03 December 2008

An open letter to the New York Film Critics Circle.

Dear Fellow Members,

Every year at this time, my heart starts to sink a little. Because I know full well that when we convene to vote for our year-end awards, almost everybody will arrive armed with candidates culled exclusively from various magazines' and blogs' "frontrunner" lists—lists, it must be said, that generally follow the major studios' lead. I joined the group in 2001, and over the past seven years we've collectively demonstrated a pretty sad paucity of imagination and insight. Not that there isn't sometimes a richly deserving "obvious" choice—I'll go to bat for Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain as the performance of the decade, for example. But it'd be nice, given the mountain of movies each of us sees every year, if we could occasionally look beyond what's deemed worthy of attention by Entertainment Weekly and the "Gurus o' Gold." (No offense Owen, Lisa, Lou.)

I'll admit that I was personally underwhelmed by this year's crop of award-bait flicks. Hated the sickly-sweet Benjamin Button and the ghetto-chic Slumdog Millionaire. Have little use for Milk, a conventional biopic in an arty suit, or Frost/Nixon, which turns a dubious cultural landmark into a cute underdog-sports flick. Doubt and Revolutionary Road have their moments, but both of these prestige-lit adaptations lack the spark of true creative energy; I can only work up mild enthusiasm. Likewise, most of the performances getting huzzahs strike me as, you know, fine. So I have a vested interest in persuading some of you to champion some of my lost causes.

It won't work. I know that. But here's what I'll be quixotically voting for next Wednesday.

BEST PICTURE: Silent Light

Yeah, I know, this wasn't even properly "released." It just ran for a week at MoMA. And it's getting a proper run at Film Forum next month, as it turns out. But that just gives me two chances, potentially, to support Reygadas' transporting vision.

Other votes: Paranoid Park (the year's real Van Sant joint); Rachel Getting Married

BEST DIRECTOR: Carlos Reygadas, Silent Light

Every six minutes, one crystalline idea.

Other votes: Gus Van Sant, Paranoid Park; José Luis Guerin, In the City of Sylvia (opening next week at Anthology Film Archives; hopefully you caught it at the 2007 New York Film Festival)

BEST SCREENPLAY: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Burn After Reading

Letdown my ass. This film is far more profound and incisive than No Country—the most damning assessment of the Bush era we're likely to see for some time.

Other votes: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan, The Dark Knight; Jacques Rivette et al., The Duchess of Langeais

BEST ACTRESS: Annamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Don't forget that this excellent film wasn't eligible for our awards last year, not yet having opened locally.

Other votes: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky; Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married (see, I'm not just being obscure for obscurity's sake)

BEST ACTOR: Fu'ad Aït Aattou, The Last Mistress

Argento has the name, the attitude, the bod and the title role, and she got all the press. But his disarming amalgam of arrogance and frailty is the reason the movie works.

Other votes: Karl Markovics, The Counterfeiters; Guillaume Depardieu, The Duchess of Langeais (R.I.P.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Russell Brand, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

I have no idea whether he can do anything else, but in this role he was, as my friend Chris likes to say, never not funny. Must we always overlook comic genius?

Other votes: Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road; Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hafsia Herzi, The Secret of the Grain

I know, you haven't even seen it. Your loss. She's tender, she's maddening, she's pure sex, she's glorious.

Other votes: Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married; Olivia Thirlby, Snow Angels

Best Foreign Film: Silent Light; The Duchess of Langeais; In the City of Sylvia
Best Animated Film: WALL•E; Chicago 10 (if that counts); Kung Fu Panda
Best First Film: um...Nicholas Stoller, Forgetting Sarah Marshall (I may abstain from this category)
Best Documentary: Chicago 10 (if that counts); My Winnipeg (if that counts); Secrecy
Best Cinematography: [nobody credited as far as I can tell but I don't care and yes I'm serious], WALL•E; Alexis Zabe, Silent Light; Mark Lee Ping-bin, Flight of the Red Balloon


Anonymous said...

No votes for Afterschool - is that because it's ineligible for some reason?

Is it scheduled for an official release next year? Us hardcore D'Angelonians, especially those of us not based in NYC, have been anxiously salivating since 9/22

md'a said...

