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Here's how 'Capote' pulled off a dramatic upset at National Society of Film Critics

January 7, 2006 |  4:56 pm

Just like the sneaky, tiny terror of modern literature himself, Truman Capote's biopic caused a ruckus at a National Society of Film Critics powwow today. "Capote" pulled off an upstart, come-from-behind victory to win best picture after 6 ballots conducted during the longest voting conclave in memory — 5 and a half hours — while 26 critics gathered at Sardi's restaurant in New York City.


On the first ballot, most of the 55 national members voted either in person or via proxy, resulting in a consensus of 6 films being the strongest vote-getters. Leading with the most points was "A History of Violence," but just narrowly so over "Brokeback Mountain." The other films, cited alphabetically: "Capote," "Munich," "2046" and "The World."

If no winner is determined on the first ballot, proxy votes are discounted and a new tally is taken involving just the members present, who rank their three favorite films, giving three points to their top choice. A winner must have both the most points and be listed on a plurality (or majority) of ballots. On the second ballot, "A History of Violence" pulled far ahead of "Brokeback," but didn't have enough points to prevail.

Upon the fifth ballot, no winner yet emerged, but the field was narrowed to "Capote," "A History of Violence" and "2046." "2046" was dropped from consideration and voters had to choose between "Capote" and "Violence." "Capote" won 12 to 11.

One of the most decisive victories was achieved by Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Capote"), who won best actor on the first ballot.

Photo: He'll drink to that! 'Capote' recently staged an impressive sweep of nominations at all four major guilds: producers, writers, actors and directors.
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Among other award victories, one noteworthy result was the winner of best screenplay: Noah Baumbach for "The Squid and the Whale." Baumbach is the son of two former members of NSFC, Jonathan Baumbach and Georgia Brown. "When he was a kid, Noah actually attended a few of our parties," says executive director Elisabeth Weis. "As I recall, somebody drafted him to be bartender."

Scrolls will be mailed to the winners. The society does not conduct presentation ceremonies like the New York and L.A. critics do.

In its 40 years of existence, the NSFC has agreed with the Oscars on only four best pictures, but it can probably take credit for pushing one of them across the academy’s finish line — "Annie Hall," an early spring release in 1977 that probably would’ve been forgotten by late December when other award groups seemed to be fawning over "Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Turning Point" and "The Goodbye Girl." The society also agreed with the Oscars on "Unforgiven," "Schindler's List" and "Million Dollar Baby." Last year the society was the first awards group to hail "Million Dollar Baby," which may have helped its momentum toward the Oscars.

The society's greatest influence in recent years was probably on the success of "The Pianist," which it voted best picture of 2002. While it didn't win the top Academy Award, the society's push no doubt helped "Pianist" to score upset Oscars for director, screenplay and actor.

Here are today's full scores:

(6 ballots)
1. Capote (Bennett Miller) – 12 votes (on sixth ballot)
2. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) – 11 votes (on sixth ballot)
3. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai) (fifth ballot)

(3 ballots)
1. David Cronenberg (A History of Violence) – 32
2. Wong Kar-wai (2046) – 26
3. Bennett Miller (Capote) – 23

(1 ballot)
1. Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) – 68
2. Jeff Daniels (The Squid and the Whale) – 41
3. Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) – 40

(2 ballots)
1. Ed Harris (A History of Violence) – 27
2. Frank Langella (Good Night, and Good Luck.) – 22
2. Matthieu Amalric (Munich) – 22

(3 ballots)
1. Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) – 37
2. Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice) – 27
3. Vera Farmiga (Down to the Bone) – 18
3. Kate Dollenmayer (Funny Ha Ha) – 18

(2 ballots)
1. Amy Adams (Junebug) – 33
2. Ziyi Zhang (2046) – 28
3. Catherine Keener – 22 (Capote, The Interpreter, Ballad of Jack and Rose, The 40-Year-Old Virgin)

1. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) – 60 points
2. Darwin’s Nightmare (Hubert Sauper) – 27
3. Ballets russes (Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine) – 19

1. Head-On (Fatih Akin) – 26
2. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai) – 23
3. Caché (Michael Haneke) – 18

1. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach) – 37
2. Capote (Dan Futterman) – 33
3. Munich (Tony Kushner and Eric Roth) – 14

1. 2046 (Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pun-leung, Lai Yiu-fai) – 50
2. Good Night, and Good Luck. (Robert Elswit) – 16
3. The New World (Emmanuel Lubezki) – 11

1. SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE (1968) and TAKE TWO ½ (2005), William Greaves’ remarkable investigation into the nature of the acting process and power relationships on a movie set.
2. 13 Lakes, Ten Skies, and 27 Years Later, the three 2005 productions of James Benning. Few have done more over the last thirty years to expand the sensory and temporal boundaries of moving pictures.

“Unseen Cinema, the 7-disc DVD box set collection of pre-1942 American avant-garde cinema assembled by Anthology Film Archives and Bruce Posner — a massive and unprecedented undertaking made in concert with 60 other film archives and preservation organizations across the globe.”

THE NSFC COMMENDS AND CONGRATULATES our colleague Kevin Thomas for his 44-year tenure as a movie critic at the Los Angeles Times.