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Once a year, our nation's most esteemed movie critics lock themselves inside smokey, windowless rooms, and heatedly debate, Twelve Angry Men-style, the relative merits of what they have seen over the previous twelve months. It can often escalate into full-on violence—at the New York Film Critics Circle deliberations this year, for example, The New Yorker's David Denby reportedly had The Observer's octogenarian critic-in-residence Andrew Sarris in a half nelson in a dispute over Ryan Gosling's performance in the film of the same name—but inevitably, a consensus is reached, giving obsessive Oscar prognosticators key pieces of evidence to jot down on index cards and affix in perfectly aligned columns to their bedroom walls. A round-up of the results of four major critics' lists:

· The AFI list gets happy, including such lighthearted fare as Borat, The Devil Wears Prada, Dreamgirls, Happy Feet and Little Miss Sunshine. To even things out a bit, United 93 and Babel are singled out as having impressively maximized the depressing potential of their "doomed 9/11 aircraft" and "randomly shot American tourist on a marriage-salvaging bus tour of Morocco" subject matter. [Variety]

· The NY Film Critics Circle names Paul Greengrass's United 93 as the year's best picture, instantly sending Oliver Stone into a spiral of self-doubt over whether he should have maybe told a less uplifting 9-11 story, and not had it star the guy from Ghost Rider. Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren both take the top acting awards, he for playing bloodthirsty, psychotic despot Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and she for playing bloodthirsty, psychotic despot Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. [THR]
· The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. names the non-Ryan-Phillippe -starring-chapter of Clint Eastwood's ode to World War II couplet, Letters From Iwo Jima, as the year's best picture. Mirren makes it two and two, as does Whitaker, though in a stunning upset, he ties Sacha Baron Cohen in the best actor category. Instantly, the specter of the overexposed Kazakh correspondent showing up to the Oscars to compliment the "hilarious man in charge of ceremony, Ellen DeGeneres" looms ominously. [The Envelope]
· The Boston Society of Film Critics gives their top honors (picture and directing) to local favorite The Departed, and Whitaker and Mirren make it a hat trick. Best supporting actress went to Shareeka Epps for Half Nelson, which, along with Jennifer Hudson's NY Film Circle win in the same category, indicates that this is shaping into the year of young, unknown African American actresses who can both steal a movie and break your heart, all with a single, mournful look and/or high note held for approximately two-and-a-half minutes. [Boston Globe]