2016 Movies: Isabelle Huppert & 'Moonlight' among National Society of Film Critics' top picks
Earlier today (Jan. 7), the National Society of Film Critics announced their top 2016 movies and performances. Somewhat surprisingly, this year's NSFC list – which generally contains more offbeat entries than those of other U.S.-based critics groups – is quite similar to their counterparts', most of which came out last December.
No, that doesn't mean the National Society of Film Critics has opted for the crowd-pleasing route. Instead, this awards season U.S. critics have not infrequently gone for even less mainstream entries than usual. Examples, among either the NSFC winners or runners-up, include Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Moonlight, Toni Erdmann, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, and Lily Gladstone in Certain Women.
French film icon wins third top U.S. critics group award
Following her New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association wins, veteran Isabelle Huppert was the National Society of Film Critics' Best Actress. Huppert was singled out (by all three critics groups) for two French-language 2016 movies: Paul Verhoeven's thriller Elle and Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear winner Mia Hansen-Løve Things to Come / L'avenir.
In Elle, Huppert plays a businesswoman determined to avenge herself against the unidentified man who raped her in her own home. In Things to Come – no direct connection with H.G. Wells – she plays a philosophy teacher coping with death, unemployment, and infidelity. The film was inspired by events in the life of Hansen-Løve's mother and written with Huppert in mind.
Emmanuelle Riva 2017 style
Following her three major U.S. critics' wins and Golden Globe nomination, Isabelle Huppert is now a shoo-in Best Actress Oscar contender (for Elle) – despite the fact that she was bypassed for the SAG Awards. After all, SAG Award nominations have only rarely gone to performers in non-English-language films (e.g., Massimo Troisi for Il Postino, 1995; Roberto Benigni for Life Is Beautiful, 1998; Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, 2014).
In fact, Huppert will likely become the Emmanuelle Riva of 2017 – i.e., an Oscar nominee after decades of film work (mostly) far away from Hollywood. Well, with a couple of differences:
- Whereas Riva, shortlisted for Michael Haneke's Amour (2012), has been seen, usually in supporting roles, in “only” 55 films or so since the late 1950s, Huppert has starred or been featured in more than 100 productions (including Amour itself) since the early 1970s.
- Huppert is about 25 years younger than Riva.
César record holder and European Film Award cowinner mostly bypassed in English-speaking countries
Currently the female record holder for most César nominations in the acting categories* – 15 in all, including one win (as Best Actress for Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie, 1995) – and an European Film Award Best Actress cowinner†, Isabelle Huppert has had her work only very sporadically recognized in English-speaking countries.
She has been nominated for a single BAFTA Award: as Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles for Claude Goretta's The Lacemaker / La dentellière (1977), which she won. Besides, in 2002 she took home the San Francisco Film Critics Circle's Best Actress Award for her portrayal of a sexually dysfunctional woman in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher / La pianiste, and that same year was given a Special Award from the San Diego Film Critics Society for four releases (The Piano Teacher, Les destinées / Les destinées sentimentales, Merci pour le Chocolat, 8 Women / 8 femmes).
* To date, Isabelle Huppert and Catherine Deneuve have each received a record-setting 13 César nominations in the Best Actress category. Huppert will in all probability break that particular record this year, once the 2017 Prix César nominees are announced on Jan. 25.
† Isabelle Huppert shared the Best Actress European Film Award with her fellow players in François Ozon's 8 Women (2002): Catherine Deneuve, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Virginie Ledoyen, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard, and veteran Danielle Darrieux – who, like the recently deceased Michèle Morgan, and fellow veteran Micheline Presle, despite decades in front of the camera, has never been nominated for an Oscar and has never taken home an award from a U.S.-based organization or critics group.
'Story of Women': Isabelle Huppert U.S. awards season disappointment
Back in early 1990, Isabelle Huppert was deemed a likely Academy Award contender for her performance as a tragic – she gets guillotined – abortionist in Nazi-occupied France in Claude Chabrol's Story of Women / Une affaire de femmes, but she was ultimately bypassed by the Academy's actors' branch – and, as well, by U.S. critics groups (at that time relatively few in number).
