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Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Crowd-Pleasing California-Set Road Movie Tops Five Categories

Sideways movie Thomas Haden Church Paul Giamatti Los Angeles winnerSideways movie with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church: Alexander Payne’s Southern California-set road movie was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Film of the year.
  • Directed and co-written by Alexander Payne, the Southern California Wine Country-set road movie Sideways was the big winner at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.
  • Other Los Angeles Film Critics winners include Imelda Staunton, Liam Neeson, Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, and Brad Bird’s The Incredibles.

Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Alexander Payne’s Southern California Wine Country-set Sideways tops five categories, including Best Film

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

One of the two most important local movie critics groups in the United States – the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (the other one is the New York Film Critics Circle) – has announced their top picks of 2004. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their big winner was a road movie mostly set about a couple of hours or so northwest of downtown Los Angeles: Alexander Payne’s road movie comedy-drama Sideways. (See further below the full list this year’s Los Angeles Film Critics Association winners.)

The story of two emotionally stunted forty-something friends (Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church) who, while traveling through the vineyards of Southern California’s Santa Ynez Valley, find sex (in the form of wine pourer Sandra Oh, Payne’s real-life wife), love (in the form of waitress Virginia Madsen), a bit of crowd-pleasing violence, and some down-from-the-heavens self-awareness, Sideways topped five categories: Best Film, Director, Supporting Actress (Madsen), Supporting Actor (Church, actually Giamatti’s co-lead), and Screenplay (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, adapting Rex Pickett’s novel, which also came out this year).

Although impressive – and, admittedly, rare – Sideways’ five-category win isn’t unique at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Predecessors include James L. BrooksTerms of Endearment (1983) and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), both of which also won Best Film and Best Director.

Imelda Staunton, Liam Neeson, and Zhang Yimou’s romantic Chinese epic among other Los Angeles picks

The Los Angeles Film Critics’ Best Actress and Best Actor awards went to two U.K. performers: London-born (and Venice Film Festival winner) Imelda Staunton for her portrayal of a working-class wife, mom, and illegal abortionist in 1950s England in Mike Leigh’s British-made Vera Drake, and Northern Ireland-born Liam Neeson for bringing contentious American sexologist Alfred Kinsey to screen life in Bill Condon’s biopic Kinsey. (Sideways’ Paul Giamatti was the Best Actor runner-up.)

The Best Foreign Language Film was Zhang Yimou’s ninth-century-set Chinese romantic epic House of Flying Daggers / Shi mian mai fu, starring Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro as government law enforcers and Zhang Ziyi as a blind dancer and suspected daughter of a rebel leader.

In addition, House of Flying Daggers was the runner-up in two other categories: Best Cinematography (Xiaoding Zhao) and Best Production Design (Huo Tingxiao).

The Incredibles movieThe Incredibles movie: The Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s favorite animated feature of the year. In the voice cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee, Elizabeth Peña, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Suburban superfamily & Calcutta’s red light district

Brad Bird’s action-comedy The Incredibles, which chronicles the adventures of a family of suburban superheroes, topped two Los Angeles Film Critics categories: Best Animated Feature and Best Music Score (Michael Giacchino).

The Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film was Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids, set in the Indian metropolis’ red-light district. The notable runner-up was Michael Moore’s controversial blockbuster Fahrenheit 9/11, which sets afire the George W. Bush White House and its aiders and abetters in the American media.

A couple more winners: Shot by Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, the Michael Mann thriller Collateral topped Best Cinematography, while Martin Scorsese’s big-budget Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator earned Dante Ferretti the Best Production Design citation.

Surely just a coincidence, but both Collateral and The Aviator are mostly set in the Los Angeles area.

Jerry Lewis & reconstructed Samuel Fuller WWII drama honored

Veteran comedian Jerry Lewis – whose performances, movies, and off-screen remarks have been admired in some quarters, reviled in others – has been named the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Career Achievement honoree.

Veteran experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs’ Star Spangled to Death – a seven-hour compilation of mostly archival footage about the United States – was given the Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award, while director Joshua Marston and actress Catalina Sandino Moreno were named the recipients of the New Generation Award for the U.S./Colombian drug-smuggling drama Maria Full of Grace.

Lastly, the Los Angeles Film Critics gave a special mention to Brian Jamieson of Warner Bros. and movie reviewer Richard Schickel for the reconstruction of Samuel Fuller’s – until now truncated – 1980 World War II drama The Big Red One, featuring Oscar winner Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, 1965), Star Wars leading man Mark Hamill, and former Claude Chabrol muse Stéphane Audran.

Los Angeles Film Critics Association winners & runners-up

Best Film: Sideways.

Runner-up: Million Dollar Baby.

Best Foreign Language Film: House of Flying Daggers.

Runner-up: The Motorcycle Diaries / Diarios de motocicleta.

Best Actress: Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake.

Runner-up: Julie Delpy, Before Sunset.

Best Actor: Liam Neeson, Kinsey.

Runner-up: Paul Giamatti – Sideways.

Best Supporting Actress: Virginia Madsen, Sideways.

Runner-up: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator & Coffee and Cigarettes.

Best Supporting Actor: Thomas Haden Church, Sideways.

Runner-up: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby.

Best Director: Alexander Payne, Sideways.

Runner-up: Martin Scorsese, The Aviator.

Best Screenplay: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, Sideways.

Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film: Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.

Runner-up: Fahrenheit 9/11.

Best Animation: The Incredibles.

Best Cinematography: Dion Beebe & Paul Cameron, Collateral.

Runner-up: Xiaoding Zhao, House of Flying Daggers.

Best Production Design: Dante Ferretti, The Aviator.

Runner-up: Huo Tingxiao, House of Flying Daggers.

Best Music Score: Michael Giacchino, The Incredibles.

Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, Birth.

The Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award: Ken Jacobs, Star Spangled to Death.

New Generation Award: Joshua Marston (director) and Catalina Sandino Moreno (actress), Maria Full of Grace.

Career Achievement Award: Jerry Lewis.

Special Citation: Richard Schickel and Brian Jamieson of Warner Bros. for the reconstruction of Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One.

“Los Angeles Film Critics Awards” endnotes

Los Angeles Film Critics Association website.

In the acting categories, Liam Neeson turned out to be the only 2004 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award winner not to be shortlisted for the Academy Awards. In fact, since the Los Angeles Film Critics Awards inauguration in 1975, Neeson is only the second Best Actor winner not to receive a matching Oscar nomination; his sole predecessor is Wonder BoysMichael Douglas in 2000.

The New York Film Critics Circle matched many of the Los Angeles critics’ top choices. The National Board of Review, however, turned out to be an outlier in the Best Film category.

Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church Sideways movie image: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The Incredibles movie image: Pixar Animation Studios | Walt Disney Studios.

“Los Angeles Film Critics Awards: Crowd-Pleasing California-Set Road Movie Tops Five Categories” last updated in December 2022.

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