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Scorsese flick earns top SEFCA honor

The Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) recently named The Departed the Best Picture of 2006 in its 15th annual voting. The acclaimed box office hit, a complex thriller about a cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a crook (Matt Damon) who both manage to infiltrate the other's organization, also earned awards from the group for Best Director (Martin Scorsese) and Best Adapted Screenplay (William Monahan, who based his script on the popular 2002 Hong Kong import Infernal Affairs).

The Departed proved to be the only multiple winner, as the rest of the association's awards were split up among several pictures.

Forest Whitaker won Best Actor for his mesmerizing turn as former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada in The Last King of Scotland, while Helen Mirren earned Best Actress for her sharp performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Among the year's other acting accolades, Jackie Earle Haley copped Best Supporting Actor for his alternately creepy and sympathetic portrayal of a former child molester in Little Children, and former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson snagged Best Supporting Actress for her powerhouse turn as a singing sensation in Dreamgirls.

In other contests, Michael Arndt received Best Original Screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine, while the fantasy tale Pan's Labyrinth, a co-production of Mexico and Spain, was cited as Best Foreign-Language Film. The Best Documentary prize went to the Al Gore global warming flick An Inconvenient Truth, and Pixar's summer blockbuster Cars nabbed the honors as Best Animated Film.

In its second year, the Wyatt Award went to the Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up & Sing. Named after the late SEFCA member Gene Wyatt, the prize seeks to honor one film each year that best embodies the essence of the South.

In addition to naming its Best Picture, SEFCA also releases its Top 10 for the year. Following The Departed were (in order) Letters From Iwo Jima; The Queen; United 93; Little Miss Sunshine; Babel; Pan's Labyrinth; Little Children; Thank You For Smoking; and Notes On a Scandal.

While most of the aforementioned titles have already played Charlotte, a few have yet to reach the Queen City: Little Children, Pan's Labyrinth, Letters From Iwo Jima and Notes On a Scandal are still playing in limited release in select cities. Most (if not all) are expected to open locally in January.

So far, there's no clear Oscar front-runner. Both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association selected Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima as Best Picture, the New York Film Critics Circle went with United 93, and, like SEFCA, the Boston Film Critics opted for The Departed. Meanwhile, the Golden Globes handed the most nominations (seven) to Babel.

This year, 47 SEFCA members (spread out across nine states) sent in ballots, including three from Charlotte: Creative Loafing movie reviewer (and SEFCA Vice President) Matt Brunson, Charlotte Observer film critic Lawrence Toppman, and Harvey Burgess, a contributor to the annual DVD & Video Guide.

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