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Upsets at the National Society of Film Critics Awards! 'Bashir' bumps off 'Wall-E'!

January 4, 2009 |  9:32 am

It's the most surprising best-picture choice of the National Society of Film Critics since "Babe" in 1995! This year's selection of "Waltz With Bashir" marks the first time that the society has ever picked an animated film or a documentary.

"Bashir" won on the second ballot with 26 points, followed by "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Wall-E," which tied for second place with 20 points. "Bashir" only came in third on the first ballot, however, after "Milk" landed in second, and "Wall-E" emerged as the initial front-runner. "Wall-E" was recently voted best picture by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

Walle_bashir7

Results often change dramatically between the society's first two voting rounds due to a shift in members' input. On the first ballot, all 63 members of the National Society of Film Critics may send in votes from various locations across the U.S., but only critics present at the voting session held at Sardi's restaurant in New York may participate in second and subsequent ballots. This year 49 nationwide members sent in ballots for the first round; 23 were present at Sardi's.

Many races were chosen in just one ballot, including best actor (Sean Penn, "Milk") and actress (Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"), who've swept most earlier awards from critics. Best screenplay was decided in two ballots, but "Happy-Go-Lucky's" Mike Leigh led both rounds. That victory is controversial since Leigh insists that his films — largely created via improvisational acting — don't have typical screenplays. In fact, up at Toronto Film Festival last September, Leigh told Gold Derby vehemently, " 'Happy-Go-Lucky' doesn't have a script!"

Leigh also won best director — but on the second ballot. On the first ballot, Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") led by a wide margin, followed by Gus Van Sant ("Milk"), then Leigh in third place.

Front-runners also shifted during the first and second voting phases for best supporting actor and actress. Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight") led on the first ballot, but lost to Eddie Marsan ("Happy-Go-Lucky") on the second. Eventual winner Hanna Schygulla ("The Edge of Heaven") was only ranked forth in the first tally. Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona") led the first round, followed by Viola Davis ("Doubt") and Rosemarie DeWitt ("Rachel Getting Married").

While voting, members rank three choices in each category on a weighed ballot, assigning three points to their top choice, two to their second and one to their third. Winners must not only have the most points, but appear on a majority of ballots. This latter requirement is what often causes voting to go many ballots and get contentious. Last year the battle over best supporting actor went four heated rounds during which the lead place shifted back and forth between Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men"), who led on the first canvass, and eventual winner Casey Affleck ("Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford").

As per the society's rules, the separate category for best foreign-language film was dropped after Israel's "Bashir" won best picture. In that top race, the society used to have a snooty reputation for always picking artsy foreign-lingo fare, usually from France ("Day for Night," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie") or Sweden ("Persona," "Shame"). That's only happened several times since 1990, most recently in 2006 ("Pan's Labyrinth").

Strangely, the society didn't consider the documentary category to be redundant this year. That prize went to "Man on Wire," and "Bashir" didn't land among the top three vote-getters.

Critics groups, especially ones based in New York, are infamous for tossing in gag contenders. This year Eve — Wall-E's robot lover — got a vote for best actress and Jean-Claude Van Damme made the lead-actor slugfest.

The National Society of Film Critics was launched in 1966 by journalists who were banned from the New York Film Critics Circle. It's only agreed with the Oscars on best picture four times — "Annie Hall" (1977), "Unforgiven" (1992), "Schindler's List" (1993) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004) — but it played a key role in advancing "Annie Hall" in the academy derby. Most recently its Oscar impact could be felt after it chose "The Pianist" (2002) as best picture, giving it serious momentum. At the Oscars ceremony, many observers believed it was about to pull off an upset for best picture after it won best screenplay and pulled off shockeroos for lead actor (Adrien Brody) and director (Roman Polanski). Nonetheless, "Chicago" held onto its front-runner status and danced off with the top prize at the end of the night.

BEST PICTURE
1. "Waltz With Bashir" — 26 points
2. "Happy-Go-Lucky" — 20
2. "Wall-E" — 20

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Mike Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky") — 36
2. Gus Van Sant ("Milk") — 20
3. Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") — 16

BEST ACTOR
1. Sean Penn ("Milk") — 87
2. Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") — 40
3. Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino") — 38

BEST ACTRESS
1. Sally Hawkins ("Happy-Go-Lucky") — 65
2. Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") — 33
3. Michelle Williams ("Wendy and Lucy") — 31

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Eddie Marsan ("Happy-Go-Lucky") — 41
2. Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight") — 35
3. Josh Brolin ("Milk") — 29

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Hanna Schygulla ("The Edge of Heaven) — 29
2. Viola Davis ("Doubt") — 29
3. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona") — 24

BEST NONFICTION FILM
1. "Man on Wire" — 55
2. "Trouble the Water" — 34
3. "Encounters at the End of the World" — 26

BEST SCREENPLAY
1. "Happy-Go-Lucky," Mike Leigh — 29
2. "A Christmas Tale," Arnaud Desplechin — 24
3. "Synecdoche, New York," Charlie Kaufman — 17

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. "Slumdog Millionaire," Anthony Dod Mantle — 29
2. "Flight of the Red Balloon," Lee Ping-Bing — 22
3. "The Dark Knight," Wally Pfister — 18
4. "Still Life, "Yu Lik-Wai" — 18

BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM
"Razzle Dazzle: The Lost World"

Photos: Disney / Sony Pictures Classics

The comments to this entry are closed.

Comments

AJ, when you read about the process of making Waltz with Bashir, it makes perfect sense that the doc had a script, just as Happy Go Lucky did, Mr. O'Neil.

And Mr. O'Neil, (I'll call you Tom), the vote for Eve was for BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS. Eve's fans, fans of Eve's fan and Eve's fan congratulate the winners: 1. Hanna Schygulla ("The Edge of Heaven), 2. Viola Davis ("Doubt") and 3. Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona").

I can't confirm, but through your Oscar tinted eyes, Tom, a vote for Jean-Claude Van Damme may not be a gag to imply a Rourke/JCVD Oscar "slugfest" but a performance worth acknowledging: "In what is a rather phenomenally naked piece of acting, Van Damme at one point delivers a soliloquy on his past life and regrets, directly into the camera,... it's not just emotional, it's crafty -- ..."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/20/AR2008112003789.html

Van Dame was no joke. He got reviews for JCVD where he played himself, andjudging by the critics, very well.

I doubt we'll be looking at clips of happy Go Lucky in 50 years time. I DO know we will be looking at Heath Ledger in Batman for a very, very long time.

Idiot call that choice.

I think the National Society of Film Critics is always the most reliable award organization around. 95% of the time, they give their awards to the movies and moviemakers that most deserve them. The four times that they have agreed with the Academy (ANNIE HALL, SCHINDLER'S LIST, UNFORGIVEN, MILLION DOLLAR BABY) happen to be the last four times the best picture of the year ACTUALLY won Best Picture. And I love their choices of AMERICAN SPLENDOR, MULHOLLAND DR., TOPSY TURVY, OUT OF SIGHT, LA CONFIDENTIAL, BABE and so many other offbeat but truthful selections as Best Pic. They can always be relied on to surprise and illuminate.

I can't understand for the life of me how Waltz With Bashir can be called a documentary but be nominated for screenplay awards. Please explain.


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