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Meryl Streep New York Record + NY Critics vs. the Oscars

28 minutes read

Meryl Streep The Iron Lady Anthony Head
Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady with Anthony Head.
Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

The most curious thing about Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist winning the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Film and Best Director awards is that 85 years ago this “innovative” work would have had little-to-no novelty value. It’s in black and white, it’s (mostly) silent, and it features a handsome, mustached, hammy actor. In that regard, it sounds like any John Gilbert star vehicle of 1926. (See further below the full list of New York Film Critics winners.)

Oscar (and César) nods for both Hazanavicius and his film are all but assured. (Not that they weren’t all but assured, say, last night. Or a week ago.) As an aside, earlier today The Artist also received five nominations for the Spirit Awards. It’s a great day for French filmmaking – especially considering that the Spirit Awards are supposed to honor American indies.

Cannes winner Jean Dujardin, The Artist‘s leading man, was bypassed by the New York critics, who opted instead for Brad Pitt in two movies: Bennett Miller’s Moneyball and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Pitt’s victory wouldn’t be particularly surprising, except for the fact that his Best Actor competition included Michael Fassbender in four movies: Shame, Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method, and X-Men: The Last Stand.

Meryl Streep now has more Best Actress NYFCC Awards than anyone else: four. Streep’s first win took place back in 1982, for Sophie’s Choice. That was followed by three portrayals of real-life characters: an Australian mother accused of murdering her child in A Cry in the Dark in 1988; Julia Child in Julie & Julia in 2009; and now The Iron Lady, in which Streep plays former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Unlike Thatcher’s right-wing allies, the New York critics apparently didn’t find Streep’s performance “overly emotional.”

Asghar Farhadi’s Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear winner A Separation was the Best Foreign Language Film. The Iranian family drama has been a favorite just about everywhere, though Oscar chances are iffy because of the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film voting rules, which precludes most members from having a say in the nominations and/or winners in that category. Critical and festival favorites have often been bypassed in favor of commercial, sentimental fare, especially if about World War II, Jewish characters, and suffering little boys.

Jessica Chastain was the New York Critics’ Best Supporting Actress for three movies: The Tree of Life, Tate Taylor’s The Help, and Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. (Chastain was not cited for The Debt, Coriolanus, or Texas Killing Fields.) Upon learning that he had won the Best Supporting Actor Award for his performance in Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller Drive, Albert Brooks tweeted: “Was just told about N.Y.F.C.C. and Spirit Awards! THANK YOU. I feel like Herman Cain at a Dallas Cheerleader convention.”

The Iron Lady photo: The Weinstein Company.

Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Margin Call
Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Margin Call

J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, featuring an all-star cast that includes Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, and Kevin Spacey, was the Best First Film. Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, bypassed by the Academy last year, was the Best Documentary. The Best Screenplay Award went to Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for Moneyball. (Last year, Sorkin won just about every award out there for The Social Network; the New York critics, however, went for The Kids Are All Right‘s Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.)

And finally, Emmanuel Lubezki predictably won the Best Cinematography Award for The Tree of Life, while filmmaker Raoul Ruiz, who died last August at the age of 70, was named the recipient of a posthumous Special Award. Curiously, no Best Animated Feature winner was announced this year.

Totally ignored at this year’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards were Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (which had no luck at the Gotham Awards last night, either), Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Steve McQueen’s Shame, David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, and Jason Reitman’s Young Adult.

Also: Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Mike Mills’ Gotham Award Best Feature co-winner Beginners, George Clooney’s The Ides of March, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Chris Weitz’s A Better Life, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, and Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Since Armond White is no longer NYFCC president – John Anderson holds that position now – the awards ceremony on Jan. 9, 2012, should not be nearly as, huh, colorful as the one earlier this year. Having said that, I should add that White’s Twitter impostor kept some tweet readers entertained throughout the New York critics’ voting process. See below:

“All in favor not to award [Kenneth Lonergan’s] MARGARET anything?” Ayes all around.

Wait, a nay! From the US Weekly critic!

“We should give Margaret a chance to speak for herself. Let her tell us why she shouldn’t win.” Oh dear.