The Academy nominated instead another French cinema icon named Isabelle: Isabelle Adjani, shortlisted for playing the titular character in Bruno Nuytten's Camille Claudel. The winner that year was Jessica Tandy for Bruce Beresford's Driving Miss Daisy.
For their part, the National Society of Film Critics, and critics in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York selected Michelle Pfeiffer for Steve Kloves' The Fabulous Baker Boys (in L.A., tied with Andie MacDowell for Sex Lies and Videotape.)
Also worth mentioning, in early 2003 Huppert and Maggie Gyllenhaal tied in second place at the NSFC Awards for their performances in, respectively, The Piano Teacher and Secretary. The winner that year was Diane Lane for Adrian Lyne's Unfaithful.
And finally, late last year, Elle earned Huppert her fourth European Film Award nomination. She lost to Sandra Hüller for Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, which landed Hüller in third place at this year's NSFC awards tally. Annette Bening was Huppert's immediate runner-up, for playing a progressive single mother in Mike Mills' 1979-set 20th Century Women.
Growing up black and gay in a disenfranchised U.S. urban neighborhood
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's semi-autobiographical drama school project In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the National Society of Film Critics' Best Film of 2016 was screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins' three-segment psychological drama Moonlight.
An A24 release, Moonlight depicts the growing pains of Chiron, a black youth in Miami's rough Liberty City neighborhood, as he tries to cope with his dysfunctional family, the vicious local bullies, and the overall hopelessness of his environment, while coming to grips with his own sexual orientation.
Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively, play Chiron as a child, teenager, and adult. NSFC Best Supporting Actor winner Mahershala Ali (Boggs in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 and Part 2) portrays a local crack dealer, while third-place Best Supporting Actress Naomie Harris is Chiron's crack-addicted mother.
Barry Jenkins was named the year's Best Director, but he trailed Manchester by the Sea screenwriter-director Kenneth Lonergan in the Best Screenplay category. James Laxton's Moonlight cinematography was considered 2016's finest.
Unique awards season contender
The best 2016 movie according to critics groups in Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, and Houston, among others, and a Golden Globe nominee in six categories and a SAG Award nominee in three, Moonlight – two year's after another offbeat (if radically different) coming-of-age tale, Wes Anderson's Boyhood – is a top contender for the 2017 Academy Awards.
Prior to Moonlight, a couple of American movies dealing with the lives of black people in troubled neighborhoods found favor among critics and other groups during awards season. But what makes Jenkins' film unique is that, unlike John Singleton's Boyz n the Hood or Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, its story revolves around a gay character.
Produced for a reported $5 million, Moonlight has become more than a succès d'estime, having to date taken in $12.9 million at the domestic box office.
Moonlight's National Society of Film Critics Best Film runners-up were Manchester by the Sea and Damien Chazelle's Hollywood-set musical La La Land. Chazelle and Kenneth Lonergan – in that order – were the Best Director runners-up.
In third place in the Best Screenplay category was Taylor Sheridan for the David Mackenzie-directed, rural Texas-set crime drama Hell or High Water.
More NSFC 2016 movies: 'Toni Erdmann' & 'Manchester by the Sea'
Maren Ade's German-Austrian comedy Toni Erdmann, starring the aforementioned Best Actress European Film Award winner Sandra Hüller, was the National Society of Film Critics' Best Foreign Language Film of 2016. The story follows a man (Best Actor European Film Award winner Peter Simonischek) who tries to rekindle his relationship with his career-oriented daughter (Sandra Hüller) by pretending to be a life coach.
Toni Erdmann won a total of five European Film Awards. Besides Hüller's and Simonischek's victories, Ade's father-daughter comedy garnered trophies for Best European Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (also Maren Ade).
Back to the NSFC and its 2016 movies: Casey Affleck was chosen as Best Actor for Manchester by the Sea, in which he plays a troubled, solitary janitor who, following the death of his brother, must return to his old Massachusetts town of Manchester-by-the-sea and face his traumatic past. NSFC Best Supporting Actress winner Michelle Williams is the janitor's former wife.
