By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Film Critics Circle named "American Hustle," a film about 1970s con artists forced to work with the FBI, as best film of 2013 on Tuesday and gave its top acting prizes to Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett in the first major movie honors in the run-up to the Oscars.
British director Steve McQueen won the best director prize for "12 Years a Slave," the historical drama about a free black man sold into slavery and based on the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup.
Tuesday's awards pit director David O. Russell's "American Hustle," which will be released in U.S. theaters later this month, and "12 Year a Slave," the winner of the top prize at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, as early contenders in the race for the Academy Awards.
Redford picked up the best actor award for his solo performance in the survival drama "All is Lost," and Blanchett was named best actress for her portrayal of a pill-popping former socialite forced to deal with reduced circumstances in Woody Allen's film "Blue Jasmine."
Actor Jared Leto won the best supporting actor prize for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" as an HIV-positive transgender woman who helps smuggle medication not approved in the United States to AIDS patients.
The New York Film Critics Circle, which announced the awards on Twitter, gave Jennifer Lawrence, last year's best actress Oscar winner for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook," the best supporting actress prize for playing the ditzy, bored housewife in "American Hustle."
The film also won the best screenplay award for Eric Singer and Russell.
BELLWETHER FOR OSCARS
Founded in 1935, the New York Film Critics Circle is among the oldest critics groups in the country. It is made up of members of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Their awards will be followed on Wednesday by the top film prizes from the National Board of Review.
The awards are seen as a bellwether for Hollywood's Oscars, the film world's highest honors, which will awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on March 2.
The New York Film Critics Circle prize for best foreign language film went to "Blue is the Warmest Color," a French lesbian love story by director Abdellatif Kechiche that won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
"Stories We Tell," a Canadian film directed by Sarah Polley, which delves into storytelling and memories, picked up the best documentary award.
The group awarded "Fruitvale Station," Ryan Coogler's directorial debut about the real-life story of a young, black man shot to death by a white, transit policeman, the best first film prize.
Bruno Delbonnel won the best cinematography award for "Inside Llewyn Davis," a film by Joel and Ethan Coen about the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961.
"The Wind Rises," by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, was named best animated film.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Leslie Gevirtz)