Now we say goodbye as Lumenick and Morgenstern are beamed back to News Corp, The Voice writers go back to the village and…oh my.

It appears we’re still missing [tabloid New York Post reviewer] Kyle Smith. Again, if found, please just drop him in your nearest mailbox.

Margin Call photo: Walter Thomson / Roadside Attractions

Best Film: The Artist

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

Best Nonfiction Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Best Actress: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady

Best Actor: Brad Pitt for Moneyball, and The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks for Drive

Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain for The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter

Best Screenplay: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for Moneyball

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki for The Tree of Life

Best First Feature: Margin Call

Special Award: Raoul Ruiz

The Artist photo: The Weinstein Company


Generally a mid-December event, the New York Film Critics Circle will announce its 2011 winners in late November – today, Nov. 29, to be exact. Who will win? Well, who knows… But let’s take a guess. Or rather, a few guesses.

The process of elimination technique: Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar and Steven Spielberg’s The War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn have no chance of winning for Best Film or – in the case of Tintin – Best Animated Feature. Not among the New York critics. Can’t imagine Gotham Award winner Felicity Jones taking home the Best Actress award for Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy, which won the hearts and minds of Sundance jury members, but generally hasn’t received great reviews elsewhere. Mike Mills’ Beginners is another Gotham Award winner that doesn’t have much of a chance in the Best Film category. And I’d be very surprised if Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In was selected as the Best Foreign Language Film of 2011. Well, that leaves us with about 300 films…

Switching gears: Below are the top possibilities for Best Film, based on the New York Film Critics’ recent history of selecting generally well-regarded but conventional English-language (almost invariably American) movies with mainstream appeal in terms of narrative and visual aesthetics (though not necessarily from a thematic standpoint) – e.g., The Social Network, The Hurt Locker, Milk, No Country for Old Men, United 96, Brokeback Mountain, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Sideways. The NYFCC’s last truly daring Best Film choice was David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. That was a full decade ago.

Top choice for 2011: Steve McQueen’s Shame. NYFCC members could even pat themselves on the back for choosing a “radical” work – if only the Motion Picture Association of America’s NC-17 rating actually meant anything besides the on-screen presence of penises, vaginas, and/or an x number of “thrusts.”

A truly more offbeat choice would be Terrence Malick’s Cannes winner The Tree of Life. My guess, however, is that Malick may end up taking home the Best Director Award instead. In the last ten years, the Best Film and Best Director awards have been “split” five times: Mulholland Dr./Robert Altman (Gosford Park), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King/Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Sideways/Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), United 93/Martin Scorsese (The Departed), Milk/Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky).

Other possibilities: Michel Hazanavicius’ silent, black-and-white dramatic comedy The Artist, another “daring” choice (one that, ironically, would have been anything but about eight or nine decades ago – except for the fact that it’s French made); Bennett Miller’s baseball drama Moneyball; Martin Scorsese’s homage to cinema, Hugo; Alexander Payne’s family comedy-drama The Descendants; Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller Drive. To a lesser extent: David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Tate Taylor’s The Help.

Shame picture: Abbot Genser / Fox Searchlight Pictures

The New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Actress race is tough to predict. The only (extreme) likelihood is that the winning actress will be singled out for an English-speaking role. The last actress to win in New York while delivering dialogue in a language other than English was Norma Aleandro back in 1985, when the Argentinean performer took home the Best Actress Award for The Official Story. (And some insist on calling the Academy narrow-minded and provincial when compared to the New York critics…)

My bet for this year’s winner is Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, even though Streep won two years ago for Julie & Julia. She’s a veteran, she’s brilliant, she deserves a third Academy Award. It didn’t work in 2009 – when Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for the blockbuster The Blind Side – but it may work now if the New York critics give Streep an early push.

Other possibilities: Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs, Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin, Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn, Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Charlize Theron for Young Adult, Viola Davis for The Help. Less likely: Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur, Felicity Jones for Like Crazy, Kristen Wiig for Bridesmaids. Don’t laugh: if those guys could have picked Cameron Diaz for There’s Something About Mary, they could surely go for Kristen Wiig in a much-better received movie and performance.

