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.

For Your Consideration: June 13, 2014

The World Cup is here! The four long years of exile, pain, and longing are finally over. But while the most popular sporting event on the globe has inspired billions and influenced almost every area of life, from religion to fashion, film has remained surprisingly untouched. There are very few movies about the football, at least in the English-speaking world, which may have something to do with the sport’s minority status here in the U.S. But to help you get into the World Cup mood—even if football isn’t usually your cup of tea—we’ve picked three movies that capture the glory and the pain, the passion and the politics, of the beautiful game.

– Elaine

“Bend It Like Beckham” (2002)

Cast: Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Juliet Stevenson, Anupam Kher, Shaheen Khan, Archie Panjabi

Available to rent from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Meet Jess. Jess (Parminder Nagra) loves football. She plays it in the park with the boys, talks to her poster of David Beckham before bed, and dreams of playing professionally. However, her parents, orthodox Sikhs, have different plans for her. Thus, we have not only a sports movie, but a story about family, competing identities, and clashing cultures. Funny and smart, “Bend It Like Beckham” pokes fun of at traditional culture but conveys its underlying warmth and dignity. Nagra cuts a very likable figure, Juliet Stevenson is absurdly funny as an air-headed mother, and the movie uses montages to great effect. Incidentally, the movie holds the unlikely honor of being the first Western film to air on North Korean television, after an edited version appeared on state television in 2010. If that’s not enough to make you watch it, nothing will.

– Elaine

“The Damned United” (2009)

Cast: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Graham

Available to purchase streaming from Amazon Instant and iTunes, rent on disc from Netflix

Before he tried to teach kings to speak and Russell Crowe to sing, Tom Hooper provided a platform for one of English football’s most notoriously outspoken characters. A (liberally fictionalized) account of how Brian Clough, wunderkind manager of upstart Derby County, earned a disastrous and hilariously brief tenure with his arch-nemesis Leeds United, Hooper’s film marked the fifth and possibly most fruitful collaboration between screenwriter Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) and star Michael Sheen, with Sheen delivering his best performance to date as the brash, charmingly smarmy Yorkshireman. Undoubtedly not the most accurate version of events, “The Damned United” nonetheless delivers as a parable of personal rivalry and betrayal, as Clough struggles to first impress then topple his counterpart at Leeds, Don Revie (Meaney), while maintaining his close friendship with assistant coach Peter Taylor (the always-excellent Spall).

– Ethan

“The Two Escobars” (2010)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Netflix, available to purchase on Amazon Instant and iTunes

The fraught and scandalous lead-up to this year’s World Cup has given us a glimpse of some of the ugliness that can result when football, nationalism and crime collide; but it would hardly be the first time these forces tangled with each other. This exceptional ESPN documentary concerns the death of Andrés Escobar, the star captain of Colombia’s national team in the early 1990’s, found shot only two weeks after committing a humiliating and team-crippling own goal against the U.S. in the 1994 World Cup. Whether or not the athlete’s murder was retribution from the cartels over their resulting gambling debts, or simply the work of an errant, petty thug, “The Two Escobars” is a sobering portrait of the lawlessness of Colombian society at the time: the joy and pride of the Beautiful Game swallowed by the whims of drug lords and madmen.

– Ethan

Summer’s Sleep

In a year where no one film appeared to set the Croisette alight, the Competition jury’s awards seemed set to be a particularly mixed bag. Of course, attempting to predict the Cannes results is an even more foolhardy errand than tracking the Oscars – with a new selection of jurors every year, there’s no accounting for past tastes. One can try to guess what Jane Campion would favor based on her personal style and industry presence, but one never knows where or if a filmmaker’s patterns of production and consumption will overlap – Steven Spielberg and his jury going for “Blue Is the Warmest Color” last year is a pretty sterling example of the left-field subversion that can pop up at any moment.

So what did Campion and crew decide on in the end? Let’s take a brief look:

Palme d’Or (first place): “Winter’s Sleep,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Grand Prix (second place): “The Wonders,” Alice Rohrwacher

Best Director: Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”

Prix du Jury (third place): (TIE) “Goodbye to Language,” Jean-Luc Godard, and “Mommy,” Xavier Dolan

Best Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, “Maps to the Stars”

Best Screenplay: “Leviathan,” Andrei Zvyagintsev

Camera d’Or (best debut in the Official Selection): “Party Girl,” Marie Amachoukeli-Barsacq, Claire Burger, Samuel Theis

It’s rare that the odds-on favorite going into the festival actually prevails at Cannes, but that’s what happened this time, with Turkish director Ceylan’s three-hour, philosophical/conversational essay piece “Winter’s Sleep” winning over Campion’s jury and reasserting just about every stereotype of art-house cinema in the process. It was one of the more divisive entries in the Competition, with responses torn between admiration for Ceylan’s ambition and formal abilities and quite a bit of eye-rolling at what many will perceive as a pretentious and self-indulgent excuse for a diatribe. But Ceylan is one of the most respected international filmmakers that you’ve never heard of – he’s won the Grand Prix twice and Best Director once at this festival before, so there certainly was a sense that he was in line to be rewarded.

