Awards Season Super Sunday: LA Film Critics anoint ‘The Descendants’ as AFI dumbfounds

The presidential campaign may have Super Tuesday, but awards season has Super Sunday.  Sure, you could argue that moniker should be designated to Oscar Sunday, but when you have the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the AFI yearly Top 10 and Boston Film Critics being announced on the same day, that’s pretty significant.  Plus, there’s also those minor orgs such as the San Francisco Film Critic’s Circle, the New York Online Film Critic’s and the Houston Film Critic’s Circle who dish out their yearly picks on this fine December day.  (And, no, the last three really don’t mean anything in the larger scheme of things, but they look pretty on for your consideration ads).

Unlike their New York counterparts, LAFCA decided to stand pat and not move its 2011 announcement earlier then usual mid-December date after NYFCC jumped to late November in order to call out “first” like a hyped up middle schooler trying to cut in line at the water fountain. Before recapping LAFCA’s 2011 picks you should also be aware of a number of other differences between the nation’s most respect film organizations. 1. LAFCA is a significantly larger organization than NYFCC (50+ members to 30+ members).  2. The median age for LAFCA is significantly younger than the New York group which means they are actually a bit, um, hipper.  3. In general, they consistently take a more global approach to cinema then NYFCC and 4. They aren’t as focused on their position as an awards season circuit event (i.e., their annual January awards dinner) as NYFCC or other org are.   That being said, let’s review their 2011 picks.


Best Picture
“The Descendants”

Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”

Lowdown: How much do the LA Critics love Alexander Payne?  They also awarded their highest honor to his last two films, “Sideways” (2004) and “About Schmidt” (2002).  Heard it was a very close vote.
Best Director
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life,”

Runner-up:” Martin Scorsese. “Hugo”

Lowdown: The LA critics spread the love giving Malick a major kudos after the film barely lost best picture to “The Descendants.”
Best Actor
Michael Fassbender
“A Dangerous Method”, “Jane Eyre”, “Shame”, “X-Men: First Class.”

Runner-up: Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”)

Lowdown:  Fassbender finally gets a major critics award after Clooney and Pitt take NYFCC and NBR respectively.
Best Actress
Yun Jung-hee

Runner-up: Kirsten Dunst (“Melancholia”)

Lowdown: This is what LAFCA is about!  Screw you awards season.  We see film from a global perspective.  This year?  We’re honoring a legendary South Korean actress less than 1% of the American population has ever heard of.  Do your research movie fans! (On a side note, if Dunst had won it would have been a huge boost to her chances for an Oscar nomination).
Best Supporting Actor
Christopher Plummer

Runner-up: Patton Oswalt (“Young Adult”)

Lowdown: Sort of a surprise.  No one is discrediting Plummer’s great work here, but this feels like a consensus pick for the LA-based film.  Sort of shocked Brooks didn’t pull this out for “Drive.”
Best Supporting Actress
Jessica Chastain, “Coriolanus”, “The Debt”, “The Help”, “Take Shelter”, “Texas Killing Fields”, “Tree of Life”

Runner-up: Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”)

Lowdown:  Considering her body of work you really can’t argue with this.  Although, it seemed plausible that “Melancholia’s” Charlotte Gainsbourg could get some attention here as well.
Best Screenplay
Asghar Farhadi “A Separation”

Runner-up: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash (“The Descendants”)

Lowdown: Farhadi’s screenplay for “A Separation” is probably the strongest aspect of the production.  It would be an important moment for the Academy if the Iranian film could sneak into the original screenplay category.  It deserves to make the cut.
Best Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”

Runner-up: Cao Yu (“City of Life and Death”)

Lowdown: Lubezki gets another significant win after New York Film Critics.  The more honors he receives the louder the drumbeat gets for his – shockingly – first Oscar win ever.
Best Production Design
Dante Farretti, “Hugo”

Runner-up: Maria Djurkvovic (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”)

Lowdown: Farretti did find work, but Djurkovic’s was more inspired.  Obviously a lot of love for “Hugo” in the LAFCA room.
Best Music Score
by The Chemical Brothers

Runner-up: “Drive” by Cliff Martinez

Lowdown: Fantastic to see the great “Hanna” recognized in any category.  Any love Joe Wright’s thriller can get is fine by this pundit.
Best Foreign-Language Film
“City of Life and Death”
Directed by Chuan Lu

Runner-up: “A Separation” directed by Asghar Farhadi

Lowdown: The 2009 Chinese film finally hit the United States this past year.  It’s a surprise favorite of the LA Critics and pushes “A Separation” to runner-up status.
Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film
“Cave of Forgotten Dreams” Directed by Werner Herzog

Runner-up: “The Arbor” directed by Clio Barnard

Lowdown: Another win for Vern’s 3-D documentary.  It also won the NYFCC, but was eligible for last year’s best documentary Oscar so you won’t hear about it past January.