The Iron Lady picture: The Weinstein Company

The New York Film Critics Circle’s last Best Actor winner for a non-English-speaking role was … nobody. That has never happened in the NYFCC’s 76-year history. So much for Peyman Moaad’s Best Actor chances for his troubled husband in Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation.

Michael Fassbender, however, wouldn’t be a victim of the New York Film Critics’ language-barrier issue. As a plus, in 2011 Fassbender got naked in Shame, wore nice period clothes in Jane Eyre, had funky superpowers in X-Men: First Class, and gave psychological advice in A Dangerous Method. Can anyone else take home this year’s Best Actor Award? Well, yes, of course. There’s always somebody else. But I’m betting on Fassbender to win.

Two other strong possibilities are George Clooney for both The Descendants and The Ides of March, and Jean Dujardin (a non-English speaker in a silent film) for The Artist. Next in line are Brad Pitt for Moneyball and The Tree of Life, Michael Shannon for Take Shelter, Ryan Gosling for Drive and The Ides of March, Demián Bichir for A Better Life. Less likely: Ben Kingsley for Hugo, Tom Hardy for Warrior, Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Leonardo DiCaprio for J. Edgar.

Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
Julianne Moore in Far from Heaven.

New York Film Critics Awards: Oscar Precursors, Yes; Snooty and Artsy, No

For decades, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards have been considered a precursor of the Academy Awards. Movies, performers, directors – and later cinematographers and screenwriters – singled out by the NYFCC usually have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, oftentimes the golden statuette itself. The New York critics awards also have the reputation of being “snooty” and “artsy.” Are they?

When it comes to serving as a precursor of the Academy Awards, the answer would have to be a resounding Yes despite a number of NYFCC winners eventually bypassed by (most of) the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters. As for the NYFCC’s “artsy” choices … Well, that depends on your idea of “artsy.”

If choosing John Ford’s box office disappointment The Informer as Best Film of 1935 makes the New York critics artsy, then they were. If selecting a couple of non-Hollywood British actresses (Celia Johnson, a pre-Hollywood Deborah Kerr) during the studio era also makes those critics artsy, then they really were. But if your idea of “artsy” – or rather, “arty” – veers more toward, say, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, or Federico Fellini, then the NYFCC was “arty” for a very brief period, from 1969 (Best Film: Costa-GavrasZ) to 1977 (Best Film: Woody Allen’s Annie Hall).

From 1978 on, truly daring NYFCC choices became rare, e.g., Robert Altman’s The Player in 1992, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. in 2001, Altman as Best Director for Gosford Park also in 2001. Unless, that is, you consider daring the choice of Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction) as Best Actress of 1994 – merely because her performance was ineligible for the Oscars, as her movie was initially shown on cable television.

Even nods for non-Hollywood productions became rare. In the last 25 years, Norma Aleandro (The Official Story, 1985) and Gong Li (Farewell, My Concubine, supporting, 1993) were the NYFCC’s only two winners for performances in non-English-language movies.

But once again, as an Oscar precursor the NYFCC is all but unbeatable. From 1935 to 2010 (excluding 1962 when no voting took place due to a newspaper strike), 28 NYFCC Best Actress winners also became Best Actress Oscar winners – 29, if Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India) is included. Thirty-three NYFCC Best Actor winners went on to win matching Oscars – in addition to Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way). And 30 NYFCC Best Picture winners won matching Academy Awards – in addition to three Best Foreign Language Film Oscar wins (Z, 1969; Day for Night, 1973; Amarcord, 1974.)

When it comes to overall Oscar nominations (including the winners), figures are much higher. In fact, relatively few NYFCC winners have failed to be shortlisted by the Academy. In the Best Actress category, 62 (including an Elizabeth Taylor/Lynn Redgrave tie in 1966) received matching Oscar nominations; additionally, the aforementioned Peggy Ashcroft and Agnes Moorehead (The Magnificent Ambersons) were shortlisted by the Academy in the supporting category. I should add that 1981 NYFCC Best Actress winner Glenda Jackson was ineligible for the Oscar that year because her movie, Stevie, had opened in Los Angeles in 1978.

