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'Melancholia,' Kirsten Dunst and Brad Pitt: National Society of Film Critics Surprises

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A Separation, Shahab Hosseini, Asghar Farhadi
Shahab Hosseini in Asghar Farhadi's A Separation

The National Society of Film Critics, among whose members are the majority of the United States' most influential and respected film commentators, has – as usual – taken a (mostly) different route than your average US-based critics' group. For every The Social Network or The Hurt Locker there's a Mulholland Dr. or a Yi Yi.

This year, the NSFC scribes selected Lars von Trier's Melancholia as 2011's Best Film. The apocalyptic family drama also earned Kirsten Dunst the critics' Best Actress citation. Curiously, von Trier came up in third for Best Director, while his screenplay failed to be included among the NSFC's top three choices. Manuel Alberto Claro, I should add, was the runner-up in the Best Cinematography category. (See further below the full list of National Film Critics Society 2011 winners.)

Last December, Melancholia was the European Film Awards' Best Film. Last spring, Dunst was the Best Actress winner at the Cannes Film Festival.

The NSFC's Best Director was Terrence Malick for his Palme d'Or-winning family drama The Tree of Life, which also happened to be the critics' Best Picture runner-up. In addition, The Tree of Life won for Best Cinematography (critics' fave Emmanuel Lubezki) and helped to earn Brad Pitt a Best Actor citation – also for Bennett Miller's Moneyball. Much like Melancholia, The Tree of Life failed to be placed among the top three screenplays of 2011.

The Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress citations were more "predictable," in that they matched the selections of most North American critics' groups: respectively, Albert Brooks for Nicolas Winding Refn's thriller Drive, and Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, and Tate Taylor's The Help.

Now, the truly surprising inclusion – in any of the four acting categories – was Best Supporting Actress runner-up Jeannie Berlin for Kenneth Lonergan's little-seen but much-admired Margaret. Berlin, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee back in 1972 for The Heartbreak Kid, hadn't been mentioned at all this awards season. Even Poetry's Yun Jung-hee, the Best Actress runner-up, had already been cited by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

The Best Screenplay Award went – for the second time this awards season – to Asghar Farhadi for the Berlin Film Festival winner A Separation. (As mentioned by a commenter below, A Separation was the Los Angeles Critics' Best Screenplay pick as well.) Farhadi's Iranian family drama was also cited as the year's Best Foreign Language Film, in addition to landing in third place for Best Film. Farhadi, however, was not listed among the year's top three directors. Malick was followed by Hugo's Martin Scorsese and Melancholia's von Trier.

The Best Foreign Language Film runners-up were the recently deceased Raoul Ruiz's period epic Mysteries of Lisbon and Aki Kaurismäki's immigration drama Le Havre.

Werner Herzog showed up twice in the Best Documentary category: Cave of Forgotten Dreams was no. 1 and Into the Abyss no. 3. In second place was Steve James' The Interrupters. None of the three films is in the running for this year's Academy Awards.

Shahab Hosseini/A Separation photo: Habib Madjidi / Sony Pictures Classics

A Trip to the Moon, Georges Melies
Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon

Two interesting omissions from the NSFC roster: critics' fave Michelle Williams (for portraying Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn) and George Clooney (for his stressed out father in Alexander Payne's The Descendants) weren't among the critics' top three actresses/actors. Dunst and Yun were followed by New York Film Critics winner Meryl Streep for her Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd's The Iron Lady; Brad Pitt was followed by Gary Oldman in Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Jean Dujardin in Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist. Dujardin, in fact, was The Artist's sole representative in the NSFC 2011 roster.

For the record the other runners-up were Christopher Plummer (Mike Mills' Beginners) and Patton Oswalt (Jason Reitman's Young Adult) for Best Supporting Actor; Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) was no. 3 for Best Supporting Actress; Hugo (Robert Richardson) was no. 3 for Best Cinematography; and Moneyball (Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin) and Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) were the Best Screenplay runners-up.

