After all the extraneous stuff surrounding the New York Film Critics Circle and their vote, the organization finally sat down and painstakingly settled on its list of award winners for 2011 this morning. They were lapped by Film Independent's Independent Spirit Awards announcement (more on that in a moment), which was revealed via Twitter, just as the NYFCC announcement was. But when the dust finally settled, it was an ode to silent cinema that walked away with the goods.

Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt were each cited for their work in "The Tree of Life," alongside other projects they have in play this year, while Meryl Streep ("The Iron Lady") and Albert Brooks ("Drive") rounded out the acting honors. "Moneyball" also did quite well, nabbing Best Screenplay and getting cited alongside "The Tree of Life" for Pitt's award.

If you didn't keep track in real time, you can read my commentary on all of the award winners below. From here, the National Board of Review takes the baton on Thursday and the circuit marches on.

Best First Feature: "Margin Call"

Commentary: A night after "Martha Marcy May Marlene" walks away from the Gothams empty-handed, it has to lose a prize like this to a thoroughly uncompelling (my opinion) drama with some admittedly top-notch performances. Unfortunate. Is this a sign that Sean Durkin's brilliant film is on track to get the shaft all season? Time will tell.

Best Non-Fiction Film: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

Commentary: This is a film that, shamefully, I have not seen. But while I'm glad the group stuck up for Werner Herzog's film, I'm bummed out that "Into the Abyss" seems to be falling to the wayside this year, for the most part. "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" was eligible for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars last year.

Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "The Help," "Take Shelter" and "The Tree of Life"

Commentary: Deliberations on this one seemed to take forever, only to boil down to a bit of an obvious choice. Jessica Chastain has had a sensational year. She's even in two other films that weren't cited as part of her award here -- "Coriolanus" and "The Debt" -- and yet she still seems to be in a precarious situation as far as a potential Oscar nod goes. Critics awards often choose to award actors for multiple films, but in this instance, it might have been helpful to take a stand on one of them

Best Actress: Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"

Commentary: So Meryl Streep racks up her first critics win of the year, of which I'm sure there will be many. It's a safe choice but a commendable one, because Streep is fantastic in the role and, as noted in my thoughts on the film a few weeks back, it looks to be her and Viola Davis in a heated race to the finish line. This, by the way, is the fifth NYFCC award for Streep. She last won for "Julie & Julia" in 2009.

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, "Drive"

Commentary: This is fantastic. Announced just as he was receiving an Independent Spirit nomination, no less (where "Drive" did well in general). And I'd say it's a boost he needed, not that he was fading, but other elements were beginning to take over the conversation. This roots him firmly.

Best Actor: Brad Pitt, "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life"

Commentary: This is a bit of a surprise from this crowd, but a welcome one. I'm happy Pitt was cited for both films, even if "The Tree of Life" represents a supporting portrayal. It's a smooth move and guarantees further traction for the film, which, as noted in this morning's round-up, should be priming itself to strike in an uncertain season.

Best Foreign Language Film: "A Separation"

Commentary: A handsome choice, no question. One of the year's best films, painfully human and hopefully a contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar when the nominees are announced in January.

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"

Commentary: Are you kidding me? I am so happy this film was able to be made. It's an uphill climb. It was a passion project. But it... Forget it. I'm on the record. Suffice it to say there were countless other directors who put out more compelling work this year. Malick, Moverman, Durkin, Refn, Ramsay, Farhadi, Scorsese, Nichols, McQueen, the list is epic. This I count as a real disappointment.

Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, "Moneyball"

Commentary: Great pick! The "Moneyball" script is one of the most nuanced and dense pieces of work this year. And with this, the NYFCC raises the profile of the film even more.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"

Commentary: Any other choice would have been a bit unexpected, no? Well, maybe not, as there is some fine work out there from cinematographers this year (which I'll touch on in the Indie Spirits commentary shortly). A deserved win. Nothing touches it this year.

Special Award: Filmmaker Raoul Ruiz (posthumously)

Commentary: A nice nod to the director of films like "Mysteries of Lisbon" and "Three Lives and Only One Death"

Best Picture: "The Artist"

Commentary: This is where that long line of announcements was going? A film that is little more than reference and reverence with no real soul of its own? Very surprising, and very disappointing. Films like "Moneyball" and "The Tree of Life," which were clearly in the running, would have been much more meaningful selections, but it's their party and they'll cry if they want to, I guess.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

Sign up for Instant Alerts from In Contention!