This year's wide-open Oscar race is so wide-open that even one of the nation's top critics groups can't decide what film to call 1999's best.

Being John Malkovich, the insanely offbeat comedy about fame, love and doorways into people's brains, tied Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy as the National Society of Film Critics top film. It's the first time in the group's 34-year history that there has been a tie for best film.

The society, consisting of 53 of the nation's best-known reviewers, gathered at New York's famed Algonquin Hotel to come up with its best-of list. Because its members belong to other key critics groups, many of the National Society's selections have been cleaning up this awards season.

For instance, Topsy-Turvy, Leigh's behind-the-scenes glimpse of Gilbert and Sullivan's struggles to make The Mikado, was named best film last month by the New York Film Critics Circle. Being John Malkovich's screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who won the screenplay award from the National Society last night, won the same prize from the Los Angeles Film Critics (he's also up for a Golden Globe).

Leigh was named best director, ahead of runners-up David O. Russell (Three Kings) and Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

The night's big shocker was Reese Witherspoon over critical darling Hilary Swank in the best actress race. Witherspoon's work as Election's pathologically driven high-schooler Tracy Flick has been largely ignored during the awards season so far--her only recognition being a Golden Globe nomination. (Swank, meanwhile, had won nearly every critical laurel in sight until Saturday's awards, where she finished second to Witherspoon.)

Best actor honors went to Russell Crowe for The Insider. Crowe, a shoo-in for an Oscar nod, has also taken home trophies from the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Critics Association, and is up for a Golden Globe, too.

In the supporting actor category, Crowe's Insider costar Christopher Plummer won for his take on Mike Wallace. Plummer, who also received accolades from the L.A. Film Critics, beat the ubiquitous Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia.)

Supporting actress props went to Chlöe Sevigny for Boy's Don't Cry--a part that's already earned her a Golden Globe nod and an L.A. Film Critics award. Runner-up was Julianne Moore, whose slate of films included Magnolia, Cookie's Fortune, Map of the World and An Ideal Husband.

Here's the complete rundown of winners:

Picture: (tie) Being John Malkovich, Topsy-Turvy Director: Mike Leigh, Topsy-Turvy Actor: Russel Crowe, The Insider Actress: Reese Witherspoon, Election Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, The Insider Supporting Actress: Chlöe Sevigny, Boy's Don't Cry Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich Cinematography: Conrad Hall, American Beauty Foreign-Language Film: Autumn Tale (Frace) Nonfiction Film: Buena Vista Social Club Experimental Film Award: Robert Beavers

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