Scanning The Movie Year

Like any critic, I have an ego: it comes with the territory, or I couldn’t express my opinion with confidence. Imagine what it’s like, then, to sit in a room with forty other critics—each one certain and confident—and try to reach a consensus, as I do with my colleagues in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association every December. We meet in person and vote out loud, using a point system to determine the most popular candidates in every category; then we have a runoff show of hands between the two top vote-getters to determine who wins. (If you’d like to see all of this year’s winners, or learn more about our group and its members,—

—click HERE)

As a longtime member and past president of the group, I’ve been asked why we don’t have a secret ballot, or simply vote by e-mail. The answer is that we actually enjoy the process of debating our choices and throwing ideas into the mix that might not occur to us on our own. Every year, without fail, someone will mention a performance, a score, a screenplay that I failed to make proper note of while preparing for our big day.

Another oddity is that even in a year that doesn’t seem terribly impressive—like this one—there always seem to be a surfeit of worthy candidates in every category.

I thought Colin Firth was magnificent in The King’s Speech, and worthy of our citation. So was Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, and Edgar Ramirez in Carlos, and Robert Duvall in Get Low. James Franco held the screen incredibly well in 127 Hours, and Ryan Gosling gives a performance that cuts close to the bone in Blue Valentine. But the day before our meeting I realized I’d forgotten how riveting Vincent Cassel was in the two-part French gangster saga Mesrine. I’d stack his work against anyone’s this year, but Mesrine didn’t make a big impression in the U.S., and my fellow critics weren’t eager to jump on that bandwagon.

Similarly, in the supporting category, I thought Bill Murray was wonderful in Get Low, where he effortlessly created a man of many layers: sardonic and self-deprecating, but not as hardened or heartless as he would have you believe at first. Josh Brolin has had another outstanding year, donning completely different personas in each of his films (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, and True Grit; we won’t discuss Jonah Hex). I thought he might get a nibble for playing the ruthless tycoon in Wall Street, but no go. The list goes on: John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone, Jeremy Renner in The Town, Sam Rockwell in Conviction, Christian Bale in The Fighter, Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right (which the New York critics recognized). At LAFCA we honored Niels Arestrup, who is frighteningly potent as a prison ganglord in A Prophet—another great piece of work.

Among the women who haven’t been singled out, as yet, I think of Naomi Watts, who like Josh Brolin has gone from one great performance to another, in the little-seen Mother and Child, You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, and Fair Game. (Annette Bening was cited by the New York critics for The Kids Are All Right, but she’s just as good in Mother and Child, along with Watts and Kerry Washington.) And how many actresses could pull off the feat of becoming a believable punk biker-girl as well as newcomer Noomi Rapace in Steig Larsson’s Swedish thrillers The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest? I was hoping Catherine Keener would be acknowledged for her latest film with writer-director Nicole Holofcener, Please Give, along with Dianne Wiest in Rabbit Hole and Anne-Marie Duff, the British stage actress who is heartbreaking as John Lennon’s mother in Nowhere Boy, one of those films that didn’t deserve to vanish so quickly off U.S. screens.

So it goes, from Cinematography to Screenplay and right on down the line. I wouldn’t think it would be so hard to narrow down my list to three selections for our LAFCA vote, and then decide on one final winner. Just within the Documentary category there are so many different kinds of films—apples and oranges and cantaloupes that don’t seem to belong in the same cubbyhole. How can you compare Frederick Wiseman’s Boxing Gym to the impudent and contemporary Catfish, or stack Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work against Inside Job? Yet they’re all fine non-fiction films.

And what are we to do with Banksy’s tour de force Exit Through the Gift Shop, which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has put on its documentary short-list, in spite of the fact that said film’s validity is in question?

The answer lies in the realization that—as we’ve heard actors and filmmakers say so often—awards are somewhat silly, and absolutely arbitrary. It isn’t fitting to pit one performance or screenplay against another when they aren’t truly comparable. Yet we live in a competitive society where people crave contests—and winners.

What matters more, it seems to me, is that good work is celebrated. The best part of these awards is that they call attention to films that haven’t had the benefit of multimillion dollar ad campaigns. Perhaps a critic’s award or Academy nomination will inspire someone to seek out the film in a theater or on DVD. That is the real reward for good work: that it be seen and appreciated.


  1. Jason says:

    I’m glad Mark Ruffalo got some recognition for ‘The Kids are Alright’. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore were excellent but I thought Ruffalo was equally memorable.

  2. Rackon says:

    I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that there’s no mention in your piece about my favorite film of the year, Winter’s Bone, IMO the best American movie of the year. It has knockout
    turns from veterans John Hawkes and Dale Duffy, plus a breakout perfromance from lead Jennifer Lawrence. As enjoyable as The Social Network is, I feel it’s overrated by most critics.

