Sunday, January 8, 2012

Oscar 2012: National Society of Film Critics Awards

Always with a reputation for being headstrong, the National Society of Film Critics (or the “NSFC”) isn’t really “national” in the sense that they represent a broad cross-section of American cineastes. Rather, the group has a heavy overlap with the New York Film Critics and thus their choices tend to match in their annual awards-giving. They are unapologetically tony and, if there was ever a group that was accused of being snobbish in its choices, this is it.

Best Film: Melancholia
One quirk this group has is that since they have access to every film ever released in the United States, their choices can become head-scratching and extremely obscure. Past winners of their acting prizes include Sylvie, Marilia Pera, Per Oscarsson, Emily Lloyd, Alison Steadman, Yolande Moreau and last year’s winner, Giovanna Mezzogiorno. They tend to favour character actors rather than going with the consensus. Having said that, they have also been innovative enough to recognize emerging talent such as Emily Watson, Chloe Sevigny, Amy Adams and Javier Bardem, each of which earned Oscar nominations on the strength of their victories with the NSFC.

Best Actor: Pitt
This year’s winners are:

Best Film: Melancholia
Best Director: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Best Actor: Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks (Drive)
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Help)
Best Screenplay: A Separation
Best Foreign Film: A Separation
Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress: Chastain
The status quo appears to be the same with Brooks and Chastain, who are both on romp, nearly sweeping their categories in the run-up to Oscar nominations. The Tree of Life now seems guaranteed for nominations in cinematography and directing, although it might still be too divisive to earn a spot in Best Picture. Pitt gains further strength in the lead actor race, which should now put him head-to-head with good buddy George Clooney. And I had previously indicated that A Separation might earn a writing nomination in addition to foreign language film. Its screenplay victory here, combined with the same prize from the LA Film Critics, means it’s no fluke. So many critics and festival audiences mentioned that the film starts off as one thing but is an entirely different creature, and said that the twists and turns were what made the film so memorable. This win here, despite the lack of a Writers’ Guild of America nomination (its writer is not a member of the WGA), plants it firmly in that category and the sheer critical momentum might propel it to a surprise Best Picture nomination.

Best Foreign Film and Best Screenplay
There appears to be no consensus on Best Picture this year. The NSFC is one of the unofficial “big four” film critics group, together with the National Board of Review, New York and LA. Each of these groups has chosen a different winner: Hugo, The Artist and The Descendants each respectively have a win, and every one of them has been considered “the one” to beat for the Best Picture Oscar. Their places are safe, even if they were all shut out of the NSFC. The NSFC’s selection of Melancholia should not be a surprise, considering that they also feted Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves with a clean sweep fifteen years ago. That being said, the win here doesn’t really add to the film’s chances at Best Picture or Director. Von Trier is still considered a persona non grata and is far too controversial to many, and he is openly critical of America without having visited it, which might put off potential ballots.

Best Actress: Dunst
What Melancholia’s win does is bring Kirsten Dunst back from the brink of being forgotten as a potential Best Actress nominee. Having been shut out of all the guilds and receiving runner-up citations in LA and NY, a big win here, combined with her Cannes Film Festival trophy, keep her in the conversation. At this moment, Glenn Close has major nominations for Albert Nobbs but the film is struggling to reach audiences and critics, and Charlize Theron’s acclaimed turn in Young Adult has been hurt by the fact that the film tanked at the box office and was shuffled out of theatres just as the Christmas blockbusters arrived. Although Dunst’s win was hardly a publicity stunt, it just might be well-timed enough to get her name into Academy members’ ballots, as they have arrived and they are filling in their cards with just two weeks until the polls close. With Best Actress looking like a showdown between Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton and Michelle Williams, it’s the all-important fifth spot that is generating much discussion. Having Close and Theron, not to mention Rooney Mara and Elizabeth Olson, and now Dunst in the mix, makes it easily the year’s most compelling category to watch.