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Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings, ...
Credit: Lord of the Rings: Pierre Vinet

TROPHY TIME The American Film Institute, in its bid to upstage Jan. 20’s Golden Globes as the New Hampshire primary of movie awards telecasts, gave its first-ever best picture award on Saturday night to ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” But so few of the winners of the AFI Awards were present that backstage wags quickly dubbed the event the M.I.A. Awards. Presenter Samuel L. Jackson joked that he’d hold onto the absentee winners’ awards, and that they could pick them up at his house. Best actress went to ”In The Bedroom”’s Sissy Spacek, who was present, and best actor went to ”Training Day”’s Denzel Washington, who was not. Best ”featured” actor and actress were ”The Royal Tenenbaums”’ Gene Hackman and ”A Beautiful Mind”’s Jennifer Connelly, both of whom were elsewhere. Best director went to the absent Robert Altman for ”Gosford Park.” Best screenplay went to ”Memento”’s Christopher Nolan, who did make it to the Beverly Hills Hotel ceremony.

The AFI Awards, chosen by select panels of critics, scholars, and industry insiders, were also given to TV work and offered the first awards recognition thus far for Larry David‘s ”Curb Your Enthusiasm” (named best comedy series) and Jeffrey Wright‘s performance as a young Dr. Martin Luther King in ”Boycott” (for which he was named best actor in a TV movie). ”The Sopranos” won for best drama series and for best TV actor and actress (James Gandolfini, who wasn’t there, and Edie Falco, who was). Best actress in a TV movie went to the absent but already much-honored Judy Davis for ”Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.”

Contrast the no-shows at the glossy, televised, inaugural AFI ceremony to the scene the next night at the 67th annual New York Film Critics Circle dinner, which was a private, non-televised event in a crowded little dining room (the third floor of the Russian Tea Room), but where winners in every category but two showed up. (To be fair, the winners’ names had been known for a month. The lone absentees were for best foreign film and best cinematography winner ”In the Mood For Love,” whose Hong Kong based director Wong Kar-Wai and cinematographers Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin didn’t show.) Robert Altman, who missed the AFI show, was on hand to pick up his best director award. ”Gosford”’s award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes and best supporting actress Helen Mirren were also on hand. Best actress winner Sissy Spacek made both galas. Her ”Bedroom” costar Tom Wilkinson took home the best actor award. ”Ghost World”’s Steve Buscemi picked up his best supporting actor citation. For best picture, ”Mulholland Drive”’s David Lynch seemed grateful but astonished, saying, ”I don’t mean to be impolite, but what were you people smoking?” (Note to Lynch: Many baffled ”Mulholland” viewers would ask you the same question.)

The National Society of Film Critics met in New York on Saturday and delivered a list much like that of the NYFCC. The NFSC, made up of 52 of the nation’s top newspaper- and magazine-based critics, picked ”Mulholland” as best picture but awarded ”Gosford” best director, best screenplay, and best supporting actress (Mirren). ”Mulholland” also picked up best actress honors for Naomi Watts, while best actor went to ”Tenenbaums”’ Hackman, and best supporting actor to ”Ghost World”’s Buscemi. ”In the Mood for Love” won best foreign film, while veteran French director Agnes Varda‘s ”The Gleaners and I” won best documentary. The animated ”Waking Life” won the NFSC’s unique award for best experimental film.

REEL DEAL Despite her recent high-profile nude scenes in ”Monster’s Ball” and ”Swordfish,” Halle Berry wants to dispel rumors that she’ll be the first topless Bond girl when she stars opposite Pierce Brosnan in the next installment of the 007 series, which begins shooting in a few weeks. ”Bond films are PG,” she said on this morning’s Today. ”There’s going to be no topless anybody. Certainly not me.”

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