    I do agree it’s been a better year for performances than for films.

    The Globes are among the least significant awards in terms of actual recognition of excellence.

  3. Jim Reinecke says:

    Thanks for recognizing the work of such a talented young woman as Noomi Rapace. I’ve yet to see the third installment of this trilogy, but found the first two entries stylish, fast-moving and well acted. I look forward to seeing future work from Ms. Rapace. However, I would like to point out Dakota Fanning’s knockout performance as Cherie Currie in “The Runaways”. Unfortunately, due to this film being released so early in 2010, the academy will probably overlook this sizzling piece of work.

  4. Michael van den Bos says:

    I certainly hope that Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND is not shut out of potential accolades because it was released way back in ancient era of March 2010. It’s direction and cinematography should not go unnoticed at award nomination time.

  5. FooFighter! says:

    1) Ethan & Joel Coen did the best film of the year again.
    2) ‘The American’ deserved more attention. (Clooney, Cinematography??)
    3) Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall are great in ‘The Town’. Renner was also amazing in the Hurt Locker last year, don’t forget this performance.
    4) You’re so right about Vincent Cassell.
    5) I consider Phillip Seymour Hoffman the greatest actor of the decade 2000-2009. In fact, I think he’s probably one of the greatest actors of all time.

    Greetings from Europe. 🙂

  6. Andrew Patterson says:

    I definitely agree about the Golden Globe nominees. Not in the drama category, but when I saw the Musical/Comedy nominees, I laughed out loud. “RED” … seriously? And “Burlesque”? And “The Tourist”? I think it’s possible that the academy won’t nominate a single one of these films, with the one possible exception being “The Kids are Alright”.

    In other years, the Golden Globes have expanded the Drama Category to more than five nominees. I think it should be allowed to shrink a category if there isn’t enough quality in the submissions. Although, I would think that 250+ movies you could get better nominees than the five they chose — anyone remember “Cyrus”?

    My 10 picks for the Academy Awards nominees are:
    Black Swan
    The Fighter
    The Social Network
    The King’s Speech
    True Grit
    Winter’s Bone
    The Kids Are Alright
    Toy Story 3
    127 Hours

    Although my preference would be “Fair Game” instead of “The Kids Are Alright” and possibly “How to Train Your Dragon” in there somewhere … although I liked everything else too much to say which I would like to see go.

  7. steandric says:

    Thank you so much for mentioning Naomi Watts (Mother and Child, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Fair Game), the very talented actress who is criminally ignored, depreciated and snubbed by the so-called HFPA (or the Golden Globes) continuously for 11 years since Mulholland Drive 2001. And this year God damn it they even threw in Halle Berry in the last minute to fill up the 5th slot and not gave it to the most deserving Watts for Fair Game. As we all know, since the Oscar votes are greatly influenced by the GG nominations, with this snub again, Watts’ Oscar chance is almost gone.

    So thank you for not snubbing her along with the bandwagon that most other critics is riding.

  8. Jason says:

    Did anyone else think some of the Golden Globe nods completely suck? I mean talk about lacking in the Comedy film category. Did no one see ‘Heartbreaker’?

  9. Jason says:

    I think the acting this year was better than the movies themselves. I hope ‘The American’ with George Clooney gets more recognition and I’m glad you mentioned Vincent Cassell’s excellent work in ‘Mesrine’.

  10. RJ says:

    Was this article edited and re-posted? I distinctly remember reading a reference about Banksy “admitting” that “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a hoax, but (after trying to find more information on this online — with no luck — and returning to re-read the article), the reference is gone. It seems to have been replaced by the observation that, the documentary’s “validity is in question” (a far cry from the director “admitting” his film is a hoax).

    It’s bad enough that the initial reference was incorrect, but any subsequent editing of the article after it has already been published should be duly noted for full disclosure. (From the “Comments” section, I obviously was not alone in reading the incorrect reference.)


  11. Andrew Patterson says:

    I definitely want to point out that there has been no such admission for “Exit Through the Gift Shop”.

    Mr. Maltin, I read everything you write. I buy your book annually. I own the Leonard Maltin iPhone App. So I highly respect your opinion. But this info peretaining to “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is completely wrong.

    I don’t normally comment on this site, but it would be beneficial to Banksy and his movie if this information was corrected.

    Thanks for all your great work.

  12. Rob T. says:

    I may be following the wrong news sources, but surely if Banksy had admitted that Exit Through the Gift Shop was a hoax wouldn’t there have been a story about it on indieWIRE?

  13. Brian says:

    I think Christian Bale in The Fighter will and should get an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actor because he becomes Dicky Edlund he really delved into the character as well as Melissa Leo who was fantastic as Alice Ward who I think will compete with Amy Adams for Best Supporting Actress.

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