The Southeastern Film Critics Association has named "The Descendants" the Best Film of 2011.
Director Alexander Payne’s bittersweet account of a Hawaiian land trustee facing the truth about his marriage earned three awards, including Best Actor for George Clooney and Best Adapted Screenplay.
"The Descendants" was also runner-up in the categories of Best Ensemble and Best Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley).
Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her role as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
Best Supporting Acting honors went to Christopher Plummer as an elderly father who comes out of the closet in "Beginners," and Janet McTeer as a cross-dressing woman in 19th century Ireland in "Albert Nobbs."
Martin Scorsese won Best Director for "Hugo," his 3-D homage to the pioneers of cinema, while Woody Allen’s time-travel comedy ‘Midnight in Paris’ won Best Original Screenplay.
Other winners include James Marsh’s account of an ill-fated primate experiment, "Project Nim" as Best Documentary; the Iranian drama of a failed marriage, "A Separation" for Best Foreign Language Film; the Western homage "Rango" as Best Animated film; and Terence Malick’s moody memory tale "The Tree of Life" for Best Cinematography.
"The Help," Tate Taylor’s dramedy about race relations in Jim Crow era Mississippi, won Best Ensemble, as well as the 7th annual Wyatt Award in recognition of a film that best embodies the spirit of the South.
"Our on-line discussions in the past weeks proved quite passionate both for and against ‘The Help,’" says SEFCA president Curt Holman, "but the fact that it cracked our list of Top 10 Best Films testifies to its enthusiastic support by a majority." Wyatt Award runner-up were the high school football documentary "Undefeated", followed by "The Tree of Life."
Gainesville's own Jeff Marker, a member of the SEFCA, felt the overall choices were deserved.
"No award was more hotly debated than the Gene Wyatt Award, though. 'The Help' won, but the group's listserve is still buzzing with objections to that result, even after the awards have been announced. Despite the dissension surrounding a few awards categories, however, our awards will hopefully help celebrate the best of 2011 cinema, particularly those films that won't necessarily earn the attention of the more traditional awards shows," said Marker.
The association’s 20th annual awards saw ballots from 47 members, all film journalists working in print, radio and online media in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.