2015 New York Film Critics Awards have enlivened Oscar race
Catching up with previously announced awards season winners that will likely influence the 2016 Oscar nominations. Early this month, the New York Film Critics Circle announced their Best of 2015 picks, somewhat unexpectedly boosting the chances of Todd Haynes' lesbian romantic drama Carol, Clouds of Sils Maria actress Kristen Stewart, and László Nemes' Holocaust drama Son of Saul.
Below is a brief commentary about each of these NYFCC choices.
Directed by Todd Haynes, starring two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, Blue Jasmine) and Oscar nominee Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and adapted by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel The Price of Salt, Carol won a total of four New York Film Critics awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematographer (Edward Lachman). Surprisingly, there were no Carol wins in the acting categories.
Back in 2002, Todd Haynes and his partly gay-themed drama Far from Heaven – like Carol, set in the American Northeast during the 1950s – also took home the New York Film Critics' Best Director and Best Film awards. Although Far from Heaven was bypassed for the Academy Awards in these two categories, Haynes found himself shortlisted for Best Original Screenplay – even though his movie was an unofficial reboot of Douglas Sirk's 1955 melodrama All That Heaven Allows.
Anyhow, Haynes ultimately lost the Oscar to surprise winner Pedro Almodóvar for the Spanish-language drama Talk to Her. And I should add that Edward Lachman, also nominated in the Best Cinematography category for Far from Heaven, lost to Conrad L. Hall for Road to Perdition.
Todd Haynes' Oscar chances
Fast forward to 2015, when Todd Haynes can be considered an American cinema veteran – after all, his first feature film (not starring Barbie dolls), Poison, was released nearly a quarter of a century ago. The “veteran” label undoubtedly increases Haynes' chances of getting a Best Director nod, as “respect” (career longevity) and “prestige” (at the very least a nomination for an Oscar statuette) frequently go hand in hand (take Don Ameche, Sean Connery, and Ann Sothern as a trio of examples).
As for the Best Picture Oscar, there are now up to 10 slots, which makes Carol a shoo-in for a nomination, thus joining several gay-themed dramas of the past decade: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), Gus Van Sant's Milk (2008), and Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game (2014).
And let's not forget that Carol has the magical Weinstein Touch – or rather, Push – propelling it forward this awards season. Far from Heaven, on the other hand, was a Focus Features release.
Distributed by IFC Films' imprint Sundance Selects, Olivier Assayas' French-made, English-language drama Clouds of Sils Maria, also featuring Juliette Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz, earned a surprising – and historic – Best Supporting Actress César Award to Kristen Stewart, still best known as Bella Swan in the five-movie Twilight franchise co-starring Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.
That was nearly a year ago. Time passes. Academy members – like most people out there – suffer from frequent and increasingly severe bouts of dementia. Kristen Stewart and Clouds of Sils Maria, which earned a mere $1.84 million at the domestic box office, were all but forgotten.
Enter the New York Film Critics – or at least several NYFCC members with good memories – to remind everyone of Stewart's acclaimed performance. And back she is in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar race, especially after once again topping that category at the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards and coming up right behind Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.
So far this century, only two New York Film Critics Best Supporting Actress winners have failed to be shortlisted for the Academy Awards: Patricia Clarkson for Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven (2002) and Maria Bello for David Cronenberg's A History of Violence (2005) – the latter possibly because of vote-splitting, as some Academy members may have selected her in the Best Actress category.
IFC Films: Poor awards season record
True, Kristen Stewart was bypassed for both the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes – and so was Los Angeles, Boston, and 2015 European Film Award Best Actress winner Charlotte Rampling for another IFC Films release, Andrew Haigh's 45 Years.
But Richard Linklater's Boyhood or no, IFC Films, despite their remarkable roster of movies, has a dismal track record when it comes to awards season nominations, especially in the “top” categories. Marion Cotillard's Oscar nod earlier this year for Two Days, One Night was the extremely rare exception, not the rule. And bear in mind that Boyhood, shortlisted for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, collected $25.35 million at the North American box office; that makes a hell of a difference for an art-house entry.
With minimal (or no?) backing, Stewart and Rampling won their respective critics' awards too late to make a difference for the SAG Awards' committee voters or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe voters.
The Oscar nominations, however, will be announced in January. That will allow more Academy voters to check out Clouds of Sils Maria and 45 Years following the recent Stewart-Rampling awards season buzz. Although a nomination isn't assured, their chances of getting one have markedly increased.
'Son of Saul'
Barring a miracle, Son of Saul / Saul fia is now the top contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Besides the critical love in New York (Best First Film) and Los Angeles, László Nemes' drama starring Géza Röhrig has a Holocaust/World War II theme: that's always a plus as far as Academy members are concerned, especially those voting in the Best Foreign Language Film category (e.g., Ida, Katyn, The Counterfeiters, Days of Glory, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, Joyeux Noël, etc.).
The New York Film Critics' Best Foreign Language Film (and Best Picture César winner), Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu, doesn't have a chance for the very simple fact that it was submitted and shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar earlier this year. The winner was Pawel Pawlikowski's aforementioned Ida.
