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Film Critics Awards: Cosmic Family Drama & British Spies + Iranian Actress Surprise

The Tree of Life Brad Pitt: Film critics awards cosmic family dramaThe Tree of Life with Brad Pitt. Notwithstanding its Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or win, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life has not been taking home all that many U.S. film critics awards this season. Most groups have gone either for Michel Hazanavicius’ Old Hollywood homage The Artist or Alexander Payne’s middle-age crises – there are several – comedy-drama The Descendants. The Chicago Film Critics Association, however, has somewhat surprisingly opted for Malick’s mix of family drama and search for the meaning of life (if any). Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, and Jessica Chastain star.

Chicago Film Critics Awards: Cosmic family drama ‘The Tree of Life’ voted Best Film

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

This season, U.S. film critics awards in the Best Picture/Best Film category have usually gone either to Alexander Payne’s The Descendants or Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. Not so the Chicago Film Critics Association, which has selected instead Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or winner The Tree of Life as 2011’s top release.

Mostly set in mid-1950s Waco, Texas, the cosmically inclined family drama stars Sean Penn as a troubled middle-aged man remembering his life as a kid with his philosophically disparate parents, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain.

In addition to its Best Film victory, The Tree of Life also won Chicago Film Critics awards for director Malick, Best Supporting Actress Chastain, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Lubezki (Children of Men, The New World, Sleepy Hollow) has been a critical favorite this year, and will quite possibly take home the Best Cinematography Academy Award as well.

Another surprise Chicago winner was Michael Shannon, who plays a disturbed man in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. The DescendantsGeorge Clooney has been the U.S. critics’ favorite male lead to date, though Shannon has topped a few lists as well.

Iranian drama & Marilyn Monroe

Other winners of the Chicago Film Critics Awards have fallen more in line with the majority of U.S.-based critics’ groups:

  • Asghar Farhadi’s Golden Bear-winning Iranian family drama A Separation was the Best Foreign Language Film.
  • Michelle Williams was chosen Best Actress for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) in Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn.
  • Albert Brooks, cast against type in a villainous role, was the Best Supporting Actor for Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller Drive.
  • Gore Verbinski’s Johnny Depp-voiced Rango was Best Animated Film.

Despite its six nominations, The Descendants didn’t win anything, but The Artist received a Best Original Screenplay citation for Michel Hazanavicius. Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin wrote the Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball, starring The Tree of Life‘s Brad Pitt.

And finally … Set in Chicago’s low-income communities, Steve James’ The Interrupters was the Best Documentary, a “surprise” only in that other U.S. critics groups have opted for other titles such as Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Asif Kapadia’s Senna.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Gary Oldman as George Smiley. Film critics awardsTinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman. Based on John le Carré’s 1974 Cold War spy novel, Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stars veteran Gary Oldman (Prick Up Your Ears, Dracula) as British intelligence officer George Smiley, who is brought back from retirement in the early 1970s to handle another convoluted cat-and-mouse game: a top British spy may actually be a Soviet mole. But who? And how concerned should the British government be? The London Film Critics Awards have Oldman shortlisted in two categories.

London Film Critics Awards: Nominee Sareh Bayat for the Oscars?

So, does A Separation actress Sareh Bayat have a chance at a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination?

If only a nomination for the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards had that sort of influence.

Were that so, Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller Drive and Tomas Alfredson’s spy drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, each nominated for six London Film Critics Awards, would surely be shortlisted for the Best Picture Oscar. (See further below the full list of the London Film Critics’ 2011 nominations.)

Double nominee Gary Oldman

Veteran Gary Oldman (Sid and Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears), a double nominee for his performance as John le Carré’s veteran spy George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, would also be a front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar.

“I am proud of my work in [Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy], and so very proud of the film” Oldman said after learning of his London Film Critics’ nods. “The London Critics’ Circle has reaffirmed that we have made a film that remains genuine, first rate ‘cinema.’ Indeed, it is gratifying to be among the representatives of the best of British, and it always will be.”

Among the other “best of British” nominees are We Need to Talk About Kevin director Lynne Ramsay and actress Tilda Swinton, My Week with Marilyn actor Kenneth Branagh (as Laurence Olivier), and Coriolanus actress Vanessa Redgrave.

By the way, Gary Oldman’s other nomination for his portrayal of George Smiley was in the Best Actor (or Actor of the Year) category, alongside Britisher and fellow double nominee Michael Fassbender (Shame), Canadian Ryan Gosling (Drive), Frenchman Jean Dujardin (The Artist), and American George Clooney (The Descendants).

John le Carré spy George Smiley + ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ cast

As an aside, prior to Gary Oldman, George Smiley was brought to life by the following:

  • Rupert Davies in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965).
  • James Mason in The Deadly Affair (1966).
  • Alec Guinness in two BBC TV series: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) and Smiley’s People (1982).
  • Denholm Elliott in the TV movie A Murder of Quality (1991).

