National Society of Film Critics Lambastes MPAA Ratings System

by S. Montgomery
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
The Social Network with Jesse Eisenberg
Filippo Timi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Vincere
Filippo Timi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Marco Bellocchio's Vincere

The Social Network, director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's retelling of the founding of Facebook, was voted the Best Film of 2010 by the National Society of Film Critics, which consists of 61 film critics from top U.S. media outlets. Forty-six of those voted this year, according to the Los Angeles Times' Susan King. (Strangely, the New York Times doesn't allow its film critics to take part in those awards-giving societies.) (See further below the full list of National Society of Film Critics winners and runners-up.)

In addition to its Best Film win, The Social Network also won in the Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg) categories.

Apart from Eisenberg, who beat The King's Speech's Colin Firth and Carlos' Edgar Ramírez by one (weighted) vote, the Social Network victories were anything but surprising.

On the other hand, Giovanna Mezzogiorno came out of nowhere – at least as far as US critics are concerned – to bag the Best Actress award for her performance as Benito Mussolini's secret mistress Ida Dalser in Marco Bellocchio's Vincere. Last year, Mezzogiorno was considered a front runner for the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival (she lost to Antichrist's Charlotte Gainsbourg), and was the top choice of the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Another surprise was Olivia Williams winning the Best Supporting Actress award for Roman Polanski's mystery thriller The Ghost Writer, in which Williams plays British prime-minister Pierce Brosnan's deceptively distraught wife. Williams was the runner-up in Los Angeles, but has been all but ignored in a category dominated by True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld and The Fighter's Melissa Leo, while the more “internationally minded” awards-season voters have gone for Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver. Polanski, I should add, was no. 3 among the directors and, with fellow The Ghost Writer's scribe Robert Harris, screenwriters.

More predictable was the choice of The King's Speech's Geoffrey Rush for Best Supporting Actor – after all, The Fighter's Christian Bale had lost in both Los Angeles and New York, from where many of the NSFC critics hail. Bale, however, didn't fare poorly in the voting. Rush beat him by one single vote.

Our NSFC predictions were totally off the mark for the acting awards – most of our winners ended up as runners-up – but we got the other categories right. In addition to Best Film, Director, and Screenplay, we correctly predicted that Olivier Assayas' Carlos would win for Best Foreign Language Film; it was also the runner-up – though with only 28 points vs. The Social Network's 61 – for Best Film. (Curiously, Assayas was in the same position as last year, when his Summer Hours was the runner-up for Best Film and the winner for Best Foreign Language Film.)

More correct predictions: True Grit's Roger Deakins won the Best Cinematography award and Charles Ferguson's Inside Job was the Best Documentary. No Best Production Design award was announced this year.

Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

In addition to handing out awards to the likes of The Social Network, Carlos, Jesse Eisenberg, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, David Fincher, Roger Deakins, Aaron Sorkin, Olivia Williams, Geoffrey Rush, and Jean-Luc Godard's Film Socialisme, the National Society of Film Critics issued two statements this year.

The first statement lambastes the Classification & Ratings Administration of the Motion Picture Association of America for its ludicrous and hypocritical – not to mention undemocratic – censorial stance. The second statement pertains to the punishment meted out to Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, “whose sole crime is telling the truth.” (Ironically, as far as the American censorship board is concerned, that's also the “crime” of documentaries such as The Tillman Story and A Film Unfinished.)

The NSFC's anti-censorship statement follows below. The Panahi/Rasoulof statement can be found in the next post. (See link at bottom.)


The members of the National Society of Film Critics applaud the recent decision by the Classification & Ratings Administration of the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating of “Blue Valentine” from NC-17 to R. But several other recent decisions by CARA have been allowed to stand, and these call into question the integrity and legitimacy of that office as it is presently constituted.

“The King's Speech,” the drama about King George VI's attempt to overcome his speech impediment, was rated R for “language,” specifically, several moments where the King is instructed by his speech therapist to swear to relieve the pressure of his stammer.

“The Tillman Story,” the documentary about the military cover-up of the death of Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, was similarly rated R for “language.” In the case of that film the offending content is the agitated language of soldiers in combat fearing for their lives.