Following Affleck in the Best Actor category were Denzel Washington for Fences, which he also directed, and Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens actor Adam Driver for Jim Jarmusch's Paterson. Ryan Gosling and his fellow La La Land lead Emma Stone failed to make the grade in their respective categories.
Only in America: The O.J. Simpson saga
The National Society of Film Critics' Best Non-Fiction Film was Ezra Edelman's five-part ESPN Films documentary O.J.: Made in America, about the trials (there were two) and tribulations of disgraced all-American football player and sometime movie actor O.J. Simpson (The Towering Inferno, The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad!).
In 1994, Simpson was accused of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman in Los Angeles' Brentwood neighborhood. The ensuing trial became one of the ugliest – and most popular – all-American circuses of the second half of the 20th century.
With the assistance of a high-profile defense team, Simpson was acquitted of the murders, but at a follow-up civil trial he was found liable for Brown Simpson's and Goldman's wrongful deaths. Years later, in 2008, he would be convicted of and imprisoned for several felonies unrelated to the 1994 murders.
Curiously, all three of this year's National Society of Film Critics' Best Non-Fiction Film picks revolve around issues facing black Americans. O.J.: Made in America runners-up were Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro, about black (and gay) author James Baldwin's views on racism in the United States, and Ava DuVernay's 13th, which tackles racial inequality in the U.S. by offering a peek into the country's incarceration system.
Pioneers of African-American Cinema & 'Sieranevada'
Besides, the NSFC announced that its Film Heritage Award would go to Kino Lorber's 5-disc collection “Pioneers of African-American Cinema,” which includes works by or featuring Oscar Micheaux, Paul Robeson, and Spencer Williams.
And finally, Cristi Puiu's Sieranevada earned a Special Citation for a 2016 film awaiting American distribution. In a system clogged up with movies aimed at 12-year-olds (and at those who stopped evolving at that age), something like Sieranevada – about secrets & lies at a family gathering, and featuring no stars in front or behind the camera – will surely have a tough time finding an American screen, let alone an American audience.
Below is the full list of 2016 movies shortlisted by the National Society of Film Critics.
National Society of Film Critics' 2016 movies
* Moonlight (54).
- Manchester by the Sea (39).
- La La Land (31).
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
* Toni Erdmann (52). Director: Maren Ade.
- The Handmaiden (26). Director: Park Chan-wook.
- (tie) Elle (19). Director: Paul Verhoeven. Things to Come / L'avenir (19). Director: Mia Hansen-Løve.
* Barry Jenkins (53) for Moonlight.
- Damien Chazelle (37) for La La Land.
- Kenneth Lonergan (23) for Manchester by the Sea.
* Isabelle Huppert (55) for Elle and Things to Come.
- (tie) Annette Bening (26) for 20th Century Women & Sandra Hüller (26) for Toni Erdmann.
* Casey Affleck (65) for Manchester by the Sea.
- Denzel Washington (21) for Fences.
- Adam Driver (20) for Paterson.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
* Michelle Williams (58) for Manchester by the Sea.
- Lily Gladstone (45) for Certain Women.
- Naomie Harris (25) for Moonlight.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
* Mahershala Ali (72) for Moonlight.
- Jeff Bridges (18) for Hell or High Water.
- Michael Shannon (14) for Nocturnal Animals.
* Manchester by the Sea (61). Kenneth Lonergan.
- Moonlight (39). Barry Jenkins.
- Hell or High Water (16). Taylor Sheridan.
* Moonlight (52). James Laxton.
- La La Land (27). Linus Sandgren.
- Silence (23). Rodrigo Prieto.
BEST NON-FICTION FILM
* O.J.: Made in America (64). Director: Ezra Edelman.
- I Am Not Your Negro (36). Director: Raoul Peck.
- 13th (20). Director: Ava DuVernay.
SPECIAL CITATION for a film awaiting American distribution: Sieranevada (Romania). Director: Cristi Puiu.
FILM HERITAGE AWARD: Kino Lorber's 5-disc collection “Pioneers of African-American Cinema.”
Image of Isabelle Huppert in one her two award-winning 2016 movies, Elle: Sony Pictures Classics.
Naomie Harris Moonlight image: A24.
Sandra Hüller Toni Erdmann image: Sony Pictures Classics.