In one of the lengthiest sessions I’ve sat through since joining the New York Film Critics Circle in 1981, the group took over five hours to decide upon its 12 annual awards, with Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” — serious pictures, both filled with topical resonance — emerging as the two big winners.
Several perennial contenders, notably Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” but also Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” and David O. Russell’s “The Silver Lining Playbook,” were effectively shut out. The meeting, chaired by Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out New York, was amiable but consensus proved elusive. No film won on the first ballot and several took as many as four.
The sense that we were in for a long day was apparent from the onset. Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a heavy favorite for Best First Feature, fell one vote short of a first ballot victory and one voter shy of a second ballot win, ultimately defeated by a single vote on the third ballot by the documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” Ken Burns’ documentary “The Central Park Five” came from well behind in the pack to push aside the first ballot leaders, “The Gate Keepers” and “This is Not a Film,” on the fourth ballot. Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” needed two ballots to win Best Animated Film over Pixar’s “Brave,” and the Focus Features release “ParaNorman,” in a race that saw a number of abstentions and included votes for several CGI-driven features, notably “The Hobbit” and “The Life of Pi.” Although a heavy favorite, Michael Haneke’s “Amour” still required three ballots to prevail over Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”
In the acting awards, Sally Field (“Lincoln”) finally defeated initial front-runner Anne Hathaway (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Miserables”) for Best Supporting Actress on a fourth ballot while, in a rare second ballot win, Matthew McConaughey (“Magic Mike” and “Bernie”) beat out Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained”) and Tommy Lee Jones (“Lincoln”). The closest and most surprising race saw Rachel Weisz (“The Deep Blue Sea”) edge Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games” and “The Silver Lining Playbook”) and Emmanuelle Riva (“Amour”). Last year’s winner Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”) was a factor throughout, tying for the lead on several ballots. (This race was by far the most polarized; only three of the 16 ballots cast for Lawrence or Chastain cited both actresses. Weisz was clearly a consensus “second” choice.) By contrast Daniel Day Lewis (“Lincoln”), possibly the most feted actor in NYFCC history, led on every ballot but still required three rounds of voting to best the closely bunched trio of Jack Black (“Bernie”), Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master”), and Denis Lavant (“Holy Motors”).
Greig Fraser was named Best Cinematographer for “Zero Dark Thirty,” beating the initial favorite, “The Master” on the third ballot. (In a simple, up and down vote, the critics declined to acknowledge Fraser for his work on “Killing Them Softly.”) Although heavily favored, Tony Kushner’s “Lincoln” screenplay needed four ballots to win over those for “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Moonrise Kingdom.” “The Master”’s relatively poor showing in this race presaging its ultimate fate. An early favorite for Best Director, Paul Thomas Anderson was overwhelmed by Kathryn Bigelow on the second ballot, with Ben Affleck (“Argo”) finishing a distant third. (Strikingly, Steven Spielberg, who failed to get a single first ballot vote, was never in contention.) By this time, it was evident that “Zero Dark Thirty” would run the table and, indeed, “The Master” finished third for Best Picture behind “Argo,” although it took three ballots for the obviously exhausted voters to decide the winner.
For the record, my first ballot votes, several intended as provocations, were: “The Master” (Best Picture), Kathryn Bigelow (Best Director), Tony Kushner (Best Screenplay), Gina “Crush” Carrano (Best Actress, for “Haywire”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Best Actor, for “The Master”), Sally Field (Best Supporting Actress), Andy Serkis (Best Supporting Actor, for “The Hobbit”), Greig Fraser (Best Cinematographer, for “Killing Them Softly” and “Zero Dark Thirty”), “The Hobbit” (Best Animation), “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (Best Foreign-language Film), “The Gate Keepers” (Best Documentary) and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Best First Feature). Not bad: Four of my first choices won as did a number of second choices, including Rachel Weisz.
Images: Sony Pictures, Music Box Films, DreamWorks