The New York Film Critics Circle announced its winners on Friday morning — and they were enamored by Japanese cinema, Italian accents and a Western.
One of the first critics’ groups to weigh in on awards season, the East Coast org that’s comprised of more than 50 journalists from publications such as Time, Vanity Fair and Variety, named Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” the best film of 2021. The Sideshow and Janus Films-distributed pic, which is representing Japan for the international feature category at the Oscars was quite the shocker, given the voting body was clearly enamored by Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog,” which nabbed three major prizes — the most of any film.
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NYFCC’s winner for best film has typically had a strong correlation with the Academy Awards’ best picture category. Since the expansion to nominees in 2009, only “Carol” (2015) and last year’s “First Cow” (2020) have missed recognition. The latter was the first film that has won New York’s top prize and failed to garner a single Oscar nom. This bodes well for not just international feature, but adapted screenplay, and now picture and director as well. There is also a vocal pocket of support for its lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima, who could be a spoiler entry down the line.
Lady Gaga asserted her status in the best actress category by picking up her first mention of the awards season for Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci.” Despite mixed reviews, box office returns were favorable for the film, and an expected Oscar nom for arguably the world’s biggest artist will not just help the movie’s chances in other Academy Awards categories, but likely help overall Oscar ratings as well. However, Gaga faces stiff competition from Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball (“Being the Ricardos”) and Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana (“Spencer”). The last three selections by NYFCC — Sidney Flanigan for “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (2020), Lupita Nyong’o for “Us” (2019) and Regina Hall for “Support the Girls” (2018) — all failed to garner Academy recognition. The last winner that has matched AMPAS was Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine” (2013).
“The Power of the Dog” was the first film recognized by the group, picking up several significant wins as the morning progressed. Jane Campion was named best director for the Netflix drama about a rancher, Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting his demons in 1920s Montana. Cumberbatch, meanwhile, picked up the lead actor prize and Kodi Smit-McPhee was named best supporting actor. Cumberbatch, who received an Oscar nom for “The Imitation Game” (2014), is in the thick of a stacked best actor race that includes NBR winner Will Smith (“King Richard”). Five of the last 10 NYFCC selections have gone on to Academy recognition, with only two winners matching within that timeframe — Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln” (2012) and Casey Affleck for “Manchester by the Sea” (2016).
Smit-McPhee plays Peter, a young man who stays at Phil’s ranch and enters into a complicated relationship with him. The Australian actor, who got his start opposite Viggo Mortensen in “The Road” (2009), could secure a spot in the supporting actor Oscar category that seems wide open, aside from the men of “Belfast” — Jamie Dornan and NBR recipient Ciarán Hinds — who are shoo-ins. Only three supporting actor winners at NYFCC have missed Oscar noms in the last decade — Albert Brooks for “Drive” (2011), Matthew McConaughey for “Bernie” and “Magic Mike” (2012), and Chadwick Boseman for “Da 5 Bloods” (2020).
After being named best director by NBR, Paul Thomas Anderson added a trophy for best screenplay to the list of accolades for “Licorice Pizza.” This is his second screenplay award from NYFCC, after winning for “Phantom Thread” (2017), for which he received a surprise Oscar nom.
As the Witch, contortionist performer Kathryn Hunter surprisingly nabbed best supporting actress for her turn in Apple Original Films/A24’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” An adaptation of the famous William Shakespeare play “Macbeth,” the movie stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Hunter’s chances have increased significantly in what is easily the most competitive supporting actress field in the last 30 years. Contenders also include Rita Moreno (“West Side Story”), Caitriona Balfe (“Belfast”) and Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”). The New York Film Critics Circle is known to throw passion behind particular performers (like Tiffany Haddish for “Girls Trip” and Patricia Clarkson for “Far From Heaven”), which hasn’t translated to Oscar recognition.
The hilarious “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” from director Mike Rianda and co-director Jeff Rowe nabbed best animated film. Released on Netflix and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were egregiously snubbed for “The Lego Movie” (2014), but received redemption by winning for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018), look to have another strong shot at gold.
In a year heavy on monochrome cinema, the East Coast group chose some color with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” taking home the cinematography award for Janusz Kamiński. This is Kamiński’s second award after winning with another Spielberg film, “Schindler’s List” (1993).
Two Neon contenders, Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” and Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” won prizes for foreign language and non-fiction films, respectively. It couldn’t happen at a better time, as Oscar shortlist voting begins exactly one week from today, on Dec. 10.
Last year, NYFCC selected “First Cow,” a beloved indie drama directed by Kelly Reichardt, as best film, although it failed to net any Oscar noms. Chloé Zhao was named best director for “Nomadland,” one of the many awards she swept on her way to the Academy Awards.
This week, the National Board of Review named “Licorice Pizza,” Anderson’s coming-of-age drama set in the 1970s, as the best film of the year. And Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premiered to rave reviews, leading some pundits to predict that it’s the new, late-breaking frontrunner in the race for the Oscars next March.
Three special awards were also given on Friday, to Maya Cade for her creation of the Black Film Archive, NYFCC general manager Marshall Fine, and a posthumous citation for Sundance and Participant executive Diane Weyermann.
Here’s the complete NYFCC winners list:
Best Film: “Drive My Car” (Sideshow and Janus Films)
Best Director: Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
Best Actress: Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Best Supporting Actor: Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix)
Best Supporting Actress: Kathryn Hunter, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Apple Original Films/A24)
Best Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” (MGM/United Artists Releasing)
Best Animated Film: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Netflix)
Best Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski, “West Side Story” (20th Century Studios)
Best First Film: Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Worst Person in the World” (Norway)
Best Non-Fiction Film: “Flee” (Neon)
Special Award: Maya Cade for the creation of the Black Film Archive
Special Award: Diane Weyermann, a posthumous award for supporting daring and impactful filmmaking at Sundance and Participant
Special Award: Marshall Fine for his years of service as NYFCC’s general manager and decades on the New York film scene
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