As another aside, the male-centered cast of the 2011 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also features:

Best Actor Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, 2010).

Tom Hardy. John Hurt. Mark Strong. Toby Jones. Benedict Cumberbatch.

Ciarán Hinds. David Dencik. Simon McBurney. Kathy Burke.

Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan were credited for the adaptation.

International Best Film (‘Film of the Year’) list

Back to the nominations for the 2011 London Film Critics Awards: Drive and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are vying for Film of the Year, along with Asghar Farhadi’s Berlin Film Festival winner A Separation; Terrence Malick’s Cannes Film Festival winner The Tree of Life; and Michel Hazanavicius’ French-Belgian The Artist, which is also up for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

In addition, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also listed among the contenders for British Film of the Year, while A Separation is one of the five Best Foreign Language Film nominees.

Few surprising inclusions in acting categories

The London Film Critics Awards’ acting categories feature mostly names also found on U.S.-based critics’ lists – e.g., the aforementioned Michael Fassbender, Jean Dujardin, and George Clooney, in addition to Michelle Williams, Meryl Streep, and Jessica Chastain. Even so, there are several exceptions as well.

In addition to Sareh Bayat, other “unusual” names found on the London Film Critics’ various shortlists are:

  • Best Actress nominees Anna Paquin for Kenneth Lonergan’s troubled psychological drama Margaret – filmed in 2005, embroiled in a series of lawsuits ever since – and Cannes Film Festival winner Kirsten Dunst for Lars von Trier’s European Film Award-winning apocalyptic family drama Melancholia.
  • Best Supporting Actor nominees Simon Russell Beale for Terence Davies’ romantic drama The Deep Blue Sea and Michael Smiley for Ben Wheatley’s thriller Kill List.
  • Animal Kingdom actress Jacki Weaver, who was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar earlier this year. David Michôd’s Australian crime family drama Animal Kingdom opened in both its native country and the U.S. in 2010.

The London Film Critics Awards will be held on Thursday, Jan. 19, at BFI Southbank in London.

Update: London Film Critics’ Circle winners.

See also: “Mormon Missionary Sex Slave Documentary Unexpected Film Critics Win.”

London Film Critics Awards: Nominations

Best Film
The Artist.
A Separation.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The Tree of Life.

Attenborough Award for Best British Film
The Guard.
Kill List.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Best Foreign Language Film
Mysteries of Lisbon.
Le Quattro Volte.
A Separation.
The Skin I Live In.

Best Director
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist.
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life.
Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive.

Best Actor
George Clooney, The Descendants.
Jean Dujardin, The Artist.
Michael Fassbender, Shame.
Ryan Gosling, Drive.
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Best Actress
Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia.
Anna Paquin, Margaret.
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady.
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn.

Best Supporting Actress
Sareh Bayat, A Separation.
Jessica Chastain, The Help.
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus.
Octavia Spencer, The Help.
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom.

Best Supporting Actor
Simon Russell Beale, The Deep Blue Sea.
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn.
Albert Brooks, Drive.
Christopher Plummer, Beginners.
Michael Smiley, Kill List.

Best British Actress
Olivia Colman, The Iron Lady & Tyrannosaur.
Carey Mulligan, Drive & Shame.
Vanessa Redgrave, Anonymous & Coriolanus.
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea.

Best British Actor
Tom Cullen, Weekend.
Michael Fassbender, A Dangerous Method & Shame.
Brendan Gleeson, The Guard.
Peter Mullan, Tyrannosaur & War Horse.
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Best Screenwriter
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist.
Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret.
Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants.

Best Documentary
Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Dreams of a Life.
Project Nim.

Breakthrough British Filmmaker
Richard Ayoade, Submarine.
Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur.
Joe Cornish, Attack the Block.
Andrew Haigh, Weekend.
John Michael McDonagh, The Guard.

Young British Performer
John Boyega, Attack the Block.
Jeremy Irvine, War Horse.
Yasmin Paige, Submarine.
Craig Roberts, Submarine.
Saoirse Ronan, Hanna.

Best Technical Achievement
Manuel Alberto Claro, cinematography, Melancholia.
Paul Davies, sound design, We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Maria Djurkovic, production design, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Dante Ferretti, production design, Hugo.
Alberto Iglesias, original score, The Skin I Live In.
Chris King & Gregers Sall, editing, Senna.
Joe Letteri, visual effects, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Cliff Martinez, original score, Drive.
Robert Richardson, cinematography, Hugo.
Robbie Ryan, cinematography, Wuthering Heights.

The Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film
Nicolas Roeg.


Chicago Film Critics Association website.

Image of Brad Pitt in the Chicago Film Critics Awards’ Best Film, The Tree of Life: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Image of London Film Critics Awards’ double nominee Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Focus Features.

“Film Critics Awards: Cosmic Family Drama & British Spies + Iranian Actress Surprise” last updated in June 2018.

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