign-language film, "The Lives of Others."
The flurry of film honors come at the start of Hollywood's long season leading up to the Academy Awards on Feb. 25. Critics picks often differ substantially from the films that ultimately triumph at the Oscars, though they do give a boost to the prospects of some films.
The New York Film Critics Circle releases its 2006 honors Monday, while nominations for the Golden Globes, the biggest Hollywood prizes before the Oscars, are announced Thursday.
The AFI's top-10 list also included the ensemble story "Babel," the fashion-world satire "The Devil Wears Prada," the gritty classroom drama "Half Nelson," the animated penguin romp "Happy Feet," the bank-heist thriller "Inside Man," and the road-trip tale "Little Miss Sunshine."
The AFI does not rank its picks for best films of the year. The list was chosen by a panel of 13 filmmakers, critics, scholars and AFI trustees.
A separate AFI panel picked the group's top-10 television shows of the year: "Battlestar Galactica," "Dexter," "Elizabeth I," "Friday Night Lights," "Heroes," "The Office," "South Park," "24," "The West Wing" and "The Wire."
The films and shows will be honored at an AFI luncheon in Los Angeles on Jan. 12. The Los Angeles critics awards will be presented Jan. 14.