Futuristic sequel Mad Max: Fury Road has been named film of the year by the influential National Board of Review.
The New York-based collective of film historians, student and academics also gave Amy, Asif Kapadia's film about Amy Winehouse, its best documentary prize.
Ridley Scott was named best director for The Martian, which also picked up prizes for lead actor Matt Damon and Drew Goddard's adapted screenplay.
Sylvester Stallone won best supporting actor for Rocky spin-off Creed.
National Board of Review president Annie Schulhof said: "2015 has been a banner year for popular cinema.
"We are thrilled to be awarding [Mad Max director] George Miller and Ridley Scott, two iconic film-makers at the top of their game, while also celebrating the next generation of talent," she added.
Mad Max, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, was warmly reviewed but will be seen by some as an unusual choice for the board's best film award.
So far it has been considered unlikely to figure in the forthcoming awards season, with most of the attention geared towards films such as independent dramas Spotlight, Brooklyn and Carol.
Earlier this week, Spotlight was the star feature at the Gotham Awards for independent film in New York, where it won best picture, screenplay and the jury award for its ensemble cast.
The Thomas McCarthy-directed drama centres around the true story of the Boston Globe's investigative "Spotlight" team as they endeavour to undercover the truth behind allegations of sexual abuse among Roman Catholic priests in Massachusetts.
Other National Board of Review honourees included Brie Larson, the star of Room. The best actress win will bolster her status as a likely Oscar candidate for her role as an imprisoned young woman.
Quentin Tarantino, meanwhile, picked up the original screenplay award for his new western The Hateful Eight, which also saw Jennifer Jason Leigh named best supporting actress.
The 2015 William K Everson Film History award winner was Cecilia De Mille Presley, the granddaughter of legendary director Cecil B DeMille and a campaigner of film preservation.
The winners of the awards are selected by more than 100 New York film fans. History has shown they have a mixed success rate in predicting Oscars glory.
Last year, they named JC Chandor's A Most Violent Year as best picture and its star Oscar Isaac as best actor, with his co-star Jessica Chastain picking up the best supporting actress award. However, the film was ultimately overlooked at the Academy Awards.
The winners of this year's awards will pick up their statues at a celebratory dinner on 5 January.