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THE TREE OF LIFE, Michael Shannon, THE INTERRUPTERS: Chicago Film Critics Surprise Winners

The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick, Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life

Most US-based film critics' groups have chosen either Alexander Payne's The Descendants or Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist as the year's Best Film. Not so the Chicago Film Critics, who went instead for Terrence Malick's cosmically inclined family drama The Tree of Life, which earlier this year won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain star.

In addition to its Best Film victory, The Tree of Life also won awards for director Malick, for Chastain as Best Supporting Actress, and for Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography. Lubezki (Children of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow) has been a critical favorite this year, and will quite possibly take home the Academy Award as well.

Another surprise Chicago Critics' winner was Michael Shannon, who plays a disturbed man in Take Shelter. The Descendants' George Clooney has been the US critics' favorite male lead to date.

Other Chicago winners fell more in line with most other US-based critics' groups. Michelle Williams was chosen as Best Actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn; Asghar Farhadi's Golden Bear-winning Iranian family drama A Separation was the Best Foreign Language Film; Gore Verbinski's Johnny Depp-voiced Rango was Best Animated Film; and Albert Brooks was the Best Supporting Actor for Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller Drive.

Despite its six nominations, The Descendants didn't win anything, but The Artist was cited for Best Original Screenplay. Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin wrote the Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball. Set in Chicago's low-income communities, Steve James' The Interrupters was the Best Documentary, a "surprise" only in that other US critics groups have opted for other titles such as Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams or Asif Kapadia's Senna.

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