“A Film Unfinished,” which contains footage taken by the Nazis inside the Warsaw Ghetto, was given an R for “disturbing images of Holocaust atrocities, including graphic nudity.”

In the case of the documentaries “The Tillman Story” and “A Film Unfinished,” this amounts to CARA assigning a rating to reality.

In an editorial on the MPAA's web site, Joan Graves, the head of CARA, claims, “These ratings are purely informational.”

This is simply untrue.

An R rating restricts who can get in to see a film and thus its potential earnings. An NC-17 rating, such as was originally assigned to “Blue Valentine,” will keep a film out of many theater chains and can deny its being advertised on most television networks and in many newspapers.

This can have an especially damaging effect on the earning potential of independently made films, such as those mentioned above, which do not have access to the large advertising budgets at the disposal of the major studios — studios, which, as CARA's record indicates, have received much more lenient ratings for similar content.

Another damaging inconsistency is CARA's record of judging sexual content more harshly than it does violence. We by no means advocate condemning violence in movies, and we do not believe we are doing so by pointing out that there is no equivalence between an R given to the most explicit horror images and the same rating given to a drama in which King George VI utters a four letter word. And certainly no equivalence to a historical document showing the emaciated bodies of dead Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Despite Ms. Graves' contention that CARA decisions are “purely informational,” it's clear that the board has become an agency of de facto censorship. There is a difference between giving parents the information they need to make a decision as to which films they want their children to see, and a system whose decisions make it harder for adults — and their children — to see films clearly meant for them.

The National Society of Film Critics believes that CARA has for too long demonstrated these inconsistencies and has refused to explain itself. We would like to believe that the major studios who constitute the membership of the MPAA care enough about the availability of movies to recognize that the ratings system should be open and consistent, not arbitrary and unfair, and that films from independent distributors should be judged by the same criteria as their own releases. It has become a system that enforces the kind of moral policing that, when it was founded in 1968, it was intended to prevent.

Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows
Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows


On December 18, 2010, an Iranian court sentenced Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof to six years in prison and banned both from filmmaking for 20 years for “colluding in gatherings and making propaganda against the regime.”

The members of the National Society of Film Critics add their voices to those of the many other individuals and organizations who have protested this injustice. We strongly urge the Iranian government to release both artists, whose work can only further the advancement of such values as justice, compassion, tolerance, and human dignity. Jafar Panahi's films in particular have won international awards, earned the accolades of critics all over the world, and delighted and inspired audiences everywhere they are shown.

Not only does the court's decision impose an outrageous penalty on artists whose sole crime is telling the truth, but it deprives Iran and the world of future works by filmmakers of outstanding talent and vision.

We intend our protest to affirm the value of artistic expression and the power of cinema to transcend political differences and unite people in their common humanity. We hope that the Iranian government will recognize the wisdom of releasing Mr. Panahi and Mr. Rasoulof immediately in the name of these universal principles.

NSFC statement Via indieWIRE

NSFC statement Via indieWIRE

Photo: Blue Valentine (Davi Russo / The Weinstein Co.)

Photo: IFC Films

1. The Social Network 61
2. Carlos 28
3. Winter's Bone 18

1. Carlos 31
2. A Prophet 22
3. White Material 16

1. David Fincher 66 - The Social Network
2. Olivier Assayas 36 - Carlos
3. Roman Polanski 29 - The Ghost Writer

1. Jesse Eisenberg 30 - The Social Network
2. Colin Firth 29 - The King's Speech
2. Edgar Ramírez 29 - Carlos

1. Giovanna Mezzogiorno 33 - Vincere
2. Annette Bening 28 - The Kids Are All Right
3. Lesley Manville 27 - Another Year

1. Geoffrey Rush 33 - The King's Speech
2. Christian Bale 32 - The Fighter
3. Jeremy Renner 30 - The Town

1. Olivia Williams 37 - The Ghost Writer
2. Amy Adams 28 - The Fighter
3. Melissa Leo 23 - The Fighter
3. Jacki Weaver 23 - Animal Kingdom

