The little film that could proved itself in a big way Friday, as the more ceremonial portion of awards-show season got under way at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
Indie darling Little Miss Sunshine picked up four Critics' Choice Awards from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, tying Dreamgirls for most wins of the night and shoring up its position as a major contender when Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 23.
The dysfunctional-family comedy scored honors for Best Acting Ensemble, Best Writing for first-time scribe Michael Arndt, Best Young Actor for Paul Dano, whose character communicates mainly via facial expression and scribbling on a notepad, and Best Young Actress for 10-year-old Abigail Breslin.
Last year, 19 of the 20 actors up for Academy Awards were Critics' Choice nominees first, a fact that bodes well for Breslin, who has been the focus of major supporting actress buzz for her turn as Little Miss Sunshine hopeful Olive.
The BFCA is composed of 200 TV, radio and Internet journalists, voters who, according to association president Joey Berlin, "are a lot like the Academy voters."
"These are full-time professional people," Berlin told the Hollywood Reporter earlier this week. "We think about movies all year long."
Standing in Breslin's way, of course, is the most buzzed about newcomer of the year, Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson, the winner Friday for Best Supporting Actress.
The Bill Condon-directed musical also picked up Best Supporting Actor for Eddie Murphy, Best Soundtrack and Best Song for Beyoncé's "Listen." While the B'Day artist cowrote and performed the tune, she will not, however, be eligible for an Oscar for her contribution because she is the fourth credited writer on the track, and the Academy only allows for three.
Dreamgirls, a surefire Oscar nominee for best film, lost out in the Critics' top category to Martin Scorsese's gangster-cop drama The Departed, whose Best Picture win gives it the edge heading into the awards-show homestretch.
Scorsese also snagged the award for Best Director last night, beating out Condon, Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima, United 93's Paul Greengrass and The Queen's Stephen Frears.
"I am pleased by this award and surprised," the perennially Oscar-snubbed Scorsese said upon accepting the honor. "It's the first I tried to make that has a plot."
Perhaps as a sign of things to come at the Golden Globes Monday, Borat was named Best Comedy, beating out Sunshine and calling into question whether it won't best Dreamgirls in the Best Picture, Comedy or Musical category at the Globes.
"I'd like to thank everyone who decided not to sue us," Borat creator and star Sacha Baron Cohen told the crowd.
"It's not often a broad comedy is treated this way," Borat producer Jay Roach told Fox News after the ceremony. "One year Pride and Prejudice was in that category." (Well, theoretically they're both comedies of manners created by British geniuses, right?)
Meanwhile, Oscar frontrunner Forest Whitaker, the Philip Seymour Hoffman of 2006, added another notch to his award belt this year, picking up another Best Actor trophy for his chilling turn as Ugandan despot Idi Amin.
Fellow fave Helen Mirren won Best Actress for The Queen, in which she plays the reigning British monarch in the days immediately following the death of Princess Diana. Further proving that she really knows how to tear into a genre, the HBO miniseries Elizabeth I, with Mirren as the title character, was named Best Picture Made for Television.
Eastwood, despite coming up empty in the directing category, did not go away empty-handed. His Letters from Iwo Jima was named Best Foreign-Language Film, a title it's also up for at the Globes.
In addition to being a possible sneak preview of Oscar night, the Critics' Choice Awards also tend to be almost as star-studded as its more high-profile counterparts. The only nominees who were no-shows Friday were Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Will Smith and Judi Dench.
Presenters included Jennifer Garner, Steven Spielberg, Penélope Cruz, Sienna Miller, Aaron Eckhart, Christian Slater, Jessica Biel, Spike Lee, Maria Bello, Cuba Gooding Jr., Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Emile Hirsch, Greg Kinnear, Jon Favreau, Alan Arkin, Cedric the Entertainer, Marcia Gay Harden, Sophia Bush, Toni Collette, Fred Willard and Jon Heder.
The ceremony will be televised Jan. 20 on E! (E! Online is a division of E! Networks.)
Here's a complete list of the winners from the 12th Annual Critics' Choice Awards:
- Best Picture: The Departed
- Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
- Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
- Supporting Actor: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
- Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
- Acting Ensemble: Little Miss Sunshine
- Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
- Writer: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine
- Animated Feature: Cars
- Young Actor: Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine
- Young Actress: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
- Comedy Movie: Borat
- Family Film (Live Action): Charlotte's Web
- Picture Made for Television: Elizabeth I
- Foreign-Language Film: Letters from Iwo Jima
- Song: "Listen," Dreamgirls (Beyoncé)
- Soundtrack: Dreamgirls
- Composer: Philip Glass, The Illusionist
- Documentary Feature: An Inconvenient Truth