No less than 69 NYFCC Best Actor winners earned matching Best Actor Oscar nods, including the aforementioned Barry Fitzgerald, a double Academy Award nominee for the same role in 1944. Admittedly, in one instance – Gregory Peck for Twelve O’Clock High in 1950 – the Oscars preceded the NYFCC, as the Henry King-directed military drama opened in Los Angeles in 1949.

In the Best Film category, 68 NYFCC winners – including a Sons and Lovers/The Apartment tie in 1960 – were shortlisted for the Best Picture Oscar. Additionally, the aforementioned Day for Night and Amarcord were shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director categories. Indeed, among the NYFCC Best Film winners, only Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven (2002) failed to be shortlisted in either the Best Picture or Best Director Oscar categories.

Melanie Laurent Ewan McGregor Beginners
Mélanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor in Beginners

BIFA nominations

As expected, Steve McQueen’s Shame, Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin are three of the top contenders for the Raindance Institute’s 2011 British Independent Film Awards (BIFA), the British version of the United States’ Spirit Awards (West Coast) and Gotham Awards (East Coast) – apart from the fact that British films are almost invariably modestly budget and independently made.

With seven nods each – including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor – Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and actor-turned-filmmaker Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur topped the list of nominees. We Need to Talk About Kevin and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List each received six nods; Richard Ayoade’s Submarine got five. Both Ramsay and Wheatley are also up for Best Director; Asif Kapadia’s documentary Senna replaced Kill List on the list of Best British Independent Film nominees.

The nominees in the various acting categories was mostly predictable as well. Included are Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan for Shame; Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin; Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur; Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Vanessa Redgrave for Coriolanus; and Sally Hawkins for Submarine. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – which, ahem, has been acquired by anything-but-independent Universal Pictures – managed four acting nods; besides Oldman and Hardy, Kathy Burke and Benedict Cumberbatch were also shortlisted.

In addition to his Best Director nod, Paddy Considine is also in the running for the Douglas Hickox Award for best new director. And so is another actor-turned-director, Ralph Fiennes, for Coriolanus.

The nominees in the Best Independent Foreign Film category are David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (which has already had its Oscar run), Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Wim Wenders’ Pina, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, and Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. Unlike the usual “foreign film” categories devoted to Hollywood productions, this year the BIFA went for movies from around the world.

Also worth noting is that despite generally excellent reviews, Andrew Haigh’s gay romantic drama Weekend ended up receiving only two nominations: Most Promising Newcomer for Tom Cullen and Best Achievement in Production. Gay-themed movies – especially the ones that dare to feature two guys going for it – aren’t usually awards-season favorites.

According to BIFA’s press release, the “Pre-Selection Committee of 70 members viewed nearly 200 films, out of which they selected the nominations, which were decided by ballot.” Winners will be selected by the following jury members: Josh Appignanesi (Director / Writer), Lucy Bevan (Casting Director), Edith Bowman (Broadcaster), Mike Goodridge (Editor), Ed Hogg (Actor), Neil Lamont (Art Director), Mary McCartney (Photographer), Molly Nyman (Composer), Debs Paterson (Director / Writer), Tracey Seaward (Producer), Charles Steel (Producer), David Thewlis (Actor), Ruth Wilson (Actress) and Justine Wright (Editor).

Helen McCrory announced the 2011 BIFA nominations at London’s St. Martins Lane earlier today. Recipients of the Richard Harris Award and the Variety Award will be announced at a later date, while the recipient of the Special Jury Prize will be announced at BIFA’s December 4 ceremony at London’s Old Billingsgate.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy photo: Universal Pictures.

Much like the Gotham Awards and the Spirit Awards, the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) don’t have much influence on eventual awards-season favorites. Independent films generally do well with U.S. critics and organizations only when they have the backing of a subsidiary of a major Hollywood studio, e.g., Fox Searchlight, or influential mid-level distributors such as The Weinstein Company. Else, it really helps if they have well-known names either in front or behind the camera – or both. Aside from Winter’s Bone and a few such others, truly small films almost invariably go under the radar.

