The most splendid movie of the year, according to the National Society of Film Critics, is ''American Splendor,'' the indie adaptation of file clerk Harvey Pekar's long-running autobiographical comic book. ''Splendor,'' which also earned Best Screenplay plaudits (for writing-directing team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini), topped the NSFC's annual prize list, announced Saturday. It edged out awards-group favorite ''Mystic River'' in both categories, though that drama did earn a Best Director prize for Clint Eastwood.
Bill Murray picked up another Best Actor win for his ''Lost in Translation'' performance, and Charlize Theron picked up Best Actress momentum for her unrecognizable turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in ''Monster.'' So did Supporting Actor winner Peter Sarsgaard (''Shattered Glass'') and Supporting Actress honoree Patricia Clarkson (for both ''The Station Agent'' and ''Pieces of April.'') While the NSFC joined other critics groups in honoring those four performers, it became the first group to cite Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's ''The Man Without a Past'' as Best Foreign Film and the non-fiction feature ''To Be and To Have,'' about a French schoolhouse, as Best Documentary.
The NSFC, which consists of 55 top critics from newspapers and magazines, tends to pick more esoteric choices than the Academy or even other critics groups. (Its Best Picture in 2000, the year ''Gladiator'' won the Oscar, was the three-hour Taiwanese drama ''Yi-Yi''). Last year, however, the NSFC correctly anticipated the three Oscar wins for ''The Pianist,'' in the directing, screenplay, and actor categories.