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Helen Hunt, THE MASTER Surprisingly Top San Francisco Critics Awards

Helen Hunt The SessionsHelen Hunt, Emmanuelle Riva, Joaquin Phoenix, The Master: San Francisco Critics' 2012 choices

The Master was the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's Best Picture of 2012. Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master revolves around the complex relationship between a troubled World War II veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) and the charismatic leader of a philosophical / quasi-religious cult (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Scientology connections are obvious, and so are analogies to religion as a whole. (Image: Helen Hunt The Sessions.)

Curiously, The Master was a Best Picture winner without matching wins for either Best Director or Best Screenplay. Anderson's drama did, however, earn Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor Award, thus bucking the Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) trend seen elsewhere.

The San Francisco Critics' Best Director was Kathryn Bigelow for the political thriller Zero Dark Thirty, which has created some controversy of late because of its depiction of torture conducted by Americans – and how that helped (or didn't) finding Most Wanted Man Osama bin Laden. Additionally, Zero Dark Thirty earned Mark Boal the Best Original Screenplay Award.

The Best Adapted Screenplay Award went to North American critics' favorite Tony Kushner for Lincoln. The Steven Spielberg-directed historical / political drama also earned Best Supporting Actor honors to Tommy Lee Jones.

The other two acting winners were Best Actress Emmanuelle Riva and Best Supporting Actress Helen Hunt. Emmanuelle Riva, a critics' favorite absurdly (but unsurprisingly) bypassed by both the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes, won for Michael Haneke's drama – and Best Foreign Language Film winner – Amour, which deals with the issue of love in times of illness and encroaching death. Helen Hunt won for her performance as a "sex surrogate" in Ben Lewin's The Sessions, in which she plays a woman out to help handicapped John Hawkes lose his virginity.

More San Francisco Critics Award winners

Other San Francisco Film Critics Circle winners: Best Animated Feature for ParaNorman; Best Cinematography for Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda); Best Production Design for Moonrise Kingdom (Adam Stockhausen); Best Editing for Argo (William Goldenberg, who also co-edited Zero Dark Thirty); and a special citation for Jacob Krupnick's Girl Walk All Day, which the San Francisco Critics' press release describes as "joyous dance film scored to pop/hip hop mashups."

And finally the Marlon Riggs Award (given to a Bay Area filmmaker) went to Peter Nicks for his documentary The Waiting Room, which was also chosen as the year's Best Non-Fiction Film. The Waiting Room chronicles the travails of patients and staff at an Oakland hospital, a public facility that cares for mostly uninsured patients.

Helen Hunt The Sessions photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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