The Year End Movie Awards Continue with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association

13 Dec

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association met over the weekend to cast its collective vote for the year’s best films. Here is a recap:

  • Best Picture – The Descendants
  • Best Actress – Yun Jung-hee (Poetry)
  • Best Actor – Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, and X-Men: First Class)
  • Best Director – Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Chastain (Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, and The Tree of Life)
  • Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  • Best Screenplay – Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
  • Best Music Score – The Chemical Brothers (Hanna)
  • Best Production Design – Dante Ferretti (Hugo)
  • Best Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life)
  • Best Documentary – Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Best Animated Feature Film – Rango
  • Lifetime Achievement- Doris Day

According to the Internet Movie Database, Yun Jung-hee , also known as Jeong-hie Yung, has made 189 film and TV appearances since 1967. Her performance in Poetry has earned accolades at the Asian Pacific Screen Awards and at the Cinemanila International Film Festival.

Okay, it’s worth noting that the LAFCA often includes the names of the 1st runner up in each category, but we’ll get to that in a second.  Obviously, the big surprise here is the Best Actress win by Korean actress Yun Jung-hee for a movie that most of us have not seen–not that there’s anything wrong with that. The question is whether the endorsement of the LA bunch will help increase this actress’s profile enough to make her a viable candidate. On one hand, the race looks crowded already. After all, a few previous Oscar winners are back with all new projects: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk about Kevin), and Charlize Theron (Young Adult). Additionally, previous nominees without a win are looking to change all that. Chief among those would be Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), but don’t forget about Viola Davis (The Help) and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn). Finally, there are hot, hot, hot newcomers, such as Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Emma Stone (The Help), and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene); then, there’s Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia). The Cannes winner took first runner-up in the LA voting, so she’s still very much a contender. On the other hand, if Yun Jung-hee scores an Oscar nod, she’ll make an already competitive race even more exciting.

Jessica Chastain (l) with Octavia Spencer (r) in The Help. Chastian plays a big hearted country girl who just wants to be accepted by her husband's old-moneyed friends while Spencer plays a no-nonsense cook who makes a mean chocolate pie and forms a life-changing bond with her new employer.

There’s also concern that Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain might be too good for their own good this year because no one group can seem to get behind a single performance by either thesp, which means that without a definitive cue from the so-called precursor awards, Oscar voters might split votes, leaving Fassbender and Chastain with more goodwill than anything else. I still think Fassbender’s best shot is Shame, but I’m less certain about Chastain. Right now, her best chances rest with The Help and The Tree of Life.

I think that the choice of The Descendants as Best Picture with The Tree of Life as runner-up represents some sort of compromise as though the group was reluctant to bestow top honors on a film no longer in general release, thus The Descendants scores as a safe choice for Best Picture with the The Tree of  Life relegated to runner-up status while Malick claims a first place finish for  Best Director. That aside,  I’m just glad to see that at least one organization had the guts to look past all the heavily hyped year end releases and direct some attention to a movie from the first half of the year.  Once upon a time, movie studios released quality films throughout the whole year. Oh, of course, they still do, quality being a relative word, but the business has changed. These days, the likely Oscar contenders are saved for the last six weeks or so, which can be problematic. Of course, fall releases have often played better with Academy members than summer escapist fare, but, again, the tendency now is to push the prestige pics back even farther toward the holidays.  Studio heads will likely explain this phenomena as strategic, the thinking being that movies that come out at the end of the year are far more likely to be fresh in voters’ minds when they check their ballots. Well, that certainly sounds good, but studios often host screenings for awards’ consideration (not to mention the dreaded DVD screeners and/or online streaming). Also, please consider the release dates of some famous Oscar winners, per the Internet Movie Database: The Sound of Music (March 1965), The Godfather (March 1972), Annie Hall (April 1977), The Silence of the Lambs (February 1991), Unforgiven (August 1992), Forrest Gump (July 1994), Braveheart (May 1995), Gladiator (May 2000), Crash (May 2005), and The Hurt Locker (June 2009).

Chastain as the world's most beautiful, most graceful, mother in The Tree of Life.

Even with ample evidence to counter the studios’ concerns about the potential for early releases to be overlooked at Oscar time, there are still some foolish business decisions that also fuel the crush of year-end award worthy fare.  Here’s how it works. Studio heads simply believe, with few exceptions,  that literary/downbeat/complex movies aimed at the 30 and over crowd represent problematic marketing challenges, that is, such films are difficult to sell without the cachet of awards hoopla. There are two problems with this line of thinking. 1. Moviegoers only have so much time and/or money at years’ end (or after the holiday rush) to see all these pics while they are playing in theatres. When the movies fail to find their audiences, studio personnel feel their jaded cynical attitude is justified, not realizing that a given “problem film” (a frequent industry term) might have benefited from an earlier release date. 2. Likewise, when some of these films fail to find favor with the Academy and/or various societies, as quite a few titles inevitably do,  they often receive only limited national releases or simply disappear altogether. The studios give up on them–and once again, the suits feel justified in their approach. Additionally, please consider that even with the plethora of year-end screenings, Academy members only have so many hours in a day like the rest of us, so seeing all the last minute releases is just as problematic for them as it for the rest of us. Spacing out the films’ release dates could alleviate some of that. Also, being named one of the “year’s best” would have more meaning if the films were really released throughout the entirety of the year rather than the last six weeks, right?

With that in mind, there’s one rather high profile year-end release that I think might not do as well as initial reviews suggest because it could prove to be a hard sell, and other flicks are benefiting from flashier campaigns, but I’ll hold off on naming names just yet so as not to jinx anything.

At any rate, I’m thrilled that Terrence Malick’s latest did well enough with the LA group to bolster its chances of earning a place in the Oscar race. That the movie so polarized critics earlier in the year was bad enough, though it still captured top honors at Cannes, but the fact that it struggled to find an audience seemed to doom its potential with Oscar voters. Though I am still open to the possibility that other films not yet open in Dallas will dazzle me the way The King’s Speech did last year, The Tree of  Life still has my vote: it’s audacious, gorgeous, heartfelt, and clearly the work of a gifted visionary as it attempts two unlikely scenarios, one of which concerns the origin of good ole planet Earth, and the other which purports to tell a man’s entire life story with little or no dialogue. Well, what can I say? I’ve had a soft spot for  Malick ever since Days of Heaven back in 1978.

^ The dialogue, what little there was of it in the first place, appears to have been stripped from this clip. Although shot largely in and around Austin (Malick’s home base), it does feature one famous Dallas landmark. Can you spot it?

This week will also see the announcement of nominees for both the Screen Actors Guild Awards as well as the Golden Globes. I’ll hold off on reporting the Broadcast Critics Choice nominees for the moment. In the meantime, I’ll share the names of movies that I am most looking forward to this season: Young Adult, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though the reported violence in it scares me), and War Horse. I’m sure I’ll see The Iron Lady and Albert Nobbs though it is my understanding that the national release of the former is not scheduled until January, which give me plenty of time to see everything else first.

Thanks for your consideration…

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