The late-breaking “Leviathan,” which screened second to last in the Competition and seemed to emerge as the critical consensus choice for the Palme, had to make do with the relatively minor award for Best Screenplay. I would say not to be too concerned for the film’s fate, that it would appear marked for some end-of-year critic’s picks and a run at the Foreign Language Film Oscar, but Zvyagintsev’s parabolic indictment of social corruption has already run afoul of the Putin regime – the Russian Ministry of Culture has already expressed its displeasure with the film’s critical commentary, and its chances of being selected as the country’s Oscar submission seem low. I try not to second-guess festival picks, considering I have of course not seen any of the films in question, but this seems something of a missed opportunity to truly stand up for freedom of expression on a major international stage.

One thing we could almost certainly count on was that Campion, the only female director ever to win the Palme, and her female-majority jury (Sofia Coppola, French actress Carole Bouquet, Iranian actress Leila Hatami, and South Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon being joined by Willem Dafoe, Gael García Bernal, Nicolas Winding Refn and Chinese director Jia Zhangke) would support the notoriously underrepresented women filmmakers in the Competition. And indeed, first-time competitor Alice Rohrwacher’s “Dogtooth”-esque family/beekeeping tale “The Wonders” was something of a “surprise” pick for the runner-up Grand Prix slot. For a moment even, tracking the announcements live, I thought the two women might go one-two, as rumors had been swirling that Naomi Kawase had also been called back to the Cannes red carpet. That would have been a mighty bold statement to the festival organizers, but “Still the Water” went home empty-handed after all, probably to the delight of a number of snarky Twitterers who jumped on the director earlier in the week for seeming to “beg” for the Palme. Surely, publicly calling one’s own film “my masterpiece” is asking for trouble, but I can’t help but think she was just trying to take pride in her work and that ultimately, all that matters is whether the film delivers or not – as is the case with every single other movie, ever.

The jury did also reward two more of the festival’s scant female filmmakers with the Camera d’Or, the selection for the best debut film by a director anywhere in the Official Selection (including not only the Competition slate, but the Un Certain Regard and Director’s Fortnight sidebars). The co-created “Party Girl” was one of the most well-received Un Certain Regard selections, so it certainly seems a worthy choice – Ryan Gosling’s less-loved “Lost River” will surely get its fair share of attention stateside anyway. The typical aversion of Cannes juries to American fare that is all but guaranteed to resurface later in the year makes the selection of Bennett Miller for Best Director for his third feature, “Foxcatcher,” all the more impressive. It’s a strong start to what will now be a very long awards season for the film and its well-received performances from Steve Carell and Channing Tatum; but let’s not start thinking about that just yet.

Elsewhere, old Cannes mainstays Ken Loach and the Dardennes brothers shockingly came away with nothing from the jury – the Dardennes failing to pick up any prize at all for the first time ever in their Competition careers. But the old guard was represented by cinema’s greatest curmudgeon, as Jean-Luc Godard’s typically inscrutable string of images (now in 3D!) “Goodbye to Language” took half of the third-place Jury Prize. He shared with Xavier Dolan and “Mommy,” one of the more formally daring and much-discussed entries; an unexpectedly appropriate gesture, considering the Canadian enfant terrible‘s certain stylistic resemblance to a young Godard, and a kind of poignant recognition of both the youngest and eldest filmmakers in the Competition in one fell swoop.

Finally, Campion’s jury summarized its mix of the eclectic and the expected with its acting choices: Timothy Spall’s performance as J.M.W. Turner, like “Winter’s Sleep,” had widely been pegged as a winner before the festival even started, while Julianne Moore’s broadly satiric comic turn in David Cronenberg’s gonzo “Maps to the Stars” was a more off-beat choice. Moore becomes only the fourth actor ever (after Juliette Binoche, Sean Penn and Jack Lemmon) to collect leading acting prizes from all three of the major European festivals at Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

Other films that were broadly admired but perhaps not adored, including Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of Sils Maria,” the Dardennes’ “Two Nights, One Day,” Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu” and Damián Szifrón’s “Wild Tales” will hope to find their audiences even without a Cannes prize. In a year where only Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive” and Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Search” were generally dismissed and/or reviled, something had to give. As always, we are left wondering why certain titles from Un Certain Regard (“Party Girl,” Jessica Housner’s “Amour Fou,” Ned Benson’s “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” Ruben Östland’s “Force Majeure,” Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God”) couldn’t have made the leap, but so it goes. Another year, as Mike Leigh might put it.