Best Animation:

Gore Verbinksi

Runner-up: “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” directed by Steven Spielberg

Lowdown: Not sure if “Tintin” really qualifies completely here, but “Rango’s” win is much deserved.
New Generation:
Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Josh Mond and Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Lowdown: Sadly, not sure all this minor awards love for “MMMM” will help it when the major awards (SAG, GG and Oscar) come around.

As for AFI’s annual top ten list, it’s important to remember the organization’s qualifications for the list. “Honorees are selected based on works which best advance the art of the moving image; enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form; inspire audiences and artists alike; and/or make a mark on American society.”  Moreover, the film has to have something uniquely American about it.  Note, a film must be a “Motion picture with significant creative and/or production elements from the United States. The motion picture need not be presented in the English language if it is incontrovertibly American.”  That being said, a number of this year’s selections are eyebrow raisers.


“The Descendants”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
“The Help”
“J. Edgar”
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Tree of Life”
“War Horse”

“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”?  “J. Edgar”? “Tattoo” seems to be living off Fincher love while “J. Edgar” was one of the worst reviewed “awards season” films of the year.  Why not “Drive,” “Like Crazy,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Take Shelter,” “Beginners,” “The Ides of March” or “Margin Call”?  The jury featured a mix of critics from both consumer and industry publications as well as Oscar winners such as Whoopi Goldberg, but the taste on the movie side (the TV selections were much better) has a lot to be desired.

AFI Special Awards went to “The Artist” and “The Harry Potter series.” And, yes, both The Weinstein Company and Warner Bros. will no doubt find a way to put those on all their upcoming for your consideration ads although your guess is as good as mine as to what it really means.

Super Sunday also found the Boston Society of Film Critics announcing their year end awards.  The organization isn’t anywhere near as prestigious as their LA and NY counterparts or even as recognizable as the National Board of Review, but again, it’s another honor studios can use to push their contenders to Academy members and moviegoers.  To say BSFC went pretty broad this year might be an understatement. Here’s a quick rundown of Boston’s winners.


Best Picture
“The Artist”

Lowdown: Well along with the win from the, cough, New YorkFilm Critics Online, The Weinstein Company will breathe easy a bit after getting nada from LAFCA this year.

Best Actor
Brad Pitt for “Moneyball”

Lowdown: Solid work, but better than his pal Clooney, Michael Fassbender, Gary Oldman, Michael Shannon or Leonardo DiCaprio?  Really? Perhaps a career achievement award would be more in order.

Best Actress
Michelle Williams for “My Week with Marilyn”

Lowdown: Wins like this help solidify and justify what should be Williams’ third Academy Award nomination.

Best Supporting Actor
Albert Brooks for “Drive”

Lowdown: Just another example how it is becoming a two-man race between Brooks and Plummer for the best supporting actor crown.  This one might come down to the wire.

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa McCarthy for “Bridesmaids”

Lowdown: On one hand, great to see McCarthy recognized for a comedic role.  On the other hand, boy can you name about 10 other actresses who might be more deserving than the Emmy winner was this year.

Best Director
Martin Scorsese for “Hugo”

Lowdown: Appears the org had a lot of love for “Hugo” and wanted to put it somewhere.  The film is slowly becoming the inevitable “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator” nominee of 2011.

Best Screenplay
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin for “Moneyball”

Lowdown: Still don’t understand the love for this screenplay.  Yes, it was a non-fiction book, but it really isn’t that great a story or set up.  

Best Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Tree of Life”

Lowdown: Again, nominated four times.  Has never won.  Fifth time could be the charm?

Best Documentary
“Project Nim”

Lowdown: A populist choice, but will Oscar agree? They rarely seem to.

Best Foreign-Language Film

Lowdown: Last year’s Oscar nominee in the same category wasn’t released in Boston until 2011.  This will likely mean a number of wins from cities outside NY and LA for the Canadian epic.

Best Animated Film

Lowdown: Another win for Gore Verbinski’s flick. That’s three top wins after LAFCA, NBR and now BFSC.  Might become inevitable soon.

Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer)
Christian Marclay for “The Clock”

Lowdown: Never heard of this documentary, but it’s no doubt great for Marclay to get recognized by anyone and anywhere.

Best New Filmmaker (awarded in memory of David Brudnoy)
Sean Durkin for “Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Lowdown: Talented filmmaker although the love for “MMMM” has gone a tad overboard.

Best Ensemble Cast

Lowdown: Seriously?  Did you guys see the movie?  Shrill is an understatement.

Best Use of Music in a Film
Tie: “Drive” and “The Artist”

Lowdown: If you’re FilmDistrict (is anyone still there?) you gotta take whatever you can for “Drive.”  Even if its a tie.

As for the other groups announcing today. Click here for San Fran’s winners, Houston’s nominees, Detroit’s nominees and New York Online Film Critic’s selections.

Overall, it was a big day for “The Descendants,” which needed a major win to keep pace with “The Artist” and “Hugo.” Brad Pitt also seems like he’s becoming an awards season lock after yet another best actor win for “Moneyball.”  And, again, it’s shaping up as an Albert Brooks vs. Christopher Plummer race for best supporting actor.

What did you think of Super Sunday’s results? Share your thoughts below.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.