Brokeback Mountain, which has already won four Golden Globes and secured eight Oscar nominations, was named film of the year at the 26th London Film Critics' Circle Awards last night. The honour for best director also went to Lee.
Based on an E Annie Proulx short story, the film tells the story of Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, two farm-hands in Wyoming, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, who meet while herding sheep one summer and fall in love. Constricted by a society that will not tolerate gay relationships, the men both marry, but continue to meet in secret over the course of 20 years.
The latest accolades confirm that the film is on track to be one of the big success stories of the Oscars, where it is nominated for best picture, best actor for Ledger and best supporting actor for Gyllenhaal.
William Russell, chairman of the Critics' Circle Awards, said: " Brokeback Mountain has all the ingredients of a classic love story, except that the lovers are two young ranch-hands who fall in love one summer while herding sheep, but go on to marry and have children, while continuing to meet over the years. Ang Lee has succeeded in presenting this highly controversial situation in an intelligent and sensitive fashion, and secured outstanding performances from the entire cast. It is a feat which has been rightly recognised this evening."
Peter Jackson's King Kong lost out to Brokeback Mountain in the best film category, but its female star, Naomi Watts, was named actress of the year by the Critics' Circle.
For the first time in a quarter of a century, a non-English-speaking actor, German Bruno Ganz, won the actor of the year award for his intense portrayal of Adolf Hitler during his final days in the Berlin bunker in Downfall.
Mr Russell said the honour for Ganz would provide a much-needed boost for European film in the UK. "It's quite a tribute to his amazing performance," he said. "In the past, we have tended to be dazzled by Hollywood leading men. It's good that we have recognised a European film in that way, because the distribution of European films in this country is quite tricky."
Fresh from winning awards from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild and being nominated for best supporting actress at the Oscars, Rachel Weisz was crowned best British actress by the Critics' Circle for her role in The Constant Gardener. Her co-star Ralph Fiennes won best British actor. The adaptation of John Le Carré's thriller about the pharmaceutical industry in Africa gained a crop of honours, including the Attenborough award for its director, Fernando Meirelles, and best British producer for Simon Channing Williams.
Thandie Newton was named best supporting actress for her role in Crash, while Tom Hollander won best supporting actor for Pride and Prejudice. The director Bryan Forbes, whose work includes the original version of The Stepford Wives, was recognised for his outstanding contribution to British cinema.
The awards are voted for by 100 writers and broadcasters.
Film of the year: Brokeback Mountain
Director of the year: Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain)
Best actress: Naomi Watts (King Kong)
Best actor: Bruno Ganz (Downfall)
British film of the year: The Constant Gardener
Best foreign language film: Downfall
British actress: Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener)
British actor: Ralph Fiennes (The Constant Gardener)
Best supporting actress: Thandie Newton (Crash)
Best supporting actor: Tom Hollander (Pride and Prejudice)
Best British director: Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice)
Excellence in Film: Bryan Forbes
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