LA Critics Stay Classy

With critics’ groups suddenly crawling out of the woodwork to all announce their awards/nominations in the past two days, it’s been a little hard to keep up with the madness. Seriously, between today and yesterday alone, we’ve heard from critics’ circles in Boston, Houston, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit, Indiana and San Diego, not to mention the New York Online group and the African American Film Critics Association.

One wonders where the merit is in having everyone announce their superlatives at the same time; if you were part of one of these smaller groups, wouldn’t you rather try to take the spotlight in a slow period in later December or January than just get lost in the shuffle like this? Particularly if your awards are going to end up looking generally like everyone else’s, which has been the case this year: while there have been some nice shout-outs here and there (there was a mention somewhere for Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard,” another for Brit Marling in “Another Earth,” and unexpectedly strong love all around for “Drive”), most of the critics’ lists we’ve seen so far are picking out the same basic group of films over and over. I’m obviously not going to go through all the lists I mentioned above, rather just summarize a few trends: “The Artist” has definitely seized its place as frontrunner, followed close behind by “Hugo,” “Moneyball” should indeed be a very strong contender, and both “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seem to be having zero effect on the landscape whatsoever. I’m still not actually sure if anyone has seen “Extremely Loud” yet, though; it really is curious for such a major contender to stay so hush-hush for so long.

But always worthy of careful consideration are the Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation’s annual awards. Even more so than their New York counterparts, the LAFCA usually manage to find room for films that have been out of the spotlight. It helps that they list their runners-up, which always gives us an interesting look at what might have happened, were this quirky group even braver (take, for instance, the 1-2 punch of “WALL-E” and “The Dark Knight” in 2008, or last year’s runner-up love for Olivier Assayas’ epic biopic “Carlos”). Anyway, eccentricity was certainly the case in general again this year, although the excitement of some left-field nods in the lower categories was quenched somewhat by the anticlimactic win for “The Descendants” in Best Picture, but at this point anything but a win for “The Artist” is still pretty interesting. Check out the full list of winners here, with some commentary after:

Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation awards:

New Generation Award: the creative team behind “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos, Josh Mond, Elizabeth Olsen)

Best Foreign Language Film: “The City of Life and Death”  (Runner-up: “A Separation”)

Best Animation: “Rango” (Runner-up: “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”)

Best Documentary: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (Runner-up: “The Arbor”)

Best Music/Score: The Chemical Brothers, “Hanna” (Runner-up: Cliff Martinez, “Drive”)

Best Production Design: “Hugo” (Runner-up: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Cao Yu, “The City of Life and Death”)

Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, “Coriolanus,” “The Debt,” “The Help,” “Take Shelter,” “The Tree of Life,” “Texas Killing Fields” (Runner-up: Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners” (Runner-up: Patton Oswalt, “Young Adult”)

Best Screenplay: Asghar Fahadi, “A Separation” (Runner-up: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, “The Descendants”)

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, “A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre,” “Shame,” “X-Men: First Class” (Runner-up: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”)

Best Actress: Yoon Jeong-hee, “Poetry” (Runner-up: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia”)

Best Director: Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”)

Best Film: “The Descendants” (Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”)

I honestly would’ve loved to see “The Tree of Life” finally snatch one of these awards, but at least it came close, and the love for Malick and Lubezki is there. For those wondering, “The City of Life and Death” is a Chinese film about the Rape of Nanking from back in 2009 that must’ve not gotten an American release until this year – I’d honestly never heard anything about it before, but I am certainly intrigued now (especially since it will be interesting to compare with Zhang Yimou’s upcoming “The Flowers of War,” starring Christian Bale, covering the same subject).

The LAFCA decided to go with the “let’s just throw all their films in there” option for the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, which is certainly fine considering the pair’s consistently quality work this work, but these critics could do Chastain more favors for the season on the whole by singling her out for something. I still suspect it’ll end up being for her turn in “The Help,” but “Take Shelter” is lurking (deservedly) as a dark horse contender. Speaking of “Take Shelter,” great to see Michael Shannon finally get his first nod of the season for a tour de force performance. The LAFCA never stoops to blasé Meryl Streep-esque choices when it comes to their acting laurels; indeed, this is the 5th year running that they have gone with an actress from a foreign production for their Best Actress award. They also showed friendliness toward non-American fare in the unexpected (but reportedly very welcome) win for Iranian marriage drama “A Separation” for Best Screenplay. That film is quickly rising up my must-see list, to be sure.

Finally, I still haven’t seen Joe Wright’s genre thriller “Hanna,” but the victory for its throbbing techno score by The Chemical Brothers is also a wonderful outside-the-box choice (ditto, in fact, the runner-up; I’m a great admirer of Martinez’s infectious work on “Drive”).

So while there is a definite top tier of nostalgic work (“The Artist,” “Hugo,” “War Horse”) inhabiting the Oscar race, there is certainly still plenty of wiggle room left in the season. Starting tomorrow, we still have Critics’ Choice nominations, SAG nominations and Golden Globe nominations all to come this week, after which things may start to narrow in a hurry. But for now we can still look at lists like this and dream of what could be.


One thought on “LA Critics Stay Classy

  1. Yay, LA! So diverse. So many foreign films. I still think Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender should just get married and then both be in a million movies together (or double-handedly take over the film industry). I’m also going to start chanting: HUGO! HUGO! HUGO! at all film-related events or discussions from now on (this is before seeing “The Artist,” of course, but it’s going to have to do a lot to silence my chant. HUGO! HUGO! HUGO!)

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