Other New York Film Critics winners: Michael Keaton, Saoirse Ronan
As for the other New York Film Critics winners, Best Actor Michael Keaton (Spotlight) might end up nominated in the Academy Awards' Best Supporting Actor category – that's how he's being pushed. The bad news: Keaton, whose movie was nominated in other categories (in other words, it was seen), has been surprisingly bypassed for both the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes.
Saoirse Ronan is a shoo-in Best Actress contender for John Crowley's Brooklyn. Barring a Brie Larson (Room) surge at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes, Ronan should be facing off against veteran Charlotte Rampling come Academy Awards time. Well, that is, if the Academy does the right thing by shortlisting Rampling, much like they shortlisted Emmanuelle Riva for her performance in Michael Haneke's Amour three years ago – even though the Hiroshima Mon Amour star had been bypassed for both the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes.
In case Charlotte Rampling does land an Oscar nomination, perhaps this time around the deserving veteran will come out on top. After all, when Jennifer Lawrence beat Emmanuelle Riva at the 2013 ceremony – for her work in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook – she was already a Hollywood insider as one of the stars of The Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class. And, no minor detail, Lawrence had The Weinstein Company backing her up.
As for Saoirse Ronan, she isn't quite a Hollywood insider, while Fox Searchlight Pictures released Brooklyn in the U.S.
Frederick Wiseman and the immigrant experience: 'In Jackson Heights'
Pete Docter and co-director Ronnie del Carmen's New York Film Critics winner Inside Out will definitely be vying with Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award. Mark Rylance, for his part, is slowly emerging as the favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.
And finally, despite its New York Film Critics win, veteran Frederick Wiseman's non-fiction film In Jackson Heights will be out of the running, as it was not included in the Academy's list of Best Documentary Feature semi-finalists. Wiseman, whose career dates back to 1967 (Titicut Follies), has never been nominated for an Oscar.
The omission of In Jackson Heights is particularly glaring as it focuses on the immigrant experience in one of New York City's ethnically diverse neighborhoods – at a time when the plight of Syrian refugees and American xenophobia, embodied in the form of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters, have been making headlines the world over. Wiseman turns 86 next Jan. 1.
Stating the obvious, this year the New York Film Critics Circle has chosen to honor movies at least partly set in New York City and its environs: Carol, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, In Jackson Heights. Previous such instances in recent years include The Immigrant, The Central Park Five, American Hustle, and Blue Jasmine.
Runners-up were not announced on the New York Film Critics' Twitter page or on their website. Below is the full list of their 2015 winners.
New York Film Critics Awards 2015
Best Picture: Carol.
Best Foreign Language Film: Timbuktu, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako.
Best Director: Todd Haynes for Carol.
Best Actress: Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn.
Best Actor: Michael Keaton for Spotlight.
Best Supporting Actress: Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria.
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.
Best Screenplay: Carol. Written by Phyllis Nagy, from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt.
Best Non-fiction Film (documentary): In Jackson Heights, directed by Frederick Wiseman.
Best Cinematographer: Edward Lachman for Carol.
Best Animated Film: Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter with co-director Ronnie del Carmen.
Best First Film: László Nemes for Son of Saul.
Special Award: William Becker and Janus Films.
Special Award: Ennio Morricone.
Patricia Highsmith movie adaptations
- The Talented Mr. Ripley. In 1960, filmed as Plein soleil / Purple Noon; René Clément directed Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet, and Marie Laforêt. A 1999 remake, which kept the title of Highsmith's novel, was directed by Anthony Minghella, and starred Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and featured Carol's Cate Blanchett in a supporting role.
- Strangers on a Train. In 1951, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Farley Granger, Robert Walker, and Ruth Roman.
Also in 2015, Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy was nominated for two Emmy Awards for the television miniseries Mrs. Harris, which she both adapted (from Shana Alexander's book) and directed. Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Cloris Leachman, and Lawrence O'Donnell starred.
'Far from Heaven' inspiration: 'All That Heaven Allows'
In 2002, the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Screenplay Award went to Adaptation, credited to Charlie Kaufman and his imaginary twin, Donald Kaufman. Nicolas Cage (replacing Tom Hanks) played both Kaufman twins in the Spike Jonze-directed comedy of sorts co-starring Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper.
Curiously, Far from Heaven, the New York Film Critics' Best Film and Best Director winner, failed to show up even as a runner-up for Best Screenplay: the NYFCC's second/third choices were Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's About Schmidt and Dylan Kidd's Roger Dodger.
Barbie doll documentary
 The 43-minute, Barbie-doll starring Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story came out in 1987. This mercilessly clever satire is unfortunately extremely hard to find due to a lawsuit by Karen Carpenter's brother Richard Carpenter.
New York Film Critics Circle website.
Image of Cate Blanchett in the New York Film Critics' Best Film winner Carol: The Weinstein Company.
Image of New York Film Critics Best Supporting Actress winner Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria: Sundance Selects / IFC Films.
Image of New York Film Critics Best Actress winner Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn: Fox Searchlight.
Image of Géza Röhrig the NYFCC's Best First Film winner Son of Saul: Sony Pictures Classics.
Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights trailer: Zipporah Films.