By John H. Foote
Once called “the conscience of American film” by George C. Scott, who accepted their award for his performance in Patton (1970) but refused to accept the Oscar, the New York Film Critics Circle announced their winners for the very bizarre movie year that has been 2020.
Just one year ago the circle of critics had the immense courage to name Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece The Irishman their Best Film, while all others did not, ganging up to make a statement about Netflix. Through their existence the critics have often shaken things up with their awards, courageously giving Citizen Kane (1941) their Best Picture award while the Academy honored the sappy John Ford film How Green Was My Valley (1940). A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) have been groundbreaking Best Picture choices. In the eighties they named Reds (1981) their Best Picture, Steve Martin their Best Actor for All of Me (1984), Meryl Streep their Best Actress in A Cry in the Dark (1988), Cameron Diaz took Best Actress for There’s Something About Mary (1998), Tom Hanks won Best Actor for Cast Away (2000) and most recently Lady Bird (2017) won their Best Picture prize. They can be fearless, though have often been accused of making a statement through the awards.
In what has been the strangest year in memory at the movies (largely because the films were NOT at the movies) they announced their awards yesterday and there are a couple of seismic events worth noting, marked with an asterix and sure to be discussed for many years to come.
*First Cow, a bizarre independent film won Best Picture, the only award the film won. Many film critics, myself among them, found the film a terrible bore, and confessed to struggling to stay awake throughout.
Best Director, and no issue here, went to Chloe Zhao for her superb Nomadland, which frankly had been expected to win Best Picture, along with Mank, News of the World, or anything else really.
Best Actor went to Delroy Lindo for her ferocious performance in Da Five Bloods, simply a towering performance among great actors. Delroy threw his entire being into the performance, which emerges as a wail of anguish from the inner soul of the character. You can hear the agony in his heart when he comes face to face with the ghost of his friend, long dead in Vietnam, and he does not just cry, but wails his torment, finally released. Astonishing and well deserved.
Newcomer Sidney Flanigan won Best Actress in the abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which also won the Screenplay award for its writer Eliza HIttman. Miss Flanigan is exquisite in the film, announcing the arrival of a major new talent.
The late Chadwick Boseman won Best Supporting Actor for his stunning work as Stormin’ Norman, the soldier who literally haunts Lindo’s character in Da Five Bloods. Their final face to face encounter, one living the other a ghost, is among the most powerful scenes in a film you will ever experience. Breathtaking.
*The delightful Maria Bakalova won Best Supporting Actress for her transformative daughter in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, transforming from a feral animal like creature, to a stunning beauty who very nearly seduces Rudy Guiliani. With a daring gleam in her eye, we never know which parts of the film were scripted and which were improvised, often blindsiding those close by, including the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.
Spike Lee won a Special Award for his six short films New York, New York, honored for trying to bring joy and hope through cinema. Mr. Lee has had a very big year and is likely to be heard from come Oscar time.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.