Is a consensus finally starting to emerge on the front-runners for the Best Picture Oscar? On Saturday, the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC) gave the Holocaust drama ''The Pianist'' four awards, including best picture, best director (Roman Polanski), best actor (Adrien Brody) and best screenplay (Ronald Harwood). That endorsement, along with earlier ones from the Boston and San Francisco film critics, not to mention winning the top prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, marks ''Pianist'' as an increasingly strong Academy Awards contender.
In its 37th annual list of honors, the NSFC, a group of magazine and newspaper-based critics from around the country, also gave prizes to Diane Lane (best actress, ''Unfaithful''), Christopher Walken (best supporting actor, ''Catch Me if You Can''), and Patricia Clarkson (best supporting actress, ''Far From Heaven''). ''Heaven'' also won best cinematography for Ed Lachman. ''Y Tu Mamá También'' was best foreign film, and ''Standing in the Shadows of Motown'' was best documentary.
In a race that has lacked a clear front-runner, with each critics group naming a different picture as its favorite, a few films are breaking out of the pack. ''Far From Heaven'' has been leading polls of individual critics, like the Village Voice's poll of several dozen critics, released last week. ''Chicago'' has topped the Golden Globes nominations, followed by ''The Hours,'' which also has the National Board of Review's endorsement. Other top contenders include ''About Schmidt'' and ''Adaptation.''