L.A., Boston film critics pick ''Sideways.'' The earliest-voting critics' groups cite the wine-country comedy for best picture and supporting actor Thomas Haden Church
Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, ...

Taking a giant step forward in the Oscar derby was Sideways, named Best Picture by several groups of the nation’s film critics, who began to make their picks known over the weekend. The wine-country comedy also received unanimous acclaim among the critics’ groups for the supporting performance of Thomas Haden Church, as a soon-to-be-married actor out for one last premarital debauch.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association honored Sideways with prizes for Best Picture, Director (Alexander Payne), Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress (Viriginia Madsen), and Screenplay (Payne and Jim Taylor). Liam Neeson took Best Actor for his lead role in the biopic Kinsey, while Best Actress went to Imelda Staunton for her title role as a housewife who performs illegal abortions in the 1950s in Vera Drake. Best Foreign Language Film was House of Flying Daggers, the latest martial-arts epic from Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero). The Incredibles won for Best Animation and Best Music Score. Best Documentary was Born into Brothels, about child prostitution in India. Best Cinematography went to the depiction of the L.A. nightscape in Collateral.

The Boston Society of Film Critics gave Sideways four prizes: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, and Ensemble Cast. Boston’s other big winner was Flying Daggers, honored for Best Director, Foreign Film, and Cinematography. Ray earned acting awards for star Jamie Foxx and for supporting player Sharon Warren, who plays Ray Charles’ mother. (Warren tied for Supporting Actress with Laura Dern from indie domestic drama We Don’t Live Here Anymore.) Best Actress was Hilary Swank for her role as a boxer in the upcoming Million Dollar Baby. Best Documentary was Control Room, the behind-the-scenes look at Al-Jazeera by Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com.

The Web-based New York Online Film Critics group cited Sideways for Best Picture and Supporting Actor but also gave the first support so far to The Aviator, naming Martin Scorsese Best Director and Cate Blanchett Best Supporting Actress for her role as Katharine Hepburn. (She tied with Kinsey‘s Laura Linney.) Vera Drake‘s Staunton won Best Actress, and Foxx won Best Actor for Ray. Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind took Best Screenplay. The Motorcycle Diaries, Walter Salles’ depiction of the young Che Guevara, took Best Foreign Film. The Cinematography prize went to Hero. Best Documentary was a tie between the Broadway retrospective The Golden Age and Morgan Spurlock’s fast-food-diet diary Supersize Me.

On its home turf, Sideways took six prizes from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor and Actress (for Church and Madsen), and Actor (Paul Giamatti, as the sad-sack best man and traveling companion of Church’s character). Best Actress went to Before Sunset star Julie Delpy, reprising her role as a Parisian who had a brief but memorable fling with an American tourist in Before Sunrise. Best Foreign Film was Maria Full of Grace, about a Colombian woman who becomes a drug mule. Best Documentary was Fahrenheit 9/11. It was the only mention by any of the critics’ groups who voted this weekend of either of 2004’s most talked-about films, Fahrenheit and The Passion of the Christ.