LA, LA, LA (Does It Matter?)

My Grad School Week from Hell is just about over. And not a moment too soon, as there’s all sorts of exciting business that I haven’t been able to report on. After the NYFCC and NBR, a slew of other critics’ groups have had their usual say (more on them in a moment), but perhaps more importantly, the industry insider types that actually make up the Academy votership finally got a say with the Screen Actors Guild nominations. And then there’s those always-entertaining folks over at the Golden Globes.

But let’s go one at a time. First off, the LA film critics rounded out last week’s critic’s trio with a flurry of indecision and zig-zags. No fewer than three of their categories ended in a tie, usually a fairly rare occurrence. That included Best Picture, which got split between Alfonso Cuarón’s phenomenon “Gravity” and Spike Jonze’s “Her,” which has quickly emerged as the critical favorite of the season after receiving the top NBR prize as well. I had expected the critics to champion “12 Years a Slave,” and McQueen’s film has still picked up plenty of notices from the likes of the Boston and Washington groups, but so far there’s been a gratifying variety going around this year. “Her” is far from a lock at the Oscars or anything, but the unexpected love is a great PR boost for a film that was thought to be on the fringe and now seems right in the thick of things.

The frontrunners for the acting categories do seem fairly locked in at this point, with Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto taking up the majority of notices in their respective races. The LAFCA didn’t add much to that variety, though they went with Bruce Dern over Chiwetel Ejiofor in Best Actor and added a few ties – Adele Exarchopoulos was an unsurprising pick for this often-foreign-title-leaning group, and, well, SOMEONE was going to go there for James Franco in “Spring Breakers,” right? But I’ll talk more about the acting races with the SAG awards, as past the frontrunners there’s some quite interesting shuffling going around to fill out the slates.

Other highlights from LA include, finally, a Screenplay win for Richard Linklater and his “Before Midnight” stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. That film also hasn’t been getting championed by the critics in general like I thought it would, which is somewhat disappointing. The love for the music of “Inside Llewyn Davis” continues, and having finally caught the film last Sunday, I’m totally on board. Just more sterling production work from T-Bone Burnett, who also famously coordinated the Coens’ music for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Meanwhile, “Gravity” was confirmed as not just a commercial but critical smash, picking up notices for Cinematography, Director, and Editing (love the runner-up choice for that category though – Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” looks wonderful).

GKIDS offering “Ernest and Celestine” popped up to bip “The Wind Rises” out of yet another Best Animated Feature victory – can the little-animation-house-that-could guide yet another charming foreign entry to an unexpected Oscar nod, as they did with ‘The Secret of Kells,” “Chico and Rita” and “A Cat in Paris?” There have been some rule changes in that category to open up the nomination voting to a general Academy vote, which will make their battle even more difficult.

Finally, a great notice in the LAFCA’s special New Generation Award for producer Megan Ellison. 27-year-old Ellison (daughter of Oracle Corporation CEO Larry Ellison) has been absolutely murdering it since founding her own production company, Annapurna Pictures, only last year; since then she’s been a major force in producing and distributing “Lawless,” “The Master,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Spring Breakers,” “The Grandmaster,” “Her” and “American Hustle” (with Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” coming up next year). That’s already an astounding resume, and she’s barely started – she’s clearly a vital new force in fostering independent cinema.

Any wins with that group that stand out to you, dear readers?

