''Mystic River'' wins the first of the pre-Oscar awards. The National Board of Review names the drama 2003's best picture and star Sean Penn the year's best actor

By Gary Susman
Updated December 04, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Mystic River

  • Movie

Let the office pools begin. The National Board of Review kicked off the Oscar race on Wednesday with its announcement of its awards for 2003’s best achievements in film. Top honors went to ”Mystic River,” whose star, Sean Penn, was named Best Actor for his performances in that film and in ”21 Grams.” Notably absent from the NBR’s list of the top 10 films of the year is ”Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which many observers have picked as a lock to win or at least be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, though the board did cite it for Best Acting by an Ensemble.

”This was a strong year for the studios.” NBR President Annie Schulhof said in a statement. ”They produced films with powerful storylines and characters with their own moral codes.” Of course, it may also have been a strong year for the studios because the new ban on sending screener videos may have made it harder for voters to some of the more sparsely distributed non-studio films this year.

Awards by the nearly century-old NBR — once a movie ratings board but now largely a group of self-styled film buffs — are the New Hampshire primary of the Oscar race. While the board has a mixed track record at picking the eventual Academy nominees and winners (last year’s top NBR pick was ”The Hours,” which ultimately lost the Best Picture Oscar to ”Chicago”), it’s still taken seriously as a prognosticator because it’s always first out of the gate. A partial list of this year’s honorees is below.

Top 10 Films of 2003
”Mystic River” (Best Film)
”The Last Samurai”
”The Station Agent”
”21 Grams”
”House of Sand and Fog”
”Lost in Translation”
”Cold Mountain”
”In America”
”Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”

Best Foreign Film
”The Barbarian Invasions”

Top Five Documentaries of 2003
”The Fog of War” (Best Documentary)
”Capturing the Friedmans”
”My Architect”
”Winged Migration”

Best Actor
‘Sean Penn, ”Mystic River” and ”21 Grams”

Best Actress
Diane Keaton, ”Something’s Gotta Give”

Best Supporting Actor
Alec Baldwin, ”The Cooler”

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Clarkson, ”Pieces of April” and ”The Station Agent”

Best Acting by an Ensemble
”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

Breakthrough Performance Actor
Paul Giamatti, ”American Splendor”

Breakthrough Performance Actress
Charlize Theron, ”Monster”

Best Director
Edward Zwick, ”The Last Samurai”

Best Adapted Screenplay
”Cold Mountain,” Anthony Minghella

Best Original Screenplay
”In America,” Jim Sheridan, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan

Best Animated Feature
”Finding Nemo”

Special Filmmaking Achievement
Sofia Coppola, for writing, directing, and producing ”Lost in Translation”

Special Recognition of Films that Reflect the Freedom of Expression
”Capturing the Friedmans”
”Dirty Pretty Things”
”The Magdalene Sisters”
”September 11”

Special Mention for Excellence in Filmmaking
”American Splendor”
”Bend It Like Beckham”
”The Cooler”
”Dirty Pretty Things”
”Girl With A Pearl Earring”
”Pieces of April”
”The Secret Lives of Dentists”
”Shattered Glass”
”The Statement”
”Whale Rider”

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Mystic River

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  • 137 minutes