November 29, 2011

STATUETTE STAKES: NY Film Critics Kick Off Awards Season


The New York Film Critics Circle famously (notoriously?), having decided that they simply couldn’t wait to announce their 2011 awards until, y’know, they had actually seen all the movies (when Warners couldn’t rush them a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close–which doesn’t open until December 25–the Circle simply ignored it), has made its late-November proclamations.  After the break, the winners and some thoughts:

Best Picture:  THE ARTIST  It’s Oscar time, and that means Harvey Weinstein.  The Artist, with its admirable mix of craft and movie love, has a chance of overwhelming the critical establishment, and while that’s no guarantee of Oscar glory (remember The Social Network), it certainly could make for a frontrunner.  Awards like this will also help the picture be seen by a more mainstream audience, which in turn doesn’t hurt with the Academy.
Best Director:  Michel Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST  Ditto.
Best Actor:  Brad Pitt, MONEYBALL and THE TREE OF LIFE  Pitt (and Jessica Chastain below) benefit from the fact that critics groups base their awards on a year’s body of work rather than for a single film.  Having 2 well-regarded pictures in one calendar year is a big boost.  Also, the fact that there’s no tremendous favorite in this category could give Pitt the best chance of his career thus far for a victory.  (Which would probably be for Moneyball.)
Best Actress:  Meryl Streep, THE IRON LADY This race has seemed to narrow quickly to Streep vs Michelle Williams (and possibly Viola Davis), and the first volley goes to The Great One.  Big loser here is Glenn Close, whose Albert Nobbs is currently under the radar and may stay there.
Best Supporting Actor:  Albert Brooks, DRIVE  That perfect combination of a talent that richly deserves reward for decades of superb work with a role that genuinely surprised everyone (and in which he was remarkable ).  Christopher Plummer in Beginners seems to be his main competition.
Best Supporting Actress:  Jessica Chastain, THE TREE OF LIFE, TAKE SHELTER and THE HELP  The It Girl of 2011, and this list of movies doesn’t even include her excellent turns in The Debt, Texas Killing Fields or Coriolanus.  The Oscar question is whether so many fine performances will fracture her chances of actually winning.
Best Screenplay:  Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, MONEYBALL  There aren’t writers in Hollywood more A-list than these two, and in Moneyball they successfully brought to the screen a piece of source material as unpromising as anything out there.
Best Foreign-Language Film:  A SEPARATION  Sony Classics isn’t opening this Iranian drama until the very end of December, but it’s been making the rounds of film festivals for months.
Best Cinematography:  Emmanuel Lubezki, THE TREE OF LIFE  Even people who gave up on the movie had to bow their heads at the spectacular look of the film. 
Best Nonfiction Film:  CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS  Werner Herzog is a figure beloved by critics, and Cave was a film where his fascinations melded beautifully with the subject matter.  Also impressive as one of the first documentaries to make truly effective use of 3D.
Best First Feature:  MARGIN CALL  Yay, NYFCC!  One of the year’s very best pictures–first or otherwise–gets a shout-out that will hopefully keep it alive down the awards season trail.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."