National film critics honor ''Baby,'' Swank. The group of newspaper and magazine movie critics cites the boxing drama for Best Picture and Actress and gives three prizes to ''Sideways''

By Gary Susman
Updated January 10, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby continues to look like a million bucks as the awards season progresses. The prestigious National Society of Film Critics, which tends to favor esoteric fare, voted with much of the mainstream this weekend by honoring Baby with Best Picture and Best Actress citations (leading lady Hilary Swank tied for the latter honor with Vera Drake star Imelda Staunton) and by giving the most prizes to Sideways. The wine-country comedy earned three prizes: supporting acting awards for Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church, and Best Screenplay, for Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor.

The NSFC, whose 50-plus members are movie critics at prominent national magazines and newspapers, has a poor track record as an Oscar predictor (in 38 years, it’s agreed with the Academy on Best Picture just three times), but many of its votes are in line with those of other critics groups this year. The NSFC choice for Best Actor was Jamie Foxx, already lauded by nearly every other group so far, though the NSFC cited his work in Collateral as well as in Ray.

The NSFC gave two prizes to Chinese martial arts epic House of Flying Daggers: Best Director (Zhang Yimou) and Best Cinematography (Xiaoding Zhao). The group gave Best Documentary to Jonathan Caouette’s ultra-low-budget self-portrait, Tarnation. Best Foreign Film was the Senegalese drama Moolaadé.