The awards-season horse race officially began last week when the National Board Of Review—a shadowy, illegitimate group notable mainly for announcing its awards first—awarded its top prize to Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's austere Japanese companion piece to Flags Of Our Fathers, but a number of more respected critics groups started made their selections yesterday:

Proving that the NBR may not be so out-of-touch after all, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association also gave its Best Picture award to Letters From Iwo Jima, with The Queen as a runner-up. Other top prizes went to United 93's Paul Greengrass for Best Director, The Queen's Helen Mirren for Best Actress, Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) in a tie for Best Actor, The Queen again for Peter Morgan's screenplay and Michael Sheen's supporting performance, and in a wonderful surprise, Luminita Gheorghiu, the ambulance driver in the Romanian black comedy The Death Of Mr. Lazarescu, took Best Supporting Actress over heavy favorite Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. Could Oscar be calling Ms. Gheorghiu? (Probably not. Those overseas rates are prohibitively expensive.)

In an unsurprising announcement, the Boston Society Of Film Critics have given Best Picture and Best Director to Martin Scorsese's The Departed, with United 93 serving as runner-up in both categories. Whitaker and Mirren again took Actor and Actress prizes, perhaps sealing their status as the odds-on favorites to take the Oscars. However, the BSOFC has thrown a couple of curveballs in the supporting categories, with wins for Mark Wahlberg's riotous turn in The Departed and child actress Shareeka Epps' lovely performance in Half Nelson. Screenplay honors went to William Monahan's The Departed, with its wonderfully salty Beantown dialect.

Results for the New York Film Critics Circle are coming later this morning. Their website used to update the results live as the votes were tabulated, but apparently only myself and a few others gave a damn about it. However, the A.V. Club has a man on the inside who's secretly BlackBerry-ing today's proceedings as they happen. So far, Pan's Labyrinth for Best Cinematography (over Children Of Men and Curse Of The Golden Flower) and The Queen for Best Screenplay (over Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed). Stay tuned…