Nov. 29, 2011 at 2:26 PM ET
George Clooney's considered a top Oscar favorite. Ryan Gosling's considered no slouch himself.
But it was Brad Pitt who claimed the first major best actor win of awards season courtesy the New York Film Critics Circle, which honored the star for the outside-the-lines baseball movie, "Moneyball," and the arty epic, "The Tree of Life."
The best actress pick, meanwhile, didn't shock. At all.
Meryl Streep won the critics' approval for "The Iron Lady," a biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
But while it seems Streep always wins, because she does, she hasn't won an Oscar since the 1982 ceremony. Tuesday's win could be the sign her relative bad run is about to end. Right now, oddsmakers give her the best overall shot at best actress.
Pitt isn't considered as heavy an Oscar favorite as Clooney and perhaps Gosling, but he's in the game, and Tuesday's win is his first significant one as a leading man.
Elsewhere, Albert Brooks made good on his budding Oscar buzz with a best supporting actor win for "Drive," where the acclaimed comic does very unfunny things.
Jessica Chastain, the newcomer who's everywhere on the strength of six 2011 releases, was named best supporting actress for work in three of those films, including "The Tree of Life," in which she plays Pitt's wife.
"The Tree of Life" was the most-honored film, being named in three categories, but it lost best picture and best director to French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius' throwback silent, "The Artist."
The New York Film Critics Circle Awards are critics' awards, so make of the results what you will. That said, the East Coast writers are often in sync with Hollywood.
The group's awards are the first major critics pronouncements of the fall. The winners of the Gotham Independent Film Awards were named last night, but, outside of The Tree of Life, which was named best film, along with the geriatric coming-out dramedy, "Beginners," none of its other favorites look to figure prominently at the Oscars.
Here's the complete list of winners from the 2011 New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Film: The Artist. Actor: Brad Pitt, "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life." Actress: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady." Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, "Drive." Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "The Tree of Life," "The Help" and "Take Shelter." Director: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist." Screenplay: "Moneyball." Cinematography: "The Tree of Life." Documentary: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams." Foreign-Language Film: "A Separation." First Feature: "Margin Call." Special Award: Raoul Ruiz.