1. Aaron Sorkin 73 - The Social Network
2. David Seidler 25 - The King's Speech
3. Roman Polanski and Robert Harris 19 - The Ghost Writer

1. Inside Job 25 (Charles Ferguson)
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop 21 (Banksy)
3. Last Train Home 15 (Lixin Fan)

1. True Grit 31 (Roger Deakins)
2. Black Swan 27 (Matthew Libatique)
3. Somewhere 18 (Harris Savides)


FILM HERITAGE AWARDS The Film Foundation for its 20th anniversary; Flicker Alley's DVD set “Chaplin at Keystone”; Fox's DVD set “The Elia Kazan Collection”; the National Film Preservation Foundation for the discovery of the long-lost 1927 John Ford film “Upstream”; Milestone Films for the release of On the Bowery (1956); the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the restoration, and Milestone for the distribution of Word Is Out (1978)

Runners-up via indieWIRE

Photo: The Social Network (Merrick Morton / Sony Pictures)

Previous post

Edgar Ramírez, Carlos
Edgar Ramírez in Olivier Assayas' Carlos

The National Society of Film Critics (NSFC), which consists of a few dozen top film critics from assorted US publications, will announce their list of 2010 winners on Saturday, Jan. 8.

Unlike the Oscars, the NSFC can be quite unpredictable. Last year, for instance, the Best Film winner was the expected The Hurt Locker. But how many were predicting that Yolande Moreau would be chosen as Best Actress for Séraphine? Or Hanna Schygulla as the Best Supporting Actress of 2008 for The Edge of Heaven? What about Edward Yang's Yi Yi as the Best Film of 2000?

Here are a few possibilities for the 2011 NSFC Awards:

Olivier Assayas' Carlos for Best Picture, followed by David Fincher's The Social Network. Or vice versa. The same goes in the Best Director category. Last year, Assayas' Summer Hours was no. 2 in the NSFC's Best Picture voting and no. 1 in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Having said that, one shouldn't underestimate Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, or even Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist, what with that irresistible Jacques Tati pedigree. Lee Unkrich's Toy Story 3 shouldn't be dismissed, either. After all, the National Society of Film Critics doesn't hand out Best Animated Feature awards; Waltz with Bashir was the Best Film of 2008, and that same year WALL-E was no. 3.

If Carlos doesn't win Best Film, I'd bet it'll be the critics' top choice for Best Foreign Language Film. A Prophet, The Illusionist, and Bong Joon-ho's Mother are three other possibilities.

For the Best Non-Fiction Film category, my bet is on Charles Ferguson's Inside Job. Roger Deakins' work on True Grit for Best Cinematography. Aaron Sorkin's work on The Social Network for Best Screenplay. And for Best Production Design, Inception.

Photo: Carlos (IFC Films)

Kim Hye-ja, Mother, Bong Joon-ho
Kim Hye-ja in Bong Joon-ho's Mother

The Best Actress race may be a bit tricky. A fair share of the NSFC critics hail from either New York or Los Angeles. The New York critics picked Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right; the Los Angeles critics picked Kim Hye-ja for Mother. Don't be too surprised if Kim wins her second Best Actress award from US critics this year. Natalie Portman is the third strong possibility. Or will Lesley Manville be remembered?

Best Actor: Los Angeles and New York winner Colin Firth for The King's Speech, unless the NSFC's critics want to be contrarian and pick instead Edgar Ramírez for Carlos (the runner-up in Los Angeles) or someone like James Franco (127 Hours) or Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network).

I'd bet on Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver, the winner in Los Angeles, as Best Supporting Actress. The Fighter's Melissa Leo is another strong candidate; Leo was the New York winner. Else, what about Ruth Sheen for Another Year?

For Best Supporting Actor, I'd say this is one group that will not go for Christian Bale's junkie in The Fighter. We should probably add that we could be dead wrong… But my bet would be on someone like the Los Angeles critics' Niels Arestrup for A Prophet, John Hawkes for Winter's Bone, or even Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech. Also, we don't believe New York winner Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) will have much of a chance here. But then again, we could be dead wrong…

Photo: Mother (Magnolia Pictures)

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