Los Angeles Film Critics Association winners

Best Picture: (tie) “Gravity” and “Her”

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, “Gravity” (runner-up: Spike Jonze, “Her”)

Best Actress: (tie) Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine” and Adele Exarchopoulos, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Actor: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska” (runner-up: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”)

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave” (runner-up: June Squibb, “Nebraska”)

Best Supporting Actor: (tie) James Franco, “Spring Breakers” and Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Best Screenplay: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight” (runner-up: Spike Jonze, “Her”)

Best Music: T-Bone Burnett, “Inside Llewyn Davis” (runner-up: Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, “Her”)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity” (runner-up: Bruce Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”)

Best Foreign Language Film: “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (runner-up: “The Great Beauty”)

Best Documentary: “Stories We Tell” (runner-up: “The Act of Killing”)

Best Animated Feature: “Ernest and Celestine” (runner-up: “The Wind Rises”)

Best Editing: Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger, “Gravity” (runner-up: Shane Carruth and David Lowery, “Upstream Color”)

Best Production Design: K.K. Barrett, “Her” (runner-up: Jess Gonchor, “Inside Llewyn Davis”)

Douglas E. Edwards Independent/Experimental Film/Video Award: Charlotte Pryce, “Cabinet of Wonders” (author’s note: This is the most ridiculously waffling name for an award in the history of awards)

New Generation Award: Megan Ellison


What, is it funny or something?

Sorry, couldn’t resist. Nothing wrong whatsoever with the National Board of Review sticking its neck out today for Spike Jonze’s intriguing new romance – in fact, it’s a huge boost for what was seen as a fringe Oscar contender until now (the last NBR winner to not earn a Best Picture nomination from the Academy was “Quills,” 13 years ago). Fascinating for the more populist-leaning NBR to be the ones to go there; I was thinking that the LA critics might be the ones to go for “Her,” and they still might. In any case, it’s a great sign of a varied season that we aren’t seeing either “12 Years a Slave” or “Gravity” dominate so far – and for fans of those films, really, don’t worry, they will both very much be in it.

Elsewhere, all of the acting winners were different from the NYFCC choices, again a sign of the bevy of options. “Nebraska” seems a stronger contender every day, and Will Forte’s Supporting Actor campaign gets a big boost here. Also good notice for Octavia Spencer, who has to battle with voters’ short-term memories as “Fruitvale Station” came out all the way back in summer.

More and more notice for “The Wind Rises” and “Stories We Tell” (which also made the Academy’s 15-film shortlist in the Best Documentary Feature category yesterday) – not going to complain there. Miyazaki’s last film looks pretty safe for a nomination at the Oscars, but I would say genre bias would still have the family-friendly “Frozen” in the lead for the win there.

Meanwhile, not a ton of surprises in the NBR’s top lists (note, as always, that a category winner doesn’t actually make the top list in the corresponding category, so “Her” doesn’t end up in the Top 10 Films list – a slightly strange system, but if it allows for more recognition, why not). No “Blue Is the Warmest Color” in the Foreign Language Film list, the first sign of dissension there; also I have no idea what Peter Berg’s forgettable-looking Navy SEAL drama “Lone Survivor” is doing here. Most likely just an attempt to get Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch on to the red carpet.

National Board of Review superlatives

Best Film: Her

Best Director: Spike Jonze, “Her”

Best Actor: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”

Best Actress: Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks”

Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, “Nebraska”

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, “Fruitvale Station”

Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, “The Wolf of Wall Street”

Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises

Breakthrough Performance, Male: Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”

Breakthrough Performance, Female: Adele Exarchopoulos, “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale Station”

Best Foreign Language Film: The Past

Best Documentary: Stories We Tell

William K. Everson Film History Award: George Stevens, Jr.

Best Ensemble: Prisoners

Spotlight Award: The career collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Wadjda

Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award: Gravity

Top Films (alphabetical):

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Fruitvale Station
  • Gravity
  • Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Lone Survivor
  • Nebraska
  • Prisoners
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (alphabetical):

  • Beyond the Hills
  • Gloria
  • The Grandmaster
  • A Hijacking
  • The Hunt

Top 5 Documentaries:

  • 20 Feet from Stardom
  • The Act of Killing
  • After Tiller
  • Casting By
  • The Square

Top 10 Independent Films (alphabetical):

  • Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • In a World…
  • Mother of George
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • Mud
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Short Term 12
  • Sightseers
  • The Spectacular Now