By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Her," a story about a man who falls in love with a computer operating system, on Wednesday won the National Board of Review award for 2013 best film of the year and best director, the second major film awards in the run-up to the Oscars.
Director Spike Jonze's "Her," which will be released in selected U.S. theaters later this month, stars Joaquin Phoenix as a withdrawn writer in Los Angeles in the quirky love story.
"Spike Jonze is one of the most talented and visionary filmmakers working today," said Annie Schulhof, the president of the National Board of Review, a 100-year-old U.S. based group of movie industry watchers and film professionals.
"In 'Her' he explores the age-old themes of love and human connection in a completely fresh and innovative way. It is an outstanding achievement that is sure to become a new classic," she added in a statement.
Bruce Dern was named best actor for his portrayal as an ornery old man convinced he has won a fortune in Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," and Emma Thompson picked up the best actress accolade for her turn as author P.L. Travers, the creator of "Mary Poppins," in "Saving Mr. Banks."
Comedic actor Will Forte, best known for his roles on the television sketch show "Saturday Night Live," won the best supporting actor prize for playing Dern's patient son in "Nebraska."
Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer was named best supporting actress for "Fruitvale Station," about the real-life story of a young black man shot to death by a white transit policeman.
"Fruitvale Station" won honors for breakthrough performance for actor Michael B. Jordan and the best directorial debut prize for Ryan Coogler.
START OF THE OSCAR RACE
The National Board of Review awards, which will be presented at a gala in New York on January 7, followed the New York Film Critics Circle prizes on Tuesday, the first film honors leading up to the Oscars.
"Nebraska," "American Hustle," "Her" and "12 Years A Slave" picked up some of up the top awards from the two groups setting the stage for the race to the Academy Awards, the movie industry's highest honors, that will be presented on March 2.
The NBR gave brothers Joel and Ethan Coen the best original screenplay prize for "Inside Llewyn Davis" about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961.
Best adapted screenplay went to Terence Winter for director Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," and best animated feature was awarded to "The Wind Rises," by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.
Director Asghar Farhadi's "The Past," about an Iranian man who deserts his French wife and children to return home, grabbed the best foreign language film prize.
Adele Exarchopoulos, who starred in the French lesbian love story "Blue is the Warmest Color" by director Abdellatif Kechiche also nabbed a breakthrough performance award.
"Stories We Tell," a Canadian film directed by Sarah Polley that delves into storytelling and memories, picked up the best documentary award.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)