"The Master," an enigmatic drama about a soul-searching America just after World War II and a complicated relationship that develops between two men, was awarded the best picture prize of 2012 on Sunday by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. The intense Paul Thomas Anderson film also netted Joaquin Phoenix, who played a troubled former Navy man taken under the wing of a charismatic faith leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), with best actor honors.

The group, composed of film critics from Bay Area publications and websites, also bestowed two accolades on East Bay filmmaker Peter Nicks and his topical nonfiction film "The Waiting Room," a fly-on-the-wall documentary that takes you inside Oakland's Highland Hospital overburdened emergency room.

"The Master" and star Joaquin Phoenix were honored by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. (The Weinstein Company, Phil Bray)
"The Master" and star Joaquin Phoenix were honored by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle. (The Weinstein Company, Phil Bray) (PHIL BRAY)

Nicks' revealing film won best documentary, while he was bestowed with the group's annual Marlon Riggs Award, which honors courage and innovation in the world of cinema.

While no film clearly dominated the group's picks, many selections did net two awards apiece.

Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to ever win a best director Oscar, was selected best director for her controversial thriller on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty." Journalist Mark Boal received best original screenplay honors for his work on that film.

Meanwhile, best actress went to Emmanuelle Riva for her wrenching performance as an elderly woman facing an agonizing deterioration of body and mind in "Amour." The harrowing French film, directed by Michael Haneke, was named best foreign language film.

Two familiar faces showed up in the supporting acting categories. "Lincoln's" Tommy Lee Jones was singled out for playing the crotchety but shrewd congressman Thaddeus Stevens, while Helen Hunt won for her touching portrayal of a sex surrogate in "The Sessions."

For making intricate political machinations intriguing in "Lincoln, heralded playwright Tony Kushner was recognized in the best adapted screenplay category.

In the best animated feature category, the Bay Area critics selected the stop-motion animation feature "ParaNorman."

In the technical categories, "Life of Pi's" Claudio Miranda won for cinematography; "Argo's" William Goldenberg honored for editing and "Moonrise Kingdom's" Adam Stockhausen won for production design. The group also presented the peppy, feel-fantastic New York street musical "Girl Walk/All Day" with its annual Special Citation, given to an under-the-radar gem.