Among this year’s BIFA nominees, the one most likely to earn a Best Picture Academy Award nomination is Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, featuring Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has been picked up by Universal Pictures. Asif Kapadia’s Senna is a possibility for Best Documentary Feature, while BIFA acting nominees Oldman and Hardy, Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus), and Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan (Shame) are the only ones with a feasible chance at awards-season recognition in the United States.

No matter how widely respected the performances of BIFA nominees Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, chances are they’ll be bypassed in the U.S. even if the film opens in Los Angeles and/or New York before the end of the year. That has certainly been the fate of the vast majority of BIFA’s nominees and winners, precious few of whom have any sort of following on the other side of the Atlantic.

Since the awards’ inception in 1998, the following BIFA nominees/winners in the acting categories have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations:

Of the above, four (Firth, Whitaker, Mirren, and Weisz) won Oscars; with the exception of Imelda Staunton and Carey Mulligan, all of them were either established or semi-established names in the U.S. In fact, before they became better known abroad, BIFA winners Michael Fassbender (Hunger) and Tom Hardy (Bronson) were duly ignored during awards season despite enthusiastic reviews.

I should add that months after they had been nominated for Academy Awards, Judi Dench won a BIFA for Best Actress, and Cate Blanchett was nominated for Best Supporting Actor/Actress for Notes on a Scandal; Ian McKellen won Best Actor for Gods and Monsters; and Emily Watson won Best Actress and Rachel Griffiths was nominated for Best Supporting Actor/Actress for Hilary and Jackie.

To date, only two British Independent Film Award winners have gone on to earn a matching Academy Award nomination: Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, both of which also took home the Best Picture Oscar in, respectively, early 2009 and early 2011. Whether that’s some kind of new trend, it’s much too early to tell. In fact, when it comes to those two Oscar-winning titles, BIFA voters were probably swayed by early awards-season buzz – not vice-versa.

Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave Coriolanus photo: The Weinstein Company.

best British Independent Film
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
We Need to Talk About Kevin

best Director
Ben Wheatley – Kill List
Steve Mcqueen – Shame
Tomas Alfredson – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Paddy Considine – Tyrannosaur
Lynne Ramsay – We Need to Talk About Kevin

the Douglas Hickox Award [best Debut Director]
Joe Cornish – Attack the Block
Ralph Fiennes – Coriolanus
John Michael Mcdonagh – the Guard
Richard Ayoade – Submarine
Paddy Considine – Tyrannosaur

best Screenplay
John Michael Mcdonagh – the Guard
Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump – Kill List
Abi Morgan, Steve Mcqueen – Shame
Richard Ayoade – Submarine
Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear – We Need to Talk About Kevin

best Actress
Rebecca Hall – the Awakening
Mia Wasikowska – Jane Eyre
Myanna Buring – Kill List
Olivia Colman – Tyrannosaur
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin

best Actor
Brendan Gleeson – the Guard
Neil Maskell – Kill List
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Peter Mullan – Tyrannosaur

best Supporting Actress
Felicity Jones – Albatross
Vanessa Redgrave – Coriolanus
Carey Mulligan – Shame
Sally Hawkins – Submarine
Kathy Burke – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

best Supporting Actor
Michael Smiley – Kill List
Tom Hardy – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Eddie Marsan – Tyrannosaur
Ezra Miller – We Need to Talk About Kevin

most Promising Newcomer
Jessica Brown Findlay – Albatross
John Boyega – Attack the Block
Craig Roberts – Submarine
Yasmin Paige – Submarine
Tom Cullen – Weekend

best Achievement in Production
Kill List
Wild Bill
You Instead

best Technical Achievement
Chris King, Gregers Sall – Editing – Senna
Sean Bobbitt – Cinematography – Shame
Joe Walker – Editing – Shame
Maria Djurkovic – Production Design – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Seamus Mcgarvey – Cinematography – We Need to Talk About Kevin

best Documentary
Hell and Back Again
Life in a Day
Project Nim
Tt3d: Closer to the Edge

best British Short
Love at First Sight
Rough Skin

best Foreign Independent Film
Animal Kingdom
A Separation
The Skin I Live in

the Raindance Award
Acts of Godfrey
Black Pond
Leaving Baghdad
A Thousand Kisses Deep

George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Gotham Awards

The 2011 Gotham Awards were full of surprises: Favorites didn’t win; winners’ speeches were often interesting, humorous, and/or moving; and some of the jokes were quite funny. (Not every joke was funny, though. “That’s a switch, the banks bailing us out,” actress Judy Greer told a representative of the Royal Bank of Canada, who, following a pro-bank speech/promo, handed a check to the winning filmmaker of the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.)