Also, Ken Jacobs was cited for the experimental feature Seeking the Monkey King, which is so experimental it's not even listed on the IMDb. In Jacobs' own words, the 40-minute Seeking the Monkey King "could have well been called Kicking and Screaming but that only describes me in the process of making it, questioning its taste. Once the message kicked in it overrode all objection. ... Determining a place between two and three dimensions, pushing time to take on substance, is what I do. Seeking the Monkey King  is a reversion to my mid-twenties and that sense of horror that drove the making of Star Spangled to Death."

And finally, the National Society of Film Critics gave Film Heritage citations to the following:

  • BAMcinématek for its Vincente Minnelli retrospective (from Cabin in the Sky, Meet Me in St. Louis, and Tea and Sympathy to The Sandpiper, On a Clear Day You See Forever, and A Matter of Time);
  • Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema for the restoration of the color version of Georges Méliès' 1902 short A Trip to the Moon;
  • The New York Museum of Modern Art's retrospective of Weimar Cinema, which included E.A. Dupont's Variety, Richard Oswald's Different from the Others, Robert Siodmak's People on Sunday, and Paul Leni's Waxworks;
  • Flicker Alley for “Landmarks of Early Soviet Film,” which features Sergei Eisenstein's Old and New (1929), Dziga Vertov's Stride, Soviet (1926), Victor Turin's Turksib (1930), Esther Shub's The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), Boris Barnet's The House on Trubnaya (1928), Lev Kuleshov's The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924) and By the Law (1926), Mikhail Kalatozov's Salt for Svanetia;
  • The Criterion Collection on for its 2-disc Jean Vigo DVD package (L'Atalante, Zéro de conduite, À propos de Nice).

Ken Jacobs' quote via Film Society Lincoln Center.

A Trip to the Moon image: Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema

Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgaard, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgård, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia

BEST PICTURE
1. Melancholia - 29 (Lars von Trier)
2. The Tree of Life - 28 (Terrence Malick)
3. A Separation - 20 (Asghar Farhadi)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. A Separation - 67 (Asghar Farhadi)
2. Mysteries of Lisbon - 28 (Raoul Ruiz)
3. Le Havre - 22 (Aki Kaurismäki)

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Terrence Malick - 31 (The Tree of Life)
2. Martin Scorsese - 29 (Hugo)
3. Lars von Trier - 23 (Melancholia)

BEST ACTOR
1. Brad Pitt - 35 (Moneyball, The Tree of Life)
2. Gary Oldman - 22 (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
3. Jean Dujardin - 19 (The Artist)

BEST ACTRESS
1. Kirsten Dunst - 39 (Melancholia)
2. Yun Jung-hee - 25 (Poetry)
3. Meryl Streep - 20 (The Iron Lady)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Albert Brooks - 38 (Drive)
2. Christopher Plummer - 24 (Beginners)
3. Patton Oswalt - 19 (Young Adult)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Jessica Chastain - 30 (The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help)
2. Jeannie Berlin - 19 (Margaret)
3. Shailene Woodley - 17 (The Descendants)

BEST NONFICTION
1. Cave of Forgotten Dreams - 35 (Werner Herzog)
2. The Interrupters - 26 (Steve James)
3. Into the Abyss - 18 (Werner Herzog)

BEST SCREENPLAY
1. A Separation - 39 (Asghar Farhadi)
2. Moneyball - 22 (Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin)
3. Midnight in Paris - 16 (Woody Allen)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. The Tree of Life - 76 (Emanuel Lubezki)
2. Melancholia - 41 (Manuel Alberto Claro)
3. Hugo - 33 (Robert Richardson)

EXPERIMENTAL
Ken Jacobs, for Seeking the Monkey King

FILM HERITAGE

  • BAMcinématek for its complete Vincente Minnelli retrospective with all titles shown on 16mm or 35mm film.
  • Lobster Films, Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema for the restoration of the color version of Georges Mélièss' A Trip to the Moon.
  • New York's Museum of Modern Art for its extensive retrospective of Weimar Cinema.
  • Flicker Alley for their box set “Landmarks of Early Soviet Film.”
  • The Criterion Collection for its 2-disc DVD package “The Complete Jean Vigo.”

Kirsten Dunst/Alexander Skarsgård/Kiefer Sutherland/Charlotte Gainsbourg/Melancholia photo: Christian Geisnaes / Magnolia Pictures.

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