The New York Film Critics Circle has named the silent film ode The Artist the year's best film, giving the nostalgic black-and-white movie an early boost to its already promising Academy Awards prospects.
The Artist, which is silent like the films to which it pays homage, also earned best director for the French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius.
"It's a celebration of cinema," John Anderson, chairman of the group and critic, said.
"It's clever and it's upbeat and all that, but it's really about the movies. Of course, that's going to strike a chord among critics."
The boldly old-fashioned movie has emerged as an unlikely front-runner in the early stages of the Oscar race. The Spirit Awards, which honour independent film, also bestowed five nominations on it.
Otherwise, the critics spread the awards around - as they usually do. Brad Pitt won best actor for his performances in the baseball film Moneyball and Terrence Malick's cosmic drama Tree of Life.
Both of those films also earned other awards: Tree of Life for best cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and Moneyball for its screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.
Meryl Steep was chosen as best actress for her performance as Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming The Iron Lady.
The suddenly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain won best supporting actress for a trio of performances in Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter.
And Albert Brooks earned best supporting actor for his against-type performance as a violent villain in the drama Drive.
The New York Film Critics moved their annual vote forward this year, a shift that was widely seen as a bid for greater relevance in the (northern) autumn awards season, which effectively began in earnest.
The move also meant some finagling - the critics screened The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and were not able to see the eagerly anticipated 9/11 drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Anderson didn't deny that the move was partially for a louder voice in the awards conversation, but said other reasons were foremost.
"I thought it would be interesting for us to be able to vote without other awards having been given out," said Anderson, a critic for Variety and Newsday.
"Subconsciously or consciously, people are affected by other groups' voting. It may sound petty, but if (the Los Angeles Film Critics) gives a film best picture, a lot of our members are inclined to go the other way."
Anderson said the group might return to a later time next year because a number of members didn't like jamming in the screenings in a smaller window.
Werner Herzog's 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams was selected as best nonfiction film. The financial industry thriller Margin Call won best first feature. And the Iranian drama A Separation was picked for best foreign film.
The year's special award was given posthumously to the prolific Chilean-born filmmaker Raoul Ruiz, who died in August, shortly after the US release of his acclaimed Mysteries of Lisbon.
The New York Film Critics Circle, a body of 33 New York-based critics founded in 1935, announced their annual vote on Twitter for the first time.
The group describes its awards as "a principled alternative to the Oscars, honouring aesthetic merit in a forum that is immune to commercial and political pressures".
Last year the group chose Facebook drama The Social Network as best picture.
Among the films snubbed by the critics were Alexander Payne's The Descendants, Martin Scorsese's Hugo and Steven Spielberg's War Horse.
The awards will be handed out at a ceremony on January 9.
Check out the trailer for The Artist: