NYFCC Don’t Want To Be Your Hero

Yesterday, the New York Film Critics Circle kicked off the next phase of the Oscar season (first comes festivals, then comes critics, then comes shiny statues in a shiny statue carriage). The results weren’t exactly surprising, but I would still call them refreshing: particularly in regard to the group’s choices in the leading performance races, there’s a notable effort here not to immediately narrow down the season to a handful of select names. It should be the job of the critics’ groups to look as broadly as possible around the world of film and perhaps come back with some ignored, foreign or otherwise overlooked candidates. I’d say the NYFCC generally accomplished that this year. Further thoughts along with each category’s winner below!

New York Film Critics Circle

Best Film: Boyhood

“Boyhood” hasn’t stopped playing at the IFC Center in NY since its first shows sold out for almost a week straight in August. The NYC crowd have been the main ones singing its praises the whole time, so this was no shocker. With some of the expected contenders winding up with mixed or lackluster receptions, “Boyhood” is looking better and better by the day, summer release be damned.

Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

See above. His spot in the field is as about as secure as anyone’s.

Best First Film: Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”

I haven’t seen it yet, but Kent’s film has been a festival favorite since Sundance and has genre luminaries like Stephen King and William Friedkin stumping for it. Female directors FTW, in any case.

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night” and “The Immigrant”

Yes yes and yes – even if I’ve never been fond of the NYFCC’s tendency to reward a “career year” rather than one performance like this, I’m glad someone’s putting Cotillard (back) in the conversation, whether for James Gray’s period piece or the Dardennes’ economy-woes drama. There’s been a lot of complaints about a “thin” year for Best Actress contenders, which speaks more to Hollywood’s unwillingness to put an adult woman at the center of any of its films than anything else. But there’s a rich history in such “thin” years of the Academy reaching further for more interesting choices if they get pushed there – in fact, Cotillard’s already got an Oscar to prove it (“La Vie En Rose”). So let’s start pushing. Kudos, NYFCC.

Best Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”

Again, Spall remains on the right side of the conversation bubble for at least a little longer. Best Actor could go 15 deep and I don’t think anyone would argue this year – whether or not Spall gets a spot, a Cannes victory plus this will certainly get a few more people out to see Mike Leigh’s latest.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

In the supporting categories the NYFCC tended more toward solidifying groupthink – but when the performances are this good, it’s tough to argue. Arquette’s wonderful in the film, plain and simple, and it helps that she’s a respected and endearing actress that everyone will be happy to see rewarded.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Same logic goes for Simmons. His performance in “Whiplash” is the kind of instantly iconic work that often sweeps the field in this category (see Ledger, Heath; Bardem, Javier; Waltz, Christoph, the first time). Expect to see him in Oscar montages for years to come.

Best Cinematography: Darius Khondji, “The Immigrant”

Khondji’s something of an unsung hero of the field. He’s been doing fantastic work going back to Fincher’s “Se7en,” and even if “The Immigrant” didn’t light the critics aflame, it certainly looked gorgeous. Another nice keep-the-box-open pick.

Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Personally I haven’t understood the “GBH” hoopla. I think Anderson’s done far richer work and there’s a host of fresher options in this category this year (Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash?” Justin Simien for “Dear White People?” John Michael McDonagh for “Calvary?” come on, people). But he’s a writer’s branch favorite and despite the film’s very early-in-the-year release, he seems to be gathering steam for another nomination.

Best Nonfiction Film: CITIZENFOUR

Haven’t caught up with it yet, so no comment.

Best Foreign Language Film: Ida

Likewise, although it’s streaming on Netflix and is one of my last big priorities for the year (and should be for you as well).

Best Animated Film: The LEGO Movie

Not a whole lot of options out there for the critics this year, but as much as I enjoyed “The LEGO Movie,” I feel like clearly not enough of the membership saw “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” I mean really, if the critics can’t even get out of the multiplex, where are we these days with animation?

Special Award: Adrienne Mancia, curator of film exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art

More well deserved than you all can know. Hear, hear.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Awards Season

It’s that time of year again – there’s a crisp in the air, snow is on the ground (in Buffalo, anyway) and the Film Independent Spirit Awards are here to remind you about movies that debuted at Sundance way back in January. The Indie Spirits aren’t exactly a roadblock on the way to Oscar – considering the annual contenders that don’t even qualify (whose ranks this year included “The Theory of Everything,” “Foxcatcher” and “Unbroken”), Academy success is hardly reliant on a bunch of drunk independent filmmakers in a tent. But, as Weinstein pseudo-indies like “The King’s Speech,” “The Artist” and “Silver Linings Playbook” can tell you, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

It was a bit of a surprise today, then, considering how good Harvey Weinstein has been at wrangling votes for his films from this particular group, that his big play of the year – Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game” – was completely shut out of the Indie Spirit nominations. Not even star and presumptive category frontrunner Benedict Cumberbatch could wrangle a spot, albeit in a crowded Best Actor race (one even more crowded than we thought, but more on that in a minute). The Alan Turing biopic still has a Toronto Audience Award to its name and shouldn’t have trouble gaining traction with the Academy, but its absence here is an opportunity for some other contenders to gain ground.

The biggest winner today, in that regard, was probably Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” – a focused account of MLK’s civil rights protests in the titular city. DuVernay’s film premiered to considerable acclaim at the AFI Fest in LA a couple weeks ago, but Paramount was unable to get screeners out to the Film Independent committees, given how late editing wrapped up. That didn’t prove to be much of a hindrance, as “Selma” picked up five big nominations, including Feature, Director, and Actor. Along with expected big hauls for Alejandro Iñárritu’s “Birdman” and Richard Linklater’s critical favorite “Boyhood,” DuVernay’s film looks to be a firm contender in the season.

Also getting a good boost were a trio of Sundance hits – Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” and Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child.” All three are interesting options to keep an eye out for in the Original Screenplay race, but “Whiplash” in particular is starting to look like it might find a niche in the Best Picture. It’s a stylish and energetic film, ultimately crowd-pleasing but hardly because it makes easy or lazy choices – it’s had a steady presence in the indie box office this fall, a good share of fierce advocates, and J.K. Simmons may be the closest thing we’ve got to a sure winner at this point of a wide-open season.

It really would’ve been a triumph for “Whiplash” if lead Miles Teller had also slid in, but Best Actor proved to be a peculiar point for the Indie Spirits. Instead of expected names like Cumberbatch, Teller, Bill Murray (“St. Vincent”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Inherent Vice”) or Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”), we got none other than André Benjamin (that’s André 3000 to you) for his part as young Jimi Hendrix in John Ridley’s “Jimi: All Is By My Side.” The generally music-less biopic didn’t seem to gather a lot of buzz back when it was released a few months ago, but apparently it had some friends in Film Independent. Will this be a one-and-done scenario or will more people check out Benjamin’s performance as a result of this nod?

Benjamin joined Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), David Oyelowo and Jake Gyllenhaal, who is sneakily gaining a lot of traction for his slippery, uneasy performance as Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler.” This was the perfect place for him to get recognized, but I do wonder if he might pick up some unexpected critics’ awards as well and really get the ball rolling (most of those accolades will likely go to Keaton and Steve Carell, but who knows?). Meanwhile, it was lovely to see them joined by John Lithgow (and, in a bit of category fraud, “Supporting Actor” Alfred Molina) in “Love Is Strange,” Ira Sachs’ summer indie that at least deserved a mention somewhere along the line.

Finally, these nominations probably serve as confirmation that P.T. Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” is unlikely to be an awards player, but its reception of the Robert Altman Award, which honors the film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast, seems appropriate.

Oh, also, I have no idea what “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is. Sorry.

The Independent Spirit Award winners will be announced, as usual, at a Santa Monica ceremony the day before the Oscars, on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

Best Feature

  • Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Boyhood
  • Love Is Strange
  • Selma
  • Whiplash

Best Director

  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Ava DuVernay, “Selma”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • David Zellner, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”

Best Screenplay

  • Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, “Big Eyes”
  • J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive”
  • Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias, “Love Is Strange”

Best First Feature

  • Ana Lily Amirpour, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”
  • Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”
  • Anja Marquardt, “She’s Lost Control”

Best First Screenplay

  • Desiree Akhavan, “Appropriate Behavior”
  • Sara Colangelo, “Little Accidents”
  • Justin Lader, “The One I Love”
  • Anja Marquardt, “She’s Lost Control”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”

John Cassevetes Award (for best feature made for under $500,000)

  • Jeremy Saulnier, “Blue Ruin”
  • Eliza Hittman, “It Felt Like Love”
  • Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, “Land Ho!”
  • Dave Boyle, “Man from Reno”
  • Chris Mason Johnson, “Test”

