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Finding Neverland named best film of 2004 by National Board of Review

Story by: Jack Foley

FINDING Neverland has strengthened its Oscar credentials by being named as the best film of 2004 by The National Board of Review.

The accolade, which marks the first major award of the season, was bestowed upon the film recently, when it was placed ahead of The Aviator, Closer, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and Sideways.

The film stars Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and takes a fictional look at the inspiration behind JM Barrie's Peter Pan. It has already been tipped as a strong Oscar contender for Depp.

In other categories, Jamie Foxx was named best actor for his outstanding portrayal of the late musician Ray Charles in Ray, while Annette Bening won best actress for Being Julia.

Michael Mann took the best director accolade for his urban thriller, Collateral, which starred Tom Cruise as a hitman who hijacks Jamie Foxx's cab driver for a night of killing.

Current box office favourite, The Incredibles beat Summer hit, Shrek 2 and groundbreaking Christmas flick, Polar Express, to the best animated feature prize.

While two of the year's most notorious films, The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11, by Mel Gibson and Michael Moore respectively, were honoured for 'special recognition of films that reflect the freedom of expression'.

Conspiracy of Silence was also included in the mention.

Another hotly-tipped Oscar contender, Alejandro Amenabar's The Sea Inside, was named best foreign language film, boosting the profile of star Javier Bardem (who also appears in Collateral).

Born into Brothels, a film about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta, won best documentary.

Cinema luminaries, Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges (who appeared in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot together), were given career achievement awards.

Eastwood received a special film-making achievement for producing, directing, acting and composing the score for Million Dollar Baby, which reaches UK cinemas in January (and US in December).

The National Board of Review awards - which are chosen by a 150-strong board of US film professionals - are seen as an early indicator of which fims might feature prominently among the nominees at the Academy Awards in February.

Last year, Eastwood's Mystic River was named best film by the board, only to be beaten at the Oscars by Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

However, two of its stars, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, did win the best actor and best supporting actor prizes, respectively.

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