'The Descendants,' 'The Artist' Top L.A. & Boston Film Critics Awards

Four major critics associations annouced their year-end awards over the weekend, providing an early idea of Oscar frontrunners

Four American critics associations announced their lists of award winners for 2011 over the weekend, offering some idea -- if not a crystal clear picture -- of which film's will be vying for the top prizes at the 2012 Academy Awards.

The (mostly silent) French film The Artist was named best film of the year by both the New York Film Critics Online and the Boston Society of Film Critics, but it was left off the American Film Institute's (AFI) list of the top 10 movies of 2011 because, well, it isn't American. The Artist is still eligible for best picture at the Oscars, however, and should have no problem securing a nod there.

The Decendants, meanwhile, took best-picture honors at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards, and landed a spot on AFI's top 10 list.

The Brad Pitt-starring The Tree of Life also made AFI's list, and was runner-up to The Descendants in the L.A. Film Critics best-picture race. The Terrence Malick-directed film already took home the Gotham Award for best picture, which is impressive considering the film's mixed critical reception -- but which bodes well for its Oscar chances. And Malick earned best-director honors from the L.A. Film Critics to boot, edging out Martin Scorsese for Hugo. But Scorsese won the prize in Boston, making these two the directors to keep an eye on.

Beyond that, there were few repeat winners in the four awards circles. Melissa McCarthy deservingly brought home two best supporting actress awards (in both Boston and New York) for her work in Bridesmaids, and the film was the lone surprise entry on AFI's list of the top 10 films of the year. The New York Film Critics Online also honored the film with the award for best ensemble cast.

The New York Film Critics Online named Take Shelter's Michael Shannon best actor in New York, while Brad Pitt won in Boston for Moneyball and Michael Fassbender earned the honor in Los Angeles (for all of his films this year).

Yun Jung-hee was the surprise best actress winner in Los Angeles for Poetry, while Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) took home awards in Boston and New York, respectively -- making the best-actress Oscar race a hard one to predict so far.

Surprisingly left out of all of these critics awards shows is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2. The film was one of the strongest movies of the year both in terms of the critical and box office reception, yet it didn't even make the list of AFI's top films (which last year predicted nine out of the 10 Oscar nominations). In addition to Bridesmaids, The Descendants and The Tree of Life, AFI's list includes The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, J. Edgar, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, and War Horse.

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