Best Female Lead

  • Marion Cotillard, “The Immigrant”
  • Rinko Kikuchi, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”
  • Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Tilda Swinton, “Only Lovers Left Alive”

Best Male Lead

  • André Benjamin, “Jimi: All Is By My Side”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • John Lithgow, “Love Is Strange”
  • David Oyelowo, “Selma”

Best Supporting Female

  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Carmen Ejogo, “Selma”
  • Andrea Suarez Paz, “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Best Supporting Male

  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Alfred Molina, “Love Is Strange”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Best Cinematography

  • Darius Khondji, “The Immigrant”
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Sean Porter, “It Felt Like Love”
  • Lyle Vincent, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
  • Bradford Young, “Selma”

Best Editing

  • Sandra Adair, “Boyhood”
  • Tom Cross, “Whiplash”
  • John Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ron Patane, “A Most Violent Year”
  • Adam Wingard, “The Guest”

Best Documentary Film

  • 20,000 Days on Earth
  • Stray Dog
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

Best International Film

  • Force Majeure
  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Mommy
  • Norte, the End of History
  • Under the Skin

Robert Altman Award:

Inherent Vice

Special Distinction Award:


Piaget Producers Award
Chad Burris
Elisabeth Holm
Chris Ohlson

Someone to Watch Award
Ana Lily Amirpour, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”
Rania Attieh & Daniel Garcia, “H.”
Chris Eska, “The Retrieval”

Truer Than Fiction Award
Amanda Rose Wilder, “Approaching the Elephant”
Darius Clark Monroe, “Evolution of a Criminal”
Dan Krauss, “The Kill Team”
Sara Dosa, “The Last Season”

R.I.P. Eli Wallach

As has been widely reported, we have recently lost one of our most prolific actors of stage and screen: Eli Wallach, perpetual journeyman and character specialist, passed away Tuesday at his home in Manhattan, at the age of 98.

Is it odd to mourn a man you never met? To feel a sense of not just regret, but tangible loss upon their passing? It was only a year ago that I grappled with this question with Roger Ebert, a significant role model whose example I would often consult for both professional and personal guidance. It happened again with Philip Seymour Hoffman, a sobering and tragic case of talent, success and even love not being enough to quell personal demons.

Eli Wallach was neither of those things to me. He was a man who quietly, diligently, capably went about his job for over 60 years. He was in a number of productions – whether on TV, film, or the stage – that I saw and quite liked; he was in a great many more that I’ve not yet had the fortune to see. He lived, by all accounts, a long and fulfilling life, with a stable and loving family: he had a wife, Anne Jackson, who collaborated with and challenged him on stage; two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren; and, as it would happen, a nephew, a certain A.O. Scott.

And what else is there to say? Not that I mean there wasn’t much more to Wallach’s life, from his five years in the Medical Corps during WWII to his collaborations with the likes of Lee Strasberg, Tennessee Williams, Sergio Leone, and Francis Ford Coppola, or the countless other details that made up Wallach’s life that I will never and have no reason to be privy to. But that is, more or less, a summary of Wallach’s presence in my private little bubble. Is it so foolish, or perhaps simply unnecessary, then, to feel just so dreadfully sad that this man is no longer out there, somewhere, in the world?

Do I love him as Clark Gable’s sidekick in “The Misfits?” Sure. Do I adore him as the slippery, weary villain of “The Magnificent Seven?” Absolutely. Would I watch “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” several dozen times just to watch the practiced way the mischievous Tuco, a bumbling idiot in any lesser film, always knows enough to keep one eye on the door? I could, and I have. Affection for his screen work isn’t an entirely satisfactory answer, though – Wallach never was (nor really ever intended to be) the kind of electric performer who blew you away with his raw talent. He was a workhorse who created solid, lived-in characters; maybe he wasn’t the poster-boy for Strasberg’s Method but he was the proof that it was more than attention-grabbing behind-the-scenes stunts. There was perhaps never a more worthy recipient of an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement: he may never have really turned in a single, star-making performance, but it was always a pleasant surprise to see his face when he popped up.

Is that all there is to it? Did Wallach simply ingratiate his way into my life with a distinctive mug and a knack for being watchable? By just seeming like a nice old man who loved what he did?

Honestly, I don’t really know the answer. I just know that Tuesday evening, Eli Wallach passed away. And that’s too bad.