This bodes well for Penn—who went on to thank the film's cast, screenwriter, director Gus Van Sant and "the guy who would have been [his] first choice to play the lead in this movie, Harvey Milk"—who was last selected top dog by the Broadcast Film Critics Association in 2004 for Mystic River, the same film that helped him snag his first Oscar a month later.
A more surprising result was the tie that sprang from Best Actress race between veteran Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, whose reviews for Rachel Getting Married have been the best of her career.
But while Streep had Doubt costar Viola Davis succinctly accept on her behalf, a stunned and emotional Hathaway thanked every actress ever for being so awesome. (We'll forgive the rambling, it was her first time.)
"Thank you so much!" she began. "Oh my God. I don't know how to win awards, I know how to not be nominated for awards. I know how to do pratfalls and wear tiaras. This is very new."
Years later, the scorned star tearfully thanked her father, "who protects [her] and has shown [her] that there are good men in this world."
Not in the house tonight were Best Supporting Actress Kate Winslet, a winner for her decades-spanning turn in The Reader as a concentration camp guard who has an affair with a teenage boy; Dev Patel, named Best Young Actor (under 21) for his breakthrough role in Slumdog Millionaire; and Bruce Springsteen, whose title tune for The Wrestler was a winner for Best Song.
And most everyone who won, whether in person or in absentia, has a chance to do it all over again Sunday, when the Golden Globes are passed out at the Beverly Hilton.
Here's the complete list of winners from the 14th Annual Critics' Choice Awards:
• Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
• Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
• Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
• Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
• Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
• Ensemble: Milk
• Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
• Screenwriter: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
• Animated Feature: WALL-E
• Young Actor/Actress (Under 21): Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
• Action Movie: The Dark Knight
• Comedy Tropic Thunder
• Picture Made for Television: John Adams
• Foreign-Language Film: Waltz With Bashir
• Documentary Man on Wire
• Song (Performer/Composer): "The Wrestler," Bruce Springsteen/Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler
• Composer: A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
• Joel Siegel Award: Richard Gere