Now, despite its three nominations and all the Oscar buzz for filmmaker Alexander Payne and star George Clooney, The Descendants didn’t win any awards. That was the biggest surprise of the evening. It’s as if the Gotham voters this year were making a point of distancing themselves from obvious Oscar bait. Or perhaps they just didn’t find Payne’s movie all that great.

In the Best Feature category, The Descendants was beaten by Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Mike Mills’ Beginners – the Gothams’ first tie in that category. And a surprising one at that, considering that not many were expecting Beginners, an early 2011 release, to be remembered at this time of year. Or to have a family dramatic comedy – Christopher Plummer plays Ewan McGregor’s gay father – share a top award with Terrence Malick’s lofty Cannes Film Festival winner.

Another surprise was The Descendants losing to Beginners in the Best Ensemble category. In addition to McGregor and Plummer, Beginners features Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, and Keegan Boos. In another The Descendants defeat, Shailene Woodley lost to Like Crazy‘s Felicity Jones in the Best Breakthrough Performer category. Earlier this year, Jones received a Special Jury Prize for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival.

Also worth noting, Steve James’ well-received The Interrupters failed to win as Best Documentary Feature. Instead, the award went to Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega’s Better This World.

Other winners included Lucy Malloy for Una Noche, recipient of the Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ Grant; Audience Award winner Girl Friend, directed by Justin Lerner; Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Scenes of a Crime, directed by Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock; and Breakthrough Director Dee Rees for Pariah.

Girl Friend, which features The Twilight Saga‘s Jackson Rathbone, surely was helped by the enormous online influence of anything and anyone related to that movie series.

Gotham Awards: Audience Award Nominations

The five nominees for the Gothams’ Festival Genius Audience Award have been announced. They are: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, Buck, Girlfriend, The First Grader, and Wild Horse, Wild Ride.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Constance Marks’ documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey traces the life and career of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street‘s Elmo. Cindy Meehl’s Buck is a documentary about Buck Brannaman, the man who inspired the book The Horse Whisperer and the ensuing Robert Redford-directed movie.

Justin Lerner’s Girlfriend revolves around a young man with Down’s Syndrome who financially assists his object of desire, a woman stuck in an abusive relationship. Set in Kenya, Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader tells the story of an eighty-something ethnic Mau Mau (Oliver Litondo) eager to learn to read and write. Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus’ documentary Wild Horse, Wild Ride follows the physical and emotional voyage of wild horses transported from public lands to horse adoption auctions.

The public can vote for their favorite movie here. The winner of the Audience Award will be announced at the Gotham Awards ceremony on November 28.

The First Grader image: Gotham Awards.

Watch Gotham Awards Live Streaming Online

You can watch the Gotham Awards streaming live above. Right now, celebrities are parading along the red carpet. The awards ceremony itself, held at New York City’s Cipriani Wall Street, is also available online. It is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET.

Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, with George Clooney, and Sean Durkin’s thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene, with Elizabeth Olsen, earned three nominations apiece. Mike Mills’ family comedy-drama Beginners, with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, and Jeff Nichols’ psychological drama Take Shelter, with Michael Shannon, were next with two nominations each.

Beginners, The Descendants, and Take Shelter are all up for both Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance. The other Best Feature nominees are Kelly Reichardt’s Western Meek’s Cutoff, starring Michelle Williams, and Terrence Malick’s family drama The Tree of Life, with Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and Jessica Chastain.

Selecting this year’s Gotham nominees were 21 film critics, journalists, and curators. The winners were selected by a separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers, editors and others in the film business. The one exception is the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, chosen by the editors of Filmmaker Magazine and a curator from The Museum of Modern Art.