The NYFCC only votes on films that were commercially released that calendar year. At present Afterschool has no U.S. distributor.

prr5345 said...

Silent light is a truly marvellous film (although the ending is a bit too influenced by Dreyer). Its already been on TV in the UK, which is where I saw it.

Anonymous said...

Fu'ad Aït Aattou...I think that's Klingon for "Snowball in Hell." Too bad; this dude would richly deserve an Oscar if the Oscars actually had anything to do with quality.

Aaron Hillis said...

Alright, md'a. We so rarely agree on things, but check out these overlaps we'll have in the year-end polls:

Rachel Getting Married (#2 film of the year), Paranoid Park (#3), Michael Shannon, Hafsia Herzi, Rosemarie Dewitt, Sally Hawkins, Heath Ledger -- and although Roger Deakins isn't credited, I'm going to attempt calling him out for Wall-E's best cinematography of the year.

Andrew Dignan said...

I think Rachel stands an excellent shot at winning so if you can stomach your third choice as a compromise winner then that's not too bad, right?

md'a said...

Rachel Getting Married has little hope in my opinion. A number of NYFCC members inexplicably hate it.

Anonymous said...

OMG, such artsy-fartsy, hipper-than-thou crap. No wonder you can't keep a job...

Steve C. said...

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the beautiful tactfulness of Internet interaction.

So does Rourke live up to the mountain of hype?

md'a said...

OMG, such artsy-fartsy, hipper-than-thou crap. No wonder you can't keep a job...

Yeah, WALL•E, Burn After Reading, Forgetting Sarah Marshall—ya got me, pal.

So does Rourke live up to the mountain of hype?

Enough to make my Skandie list of ten, but not enough to displace Aattou, Markovics or Depardieu. The role as written is fairly shameless (just like the film)—it'd be tough for anyone to be genuinely revelatory in it.

Joshua said...

Based on the Variety review, it looks like the cinematography credit for WALL-E would go to Jeremy Lasky, although Roger Deakins was also involved as a visual consultant.

Joshua said...

To be more precise, Jeremy Lasky was the director of photography (camera), and Danielle Feinberg was the director of photography (lighting). And hopefully I won't try to come back and submit another correction.

Sam Smith said...

I think it's cool that you're trying to shake up the NYFCC and petition for some deeper soul searching.

Silent Light looks great and I hope to see it whenever it comes to DVD, since it won't be playing in Nashville anytime soon.

I would to see a critic's group name Paranoid Park for best film. It's my favorite film I've seen in years.

What did you think of SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK? I hope someone with the eye that you have would be open to giving this film two or three viewings to really uncover what most critics haven't had the patience to seek out. I don't understand why Hoffman is not being talked about for this performance, and all of the actresses for that matter. I take it maybe you didn't like the movie, or it'd come to mind for Best First Feature...

md'a said...

I didn't much like Synecdoche, I'm afraid—felt Kaufman tunneled way too far up his own ass. But I do plan to give it a second look sometime in the next couple of weeks.

sleeper said...

OMG, such artsy-fartsy, hipper-than-thou crap. No wonder you can't keep a job...

That's right, Anon. Anybody who claims not to like this or that piece of hyped-up Oscar-bait must love it deep down inside and be desperately in denial of his/her true gut reaction, which is of course identical to yours. As Mike watched BENJAMIN BUTTON I'm sure the people around him could hear him groaning in pain, "Must...not...enjoy. Not...sufficiently...artsy...fartsy. Must...remain...contrary."

Seriously, what's the deal with assuming someone could only have different tastes than you because they're deliberately fighting against some universal standard of quality? And of course you've seen all the films/performances that you're calling "crap", yes? Or does "crap" = "My local theater didn't carry this and/or I didn't see any commercials for it, therefore it couldn't be any good"? Do you also hate any food you can't find at the nearest 7-11?



I applaud you for voting your conscience rather than a viable Oscar ballot -- everyone knows I love the Oscars but what is the point of critics awards even existing if they're just another form of prediction/punditry? Frankly, I see no point -- but, that said, i have to ask:

what the hell with Fu'ad Aït Aattou? I saw the film. That performance felt so vacuous to me. The only actor that rose above the material for me was Claude Sarrate with her witty stabs at the carnality of the project.

But anyway. Cheers for voting how critics should vote!