The Southeastern Film Critics Association — an organization with members who represent electronic and print media outlets (including The Commercial Appeal) in nine states — this week named "Argo" the best film of 2012.
Director Ben Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio also took top awards for their work on the fact-based suspense drama, inspired by the secret rescue of six U.S. diplomats from an embassy in revolutionary Iran in 1980.
The runners-up to "Argo" also were historical dramas. Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, placed second in voting among the critics, while Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," about the 16th president's fight for passage of the 13th Amendment, was third.
The victory was the first for "Argo" among critics' groups nationwide. The New York Film Critics Circle early this month named "Zero Dark Thirty" the best movie of the year, while the Los Angeles Film Critics Association chose the French-language film "Amour."
"'Argo' was far and away the most-mentioned film on our critics' ballots," said SEFCA president Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "While there were other films that had more first-place votes, 'Argo' was consistently well-regarded by our membership, and it ended up winning the poll by a comfortable margin."
"Lincoln" earned five top or runner-up awards from the Southeastern critics. Named Best Actor for that film, Daniel Day-Lewis became the first three-time winner in that category in the poll's history. Day-Lewis previously was named Best Actor for "There Will Be Blood" in 2007 and "Gangs of New York" in 2002.
Not unexpectedly, the Southeastern critics gave their signature award, the eighth annual Wyatt Award, to "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a magic-realist portrait of hardscrabble back-bayou life in South Louisiana. Named for Nashville Tennessean film critic Gene Wyatt, who died in 2004, the award recognizes a film that "best embodies the spirit of the South." The runner-up was Richard Linklater's "Bernie," with Jack Black as a dapper Texas mortician turned murderer.
"Overall, it was an amazing year for Southern film," Martin said. "I can't remember a year when we had so many excellent candidates for the Wyatt Award. Our members nominated 13 different movies for the award — and one actor: Matt McConaughey, for appearing in the Southern-set films 'Killer Joe,' 'The Paperboy,' 'Bernie' and 'Magic Mike' in 2012."
Forty-eight critics voted in the 21st annual Southeastern Film Critics awards. Votes were tabulated Sunday, and the results were announced Monday.