The North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) will announce its awards for the best films and performances of 2012 next week. As a member of this association who gets a vote, I thought I would talk about my ballot. How do you make the final say? What swayed you? You voted for thaaaaat??? It’s an exercise in transparency. A critic is not required to divulge how he or she voted, but take a look behind the curtain to see how Ken’s mind works….
1. Best Narrative Film
- The Master
- Moonrise Kingdom
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Zero Dark Thirty
Not surprisingly, this was the category I struggled with the most. I respected all of these films, but none of them were favorites and each had some flaw that made me hesitate diving in. I eliminated Silver Linings Playbook as good but flawed and Moonrise Kindgom as “I have a hard time getting behind Wes Anderson.” Perks of Being a Wallflower was the film I enjoyed the most, but unlike with my own blog’s list, I don’t feel as comfortable making the leap from “personal favorites” to “judgment of best.” The Master left me cold, but I respected its artistry. Lincoln I enjoyed but found more uneven. Zero Dark Thirty had the best mix of quality and consistency, but I was troubled by one clunker of a scene and a final image that appeared to fumble on the one-yard line. My head said The Master, my emotions pulled for Perks. Ultimately I settled for the film that both my head and emotions ranked high. Ken’s vote: Zero Dark Thirty.
2. Best Documentary Film
- The Central Park Five
- The Imposter
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- The Queen of Versailles
- Room 237
- Searching for the Sugar Man
- Under African Skies
Last year was a great year for documentaries. Three of the nominees were among my ten favorites for the year, and other than The Imposter, which I thought was over-praised, I would not be unhappy with any of these choices. Anyone who has read this blog, however, knows what my favorite film of last year was. Ken’s vote: The Queen of Versailles.
3. Best Animated Film
- The Pirates! Band of Misfits
- Wreck-It Ralph
I thought Brave was second-tier Pixar. Loved Merida’s hair but found the story less clever than most of Pixar’s films. Frankenweenie had style but wore down by the end. I adored Wreck-It Ralph, however. The video game nostalgia was great and the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope was moving. Ken’s vote: Wreck-It Ralph.
4. Best Foreign Language Film
- Holy Motors
- The Intouchables
- The Kid With a Bike
- Oslo, August 31st
- The Raid: Redemption
- Rust and Bone
Amour seems to be the runaway favorite among critics for this year in part because a lot of us who watch world cinema had seen The Kid With a Bike in 2011. (It was on my Top 10 list for that year.) The Dardennes film played in American theaters in 2012, however, and was eligible. Like all of the Belgian brothers’ films, it is simple and powerful. Ken’s vote: The Kid With a Bike.
5. Best Director
- Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
- Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)
- Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
- Rian Johnson (Looper)
- Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
- David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
As with this year’s major award ceremony there is overlap between Best Picture and Best Director but the categories are not identical. I considered Johnson and Lee, but it seemed more or less to come down to Anderson and Bigelow. I liked Zero Dark Thirty, but I thought the direction of The Master was more consistent and a bigger contributor to the overall success of the film. Ken’s vote: Paul Thomas Anderson.
6. Best Actor
- Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
- Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
- John Hawkes (The Sessions)
- Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
- Denzel Washington (Flight)
I strongly admire Denzel Washington as a performer, but I thought Flight was a horrid misfire and Washington’s performance, while steady, did little to elevate a very weak script. Phoenix was superb, but Day-Lewis gave one of those performances where he seemed to embody the character rather than merely portray him. Ken’s vote: Daniel Day-Lewis.
7. Best Supporting Actor
- Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
- Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty)
- Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
- Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)
- Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Four strong candidates. Like Washington, Jackson is a performer I admire, but I did not think this was his best performance. His was the one performance where I consistently felt like I was watching the actor rather than the character. I admit to liking and admiring Django Unchained overall, however, and being able to recognize it through one of the acting categories was a nice plus. Ken’s vote: Christoph Waltz.
8. Best Actress
- Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
- Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
- Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)
- Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed)
This category struck me as more or less a two woman race. Chastain had the meatier role, and she is very good. She had going for her that she had to more or less carry the movie. But I felt as though while she conveyed a range of emotions she was a bit of a cipher, and I’m not sure I understood some of character’s apparent hesitations in the early scenes. Jennifer Lawrence’s role is less showy than her partner’s in Playbook. Her part is less complex than Chastain’s, but she hits every single note. Ken’s vote: Jennifer Lawrence.
9. Best Supporting Actress
- Amy Adams (The Master)
- Sally Field (Lincoln)
- Gina Gershon (Killer Joe)
- Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises)
- Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
- Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
A three way race between Hathaway, Hathaway, and Watson. I actually preferred Hathaway’s performance in The Dark Knight Rises to her more touted musical tour de force, but Emma Watson lifts Wallflower onto her shoulders and drags it past the finish line with a charm, poise, and complexity that keeps it from falling into high school drama cliche lunchroom. On a side note, I was surprised to see Helen Hunt didn’t make the final cut. Ken’s pick: Emma Watson.
10. Best Original Screenplay
- Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
- Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)
- Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
- Drew Goddard, Joss Whedon (The Cabin in the Woods)
- Rian Johnson (Looper)
- Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Another really crowded category with many worthy entrants. I admired Boal’s ability to distill a decade worth of events into a cohesive narrative and Tarantino’s whip-smart dialogue. No film surprised me more last year than Looper. What could have easily turned into a rote time-travel conundrum developed into a surprisingly deep mediation on sacrifice, addiction, and whether or not people can change who they are. Ken’s vote: Rian Johnson.
11. Best Adapted Screenplay
- Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
- Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)
- Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
- David Magee (Life of Pi)
- David O’ Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
- Chris Terrio (Argo)
I liked Wallflower more for the performances than the script, which I’m not sure ever solves the voice-over problem and perhaps is a bit too episodic. The most impressive accomplishment here, for my money, is Kushner’s. The script reaches beyond the melodrama and myth making to give a surprisingly interesting examination of how the sausage gets made, how the votes get collected. Ken’s vote: Tony Kushner
12. Tar Heel Award
The Tar Heel Award is a special category taking note of a film that has some special connection to North Carolina. While several films promoted film in North Carolina through ties to production companies or local talent, my vote was for a film that addressed an issue that North Carolina voted on in 2012. The primary season saw an Amendment vote on defining marriage.In the weeks leading up to the vote, Macky Alston’s Love Free or Die played at North Carolina’s own Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Few issues divided North Carolinians in 2012 as much as gay marriage. Alston’s profile of Eugene Robinson put a face on a contentious political issue. Ken’s vote: Love Free or Die.
Will other critics in North Carolina agree with Ken, or will they have their own ideas about what films that played here in 2012 were best? Check out the NCFCA web site next week to see the winners.