The Boston Society of Film Critics has named “The Artist,’’ Michel Hazanavicius’s acclaimed black-and-white silent comedy-drama, the best movie of 2011. The film, which won a best actor award for Jean Dujardin at Cannes earlier this year and opens in Boston on Dec. 23, has become a hit with critics’ groups and audiences and now stands as a dark horse candidate for the annual end-of-year awards.
“The Artist’’ wasn’t the only film dealing with the movies’ past that was honored by the Society. Martin Scorsese was named best director for the phantasmagoric “Hugo,’’ about a young boy’s rediscovery of one of the cinema’s pioneers in 1930s France. In addition, Michelle Williams won best actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.’’
On a more modern note, the Society cited Brad Pitt as best actor of 2011 for his performance as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball,’’ which also won best screenplay for the script by Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin. The broad summer comedy “Bridesmaids’’ was honored for Melissa McCarthy’s supporting actress performance, while longtime comedic actor-director Albert Brooks was named best supporting actor for his change-of-pace role as a ruthless gangster in “Drive.’’
The group’s awards reflected a broad spectrum of cinematic achievement in a year not generally considered a strong one for film. The award for best use of music in a movie went to two films, “The Artist’’ and the brooding action movie “Drive.’’ “Project Nim,’’ James Marsh’s nonfiction film about the strange journey of a research chimpanzee, was named best documentary. Best cinematography went to Emmanuel Lubezki for his ethereal images in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,’’ and the Karen Schmeer Award for best editing went, in a surprise vote, to “The Clock,’’ the film installation at the Museum of Fine Arts that weaves together clips from the history of movies into a dazzling 24-hour timepiece.
“The Clock’’ was also singled out by the Society in a special commendation to the MFA for programming and promoting the film, which runs until Dec. 31. Additional commendations went to DocYard, an organization serving Boston’s documentary filmmaking community with screenings and forums, and to the Brattle Theatre for 10 years as a nonprofit.
The David Brudnoy Award for best new filmmaker went to Sean Durkin for “Martha Marcy May Marlene,’’ about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) fleeing a cult. “Incendies,’’ a multigenerational melodrama about the Arab conflict was named best foreign language film. Best ensemble performance went to the cast of “Carnage,’’ the Roman Polanski adaptation of the hit Broadway play “God of Carnage.’’
The runners-up in the various categories testified to the breadth of offerings: George Clooney in “The Descendants’’ was bested by Pitt for best actor, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady’’ almost upset Williams for best actress, the Iranian drama “A Separation’’ came in second in the foreign language category, and “Bill Cunningham New York,’’ about the fashion photographer, nearly took best documentary.
Perhaps most unusual was the strong showing of “Margaret,’’ a drama by Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me’’) that was filmed in 2005 and unceremoniously dumped in theaters this fall by its distributor, Fox Searchlight. Despite the fact that not all members of the Society were able to see the movie, it still garnered five first-place votes for best picture and was a runner-up in three other categories.
Founded in 1981, the Boston Society of Film Critics is made up of reviewers from major newspapers and news outlets across Greater Boston.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, the original version of this story misstated the winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. ‘‘The Tree of Life’’ won the Palme d’Or. ‘‘The Artist’’ was nominated for the prize, and its lead actor won the Cannes award for best actor.