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Three critics' groups vote on year's best movies: Consensus forming?

These are your Oscar front-runners after Sunday's voting by three critics' groups: "The Hurt Locker." Jeff Bridges. Meryl Streep. Mo'Nique. Christoph Waltz. Kathryn Bigelow.

Close behind: "Up in the Air," Jeremy Renner, Yolande Moreau, Colin Firth, Carey Mulligan.

This consensus developed after awards were decided by the Los Angles Film Critics Assn., the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the New York Film Critics Online. The Chicago Assn. of Film Critics votes this week. The New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics vote around year's end.

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How much influence do these awards have? They don't do any harm, they inspire ecstatic ads in trade publications, and they probably influence the nominations for the Oscars and the Golden Globes.

The human interest story of the day was that Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," an $11 million independent production, aced out the $250 million "Avatar" by her ex-husband, James Cameron. True, "Avatar" was screened at the last minute in the voting season, but so was "Crazy Heart," and Jeff Bridges' performance won the LAFC and NYFCO prizes. Jeremy Renner of "Hurt Locker" won with the Boston critics.

The unanimous winners were Mo'Nique and Christoph Waltz, in the best supporting categories. The actress, best known as a comedian and talk show host, played the harrowing role of the abusive mother in "Precious." Waltz, who won as best actor at Cannes 2009, played a slick and slimy Nazi SS officer in "Inglourious Basterds."

The Boston and online critics chose Meryl Streep as best actress, for "Julie and Julia." If she's nominated next year, and that's very likely, it will be her 16th nod, establishing a possibly unsurmountable lead in nominations. The LA critics went for Yolande Moreau in "Séraphine," the biography of the French painter Séraphine de Senlis, a domestic worker who mixed her own paints and whose work, discovered late in her life, is now in museums.

The name in this group that will come as a surprise to many moviegoers is the respected Jeff Bridges. He's been nominated for four Oscars, the first time in 1972 for his first role, in "The Last Picture Show." Most people haven't yet heard of his film "Crazy Heart," but it was screened heavily in the last two weeks for critics by Fox Searchlight, betting correctly it had a chance for just such a day as today.

Bridges plays a once-famous, much-married country and western singer, now playing through his alcoholism in shabby dives. It's a powerful, moving performance, and possibly makes him the front-runner in the acting category. Voters may reflect that at age 60, acting since 1958, beginning on "Sea Hunt" with his father, Lloyd Bridges, his Oscar may be overdue.

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Full list of 2009 LAFCA winners (and runners-up):

Best Picture “The Hurt Locker” (Runner-up: “Up in the Air”)

Best Actor Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart” (Runner-up: Colin Firth, “A Single Man”)

Best Actress Yolande Moreau, “Séraphine” (Runner-up: Carey Mulligan, “An Education”)

New Generation Award Neill Blomkamp, “District 9

Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds” (Runner-up: Peter Capaldi, “In The Loop”)

Best Supporting Actress Mo’Nigue, “Precious” (Runner-up: Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”)

Best Director Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker” (Runner-up: Michael Haneke, “The White Ribbon”)

Best Screenplay Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, “Up in the Air” (Runner-up: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche, “In The Loop”)

Best Cinematography Christian Berger, “The White Ribbon” (Runner-up: Barry Ackroyd, “The Hurt Locker”)

Best Documentary/Non-fiction Film “The Beaches of Agnes” and “The Cove

Best Foreign-Language Film “Summer Hours” (Runner-up: “The White Ribbon”)

Best Animated Film “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Runner-up: “Up”)

Best Music/Score T-Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton, “Crazy Heart” (Runner-up: Alexandrew Desplat, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)

Best Production Design Philip Ivey, “District 9” (Runner-up: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, ” Avatar”)

Douglas E. Edwards Independent/Experimental Film/Video Award C.W. Winter and Anders Edstrom, “The Anchorage”

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