The New York Film Critics Circle used to represent an elite standard (and by that I don’t mean ingrown and dweeby). It really mattered to win one of their awards because they didn’t suffer fools and only the creme de la creme contenders were considered. Four years ago they gave their Best Picture award to The Social Network…exactly! But they’ve gradually become more easygoing as far as admitting new members were concerned over the last few years and so their choices have begun to feel less and less discriminating, at least as far as Best Picture choices have been concerned.
In my mind the NYFCC shit the bed when they gave their 2011 Best Picture award to The Artist — that was a sign that they could adopt the mindset of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences if so moved. Okay, AMPAS with a vague sheen of East Coast urbanity. From then on I’ve been grimly acknowledging that the NYFCC of legend was no more. Agreeable surprises can still happen, but no longer do they necessarily represent gold-standard honors decided by critics of serious merit. Certainly not in a Best Picture context. The consensus gene has gotten into the bloodstream.
And yet this year is different — more than a bit curious — with Mr. Turner‘s Timothy Spall winning for Best Actor, Marion Cotillard winning for The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night (seriously?) and Darius Khnodji‘s fine but unremarkable work on The Immigrant taking the Best Cinematography award…what? Where did this Immigrant love come from? What cabal of James Gray loyalists got together and rammed this through?
No disagreement at all with Boyhood winning for Best Picture or Richard Linklater winning for Best Director.
But let me explain something very clearly: Nobody has been talking about Marion Cotillard as a Best Actress contender of any consequence. Nobody at all. She’s clearly genuine and stressed-out and crumbling in a non-actressy way in the Dardennes Brothers film but c’mon, going door to door and asking her co-workers for the same consideration in scene after scene after scene? In my book she phoned in her performance in The Immigrant. Quote from my 5.24.13 review: “Cotillard isn’t playing a character named Ewa as much as playing herself playing a character named Ewa. I only know that Ewa/Marion never seems to play her cards with any kind of deception or cleverness, like anyone would. She’s always just surveying the sordid nature of 1921 New York City with those big, watery, guilt-tripping eyes.”
Spall turned in an admirable, authentic-seeming performance in Mr. Turner but many couldn’t understand half his dialogue, or at least I couldn’t when I saw the film in Cannes. Don’t kid yourself — landscape painter J.M.W. Turner was known to speak in a slurry, guttural lower-class accent. Spall reiterated this in a recent phone interview I did with him, and said that he went for his less-than-decipherable quality. I have the screener now so I’m going to re-watch — maybe the dialogue will come through a bit clearer this time.
J.K. Simmons has won Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as an inspired but demanding and at times malevolent Julliard-type music instructor. I would have voted, due respect, for Birdman‘s Edward Norton but I have no quibble with Simmons, who will definitely be AMPAS-nominated and most likely win the Oscar. A totally expected consensus choice but fine.
The Best Supporting Actress award has gone to another consensus choice, Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette. A fine performance although I didn’t care for Arquette’s character subjecting her kids to not one but two abusive, alcoholic conservative assholes as stepdads. I’m a bigger fan of either Birdman‘s Emma Stone or A Most Violent Year‘s Jessica Chastain in this category. But the none-too-hip consensus gang decided on Arquette a long time ago.
Laura Poitras‘s Citizenfour, a riveting masterwork if I ever saw one, has won for Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary)
Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida was won the NYFCC’s Best Foreign Language Film award. No argument there. I’ve no beef with giving their Best Animated Film award to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller‘s The Lego Movie.
Best Screenplay Award went to Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Best Cinematography has gone to Darius Khondji for James Gray‘s The Immigrant….what? They blew off Birdman‘s Emmanuel Lubezki? Who’s been thinking about The Immigrant? Standard burnished amber photography…same deck of cards that every film about old New York uses. I’d more or less forgotten about it 18 months ago after seeing it in Cannes.