By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 16, 2002 01:00 PM
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Jack’s back — and Oscar might not be far behind. Jack Nicholson has been named best actor by the 50-member Los Angeles Film Critics Association for his tour-de-force role in director Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt.”

In it, Nicholson — who’s already won three Oscars, for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Terms of Endearment” and “As Good As It Gets” — plays a newly retired and suddenly widowed Midwestern insurance actuary who hits the road in a Winnebago, ostensibly to stop his daughter from marrying a loser. The film also was named best picture and won best screenplay.

Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” shared the acting honor with Nicholson. The Nicholson-Day-Lewis tie was the only one in the L.A. selections. The other categories all featured runner-up winners.

“Far From Heaven,” a straight-faced send-up of ’50s melodramas, was named best picture runner-up, while its star, Julianne Moore, was named best actress. Isabelle Huppert took the runner-up spot for “The Piano Teacher,” a drama about an anguished middle-aged classical piano instructor.

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was cited as top director for “Talk to Her.” Todd Haynes was runner-up for “Far From Heaven.”

Chris Cooper, as a toothless orchid thief in “Adaptation,” was named best supporting actor; Christopher Walken was the runner-up for “Catch Me If You Can.” Edie Falco won for supporting actress (“Sunshine State”), with the runner-up Kathy Bates (“About Schmidt”).

The Los Angeles critics’ picks are just one of several that help shape the early Oscar race. On Monday, the New York Film Critics Circle will announce its awards, and on Thursday the Golden Globe nominations will come out.