In addition to the competitive awards, more Oscar buzz will be generated for Young Adult‘s Charlize Theron, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s Gary Oldman, A Dangerous Method‘s David Cronenberg, who will be presented with career tributes at the Gothams ceremony. Another honoree will be Fox executive Tom Rothman (husband of Phantom of the Paradise‘s Jessica Harper).

Alexander Payne & Terrence Malick In; Woody Allen Out: Gotham Awards

Alexander Payne’s George Clooney vehicle The Descendants and Sean Durkin’s thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene earned three nominations each for the 2011 Gotham Awards. Mike Mills’ family comedy-drama Beginners and Jeff Nichols’ psychological drama Take Shelter followed suit with two nominations apiece. [List of 2011 Gotham Award Nominations.]

Beginners, The Descendants, and Take Shelter are up for both Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance. None of the nominees for Best Feature – Kelly Reichardt’s Western Meek’s Cutoff and Terrence Malick’s transcendental family drama The Tree of Life were the other two – received a matching nod for Breakthrough Director. (That figures, as none of them was directed by a “breakthrough” filmmaker.) What’s actually surprising is that The Tree of Life‘s Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, et al. are not in the running for Best Ensemble Performance.

As described in the Gotham Awards’ press release, “primary criteria for nomination consideration includes American (US-based or US-born directors and producers), feature-length films made with a point of view. Additional criteria include independently distributed films made with an economy of means.” That means New Yorker Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was theoretically eligible for the 2011 Gothams, though Allen’s well-received, Paris-set ensemble comedy is nowhere to be found in any of the 2011 Gotham categories.

Expect some similarities – and similar omissions – when the West Coast-based Spirit Award nominees are announced on November 29, the day after the Gotham Awards reveal their winners at Cipriani Wall Street. Expect differences as well, as what’s eligible for one group may be ineligible for the other. The Tree of Life, for instance, is ineligible for the Spirit Awards as its $32 million budget is way above the Spirit Awards’ $20 million max. (The same goes for Allen’s Midnight in Paris; The Descendants seems to be right at the very edge.)

Selecting this year’s Gotham nominees were 21 film critics, journalists, and curators. Separate juries of writers, directors, actors, producers, editors and others in the film business will determine the final award recipients. The one exception is the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You, chosen by the editors of Filmmaker Magazine and a curator from The Museum of Modern Art.

In addition to the competitive awards, Charlize Theron, Gary Oldman, David Cronenberg and Tom Rothman will be presented with career tributes at the Gothams ceremony.

As for the Audience Award, voting begins today at The nominees will be announced on Nov. 7 and the winner will be revealed at the Gotham Awards ceremony. To be eligible, a U.S. film must have won an audience award at one of the top 50 U.S. or Canadian film festivals from November 2010 through October 2011.

Last year’s Gotham Award winner for Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance was Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. The family drama with social overtones went on to receive three Oscar nominations: Best Picture and Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), and Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Granik, Anne Rosellini).

Best Feature (tie)
* Beginners
* The Tree of Life
The Descendants
Meek’s Cutoff
Take Shelter

Best Documentary
* Better This World
Bill Cunningham New York
Hell and Back Again
The Interrupters
The Woodmans

Best Ensemble Performance
* Beginners
The Descendants
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Take Shelter

Breakthrough Actor/Actress
* Felicity Jones – Like Crazy
Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene
Harmony Santana – Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants
Jacob Wysocki – Terri

Breakthrough Director
* Dee Rees – Pariah
Mike Cahill – Another Earth
Sean Durkin – Martha Marcy May Marlene
Vera Farmiga – Higher Ground
Evan Glodell – Bellflower

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You
* Scenes of a Crime
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
The Redemption of General Butt Naked

Audience Award
* Girlfriend
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
The First Grader
Wild Horse, Wild Ride

Spotlight on Women Filmmakers “Live the Dream” Grant
* Lucy Mulloy – Una Noche
Jenny Deller – Future Weather
Rola Nashef – Detroit Unleaded

Gotham Tributes
David Cronenberg
Gary Oldman
Tom Rothman
Charlize Theron

The Descendants photo: Merie Wallace / Fox Searchlight.

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