Stephen Daldry's film, The Hours, his follow-up to the surprise success of Billy Elliot, was yesterday named best film by the National Board of Review in America, an early indicator of how the Oscar awards may go.
The complex drama, which revolves around Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway, stars Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Eileen Atkins.
The film's supernatural-tinted script uses the novel to interweave the story of three women living across four decades. It was adapted by David Hare from Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer prize-winning book.
Another British film, Nicholas Nickleby, won the prize for best ensemble acting.
There was anger and dismay that the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts, which runs the Oscars, had decided to bar The Warrior, Britain's acclaimed entry in the foreign language category.
The academy claimed that Londoner Asif Kapadia's prize-winning film was not British because its six minutes of dialogue was in Hindi, a language it claimed was not "indigenous to the UK", nor was the film about the Hindu community in Britain.
The snub follows the furore over another attempt to stop an award-winning British film, Bloody Sunday, from competing. Rival producers said it should be ineligible because it had been shown on television before it was released in cinemas.
Kapadia insisted that his film, The Warrior, which follows a man's spiritual journey from the deserts of Rajasthan to the snowy peaks of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas, was British.
Its producer, Bertrand Faivre, said that, other than the fact that it was shot in India, the film could not have been more British. "The writer was British. The director was British. The majority of department heads were British," Mr Faivre said.
"The post-production was British. The money was British. FilmFour was British. The department for culture gave it a certificate of British nationality."
In a further ironic twist, The Warrior's place will be taken by Tim Lyn's Welsh-language coming-of-age tale, Eldra. While the number of Welsh-speakers in the UK is estimated to be around 500,000, there is said to be three times as many people reasonably fluent in Hindi.
To add insult to injury, the academy allowed the predominantly Russian-language and Russian-set Lilya 4-Ever to compete for Sweden.
Mr Faivre told Screen International that festivals around the world had described the film his film as a landmark in British film-making.
"The academy seems to have a very narrow view of what a British film is. Asif is a second generation Indian, born and brought up in London, who was expressing something of worth. He had a western take on an Indian story."
· The Film Council yesterday put up £500,000 of lottery money to help people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or partially sighted, to have better access to cinemas.
It hopes the owners of multiplex chains, and independent cinemas, will match its contribution to buy captioning and audio description equipment. Most of the money will pay for a pilot project to install the equipment in one in 10 cinemas in the UK.