To Los Angeles, With “Amour”

Phew. For a moment, the NYFCC and NBR selections made it look like Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” might just bulldoze over the critical season and suppress one of the strongest, most varied cinematic years in recent memory. Luckily, we can usually count on the LA critics to be purposefully contrarian against their east-coast counterparts. And so they did today, by giving huge boosts to two films on the fringe of the Oscar hunt, Michael Haneke’s Cannes darling “Amour” and P.T. Anderson’s rapidly fading “The Master.” Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

The love for “The Master” was consistent and resounding, with Anderson’s polarizing film picking up no less than four awards along with a slew of runner-up mentions. The choice for “Amour” was a little more left-field, especially considering Haneke’s film didn’t even factor into their Best Foreign Film choice – that category went to Carax’s equally deserving “Holy Motors.” Note to the LA film critics: if a foreign film is your best film of the year, it also must be your best foreign film of the year. I understand the desire to spread the wealth around, but you’re talking about defying basic laws of logic here. Every time an awards group makes a perplexing decision like this, somewhere in the universe a galaxy unravels.

The selection of “Amour” was presaged by a predictable (but no less welcome) co-victory in Best Actress for Emmanuelle Riva. The LAFCA is well known for looking to foreign fare in this category, with recent winners including the likes of Yun Jung-hee (“Poetry”), Kim Hye-ja (“Mother”), Yolande Moreau (“Séraphine”) and of course Marion Cotillard (“La Vie En Rose”). So the bigger surprise actually was that the LA critics decided to award Riva a tie with Jennifer Lawrence. It’s very possible that was a reactionary pick, with the LA critics noting that Lawrence had been unexpectedly ignored by both the NYFCC and NBR, and that both the Boston critics and the New York online critics had gone for Riva earlier in the day. Of course I’ve seen neither performance yet, although just from appearances it seems silly to me to suggest that Lawrence is anywhere near the same league as an acting legend like Riva. Ah well.

Elsewhere, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams got some much-needed attention for their knockout performances in “The Master,” with Denis Lavant and Anne Hathaway trailing close behind them. It would be nice if some critic’s group along the way had the guts just to go with Lavant, but if anyone’s challenging him for performance of the year in my opinion, it’s Phoenix, so I can’t really fault the LAFCA there. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” also got some nice notices in the lower categories, including an incredibly savvy pick for Dwight Henry as Best Supporting Actor. Most of the attention for that film has been on young Quvenzhané Wallis, but Henry, a total amateur going into the production (he’s a baker by trade) is just as astounding for my money.

One last thing to notice is that “Frankenweenie” has now picked up both the NYFCC and LAFCA awards for animated film – I would’ve expected “Wreck-It Ralph” or “ParaNorman” to pick up one of those, but it seems like Burton’s film is the critical darling of the category this year. Much as I loved those latter two films, there would be a certain symmetry to Burton finally picking up his first Oscar by returning to the character/concept that launched his film career.

Check out the full list of winners and runners-up below.

Best Picture: “Amour” (Runner-up: “The Master”)

Best Director: P.T. Anderson, “The Master” (Runner-up: Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty”)

Best Actress: (TIE) Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook” and Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master” (Runner-up: Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors”)

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “The Master” (Runner-up: Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises”)

Best Supporting Actor: Dwight Henry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Runner-up: Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”)

Best Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo” (Runner-up: David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”)

Best Film Editing: “Zero Dark Thirty” (Runner-up: “Argo”)

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, “Skyfall” (Runner-up: Mihai Malaimare Jr., “The Master”)

Best Foreign Film: “Holy Motors” (Runner-up: “Footnote”)

Best Documentary: “The Gatekeepers” (Runner-up: “Searching for Sugar Man”)

Best Animation: “Frankenweenie” (Runner-up: “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”)

Best Music/Score: “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Runner-up: “The Master”)

Best Production Design: “The Master” (Runner-up: “Moonrise Kingdom”)

New Generation Award: Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”

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