Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yawn! Thoughts on the FIRST! Movie Awards of the Season

After all the hubbub about the New York Film Critics moving their date up to go first, and then getting angry when one film (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) wouldn't play along, they come along and give out the first awards of the season - and make the most boring choices possible. I'm not saying that the award winners are undeserving, just that I'm not sure why they made such a big deal about going first and "getting the conversation started" and then went ahead and made such conventional choices. So, they are the first of what will be many awards going to The Artist and director Michel Hazanavicius. Good for it - it would have gotten in at the Oscars no matter what the New York Critics did. Same can be said for Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. I haven't seen either film, so I cannot comment on whether they "deserved" the prizes or not, but they were safe choices.

I was thrilled that The Tree of Life got 3 awards - although to be fair, it already has a cinematography nomination wrapped up, and Pitt would not have won the Best Actor prize without Moneyball and Chastain would not have won the Supporting Actress prize without Take Shelter and The Help. But Pitt and Chastain were great in all their films this year, so good choices. Also safe. And I love Albert Brooks win for Drive, so no complaints there. Even below the line, they went safe with A Separation getting Foreign and the highest non-kids doc in Cave of Forgotten Dreams winning Non-Fiction film. And why no animation award this year? Apparently, they didn't think any was good enough. So screw you Rango!

You do have to wonder though at the politics behind their choices. They got to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo early - although they did have to push their vote back a day to see it. Did it not factor in their vote because they didn't like it enough? Or because they didn't want to seem to give favoritism to a film that did them a favor by screening early for them? Or because they were pissed because the film made them wait an extra day? Or were they pissed because Scott Rudin produced both this and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the one film who didn't cave for them? You make the questionable decision to move up, and you have to expect these types of questions.

The winners are below:

New York Film Critics Circle
Picture: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Actor: Brad Pitt, Moneyball/The Tree of Life
Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, Drive
Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life/Take Shelter/The Help
Screenplay: Moneyball
Cinematography: The Tree of Life
Documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Foreign Film: A Separation
1st Feature: Margin Call

As for the Independant Spirit Awards, again I cannot complain too much. Like New York, they wanted to be among the first to anoint The Artist as one of the year's best (although how the hell the French produced film qualified as an American indie, I have no idea). They also wanted to be the first to anoint The Descendants, another safe choice (although, I must say it is one of my absolute favorites of the year).

I must say that I like almost all of the choices they made - at the ones I have seen. 50/50, Beginners, Drive, Take Shelter and The Descendants are all quality films - and I assume The Artist is as well. How Midnight in Paris didn't score anything other than Supporting Actor and Cinematography is beyond me though (they do seem to dislike Woody personally over there).

But I am still disappointed, as I am every year, that these awards always seem to jump on the bandwagon and award the "indie" films that are being awarded everywhere else. Most of the nominees aren't really "indie" at all, but come from the speciality branches of major studios - like Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics. Why can't they award films that are truly independant, coming from the small companies, like IFC for example, who work their asses off to get their films - without the benefit of major movie stars like George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen et al - seen at all. They make some interesting choices in the nominating round in the acting categories, and things like First Film and the John Cassavetes prize, but they are mainly shunted to the background. In short, the Independant Spirit Awards need more Independant Spirit. If they're just going to award the same movies/performances as everyone else, why do they exist in the first damn place?

The full list of nominees is below.

Take Shelter
The Artist
The Descendants

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Mike Mills, Beginners
Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Woody Harrelson, Rampart
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me
Rachael Harris, Natural Selection
Adepero Oduye, Pariah
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Albert Brooks, Drive
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John C. Reilly, Cedar Rapids
Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris

Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Anjelica Huston, 50/50
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

BEST FIRST FEATURE (Award given to the director and producer)
Another Earth
In the Family
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Natural Selection

Joseph Cedar, Footnote
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Tom McCarthy, Win Win
Mike Mills, Beginners
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, The Descendants

Mike Cahill, Brit Marling, Another Earth
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call
Patrick deWitt, Terri
Phil Johnston, Cedar Rapids
Will Reiser, 50/50

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD – Given to the best feature made for under $500,000. 
Hello Lonesome
The Dynamiter

The Off Hours
Midnight in Paris
The Artist
The Dynamiter

BEST DOCUMENTARY (Award given to the director and producer)
An African Election
Bill Cunningham New York
The Interrupters
The Redemption of General Butt Naked
We Were Here

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILM (Award given to the director)
A Separation
The Kid With a Bike

Chad Burris, Mosquita y Mari
Sophia Lin, Take Shelter
Josh Mond, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Simon Arthur, Silver Tongues
Mark Jackson. Without
Nicholas Ozeki, Mamitas

Heather Courtney, Where Soldiers Come From
Danfung Dennis, Hell and Back Again
Alma Har’el, Bombay Beach

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD – (Given to one film’s director, casting director, and its ensemble cast)
Margin Call

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