AND THEY’RE ROUNDING THE FIRST CORNER: New York Film Critics announce their winners

The New York Film Critics announced their awards yesterday. Though they don’t influence the Oscars a great deal, they can add to the buzz and help voters remember possible nominees they may have forgotten. But it’s hard to say that the NYFC will be doing much of that this year in the top categories (since it has now become somewhat clear, though still a little vague, that the picture, directing and acting awards are more or less decided), though there are a couple of possibilities in the other categories.

The Hurt Locker once again won best picture and director, but I still contend that the Oscar voters will go for the less in your face Up In The Air, since it’s topical and not as heavy as the last couple of winners, Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Men. Best pictures genres often run in cycles and I think something a tad lighter is due to take home the gold. George Clooney won the NYFC acting award (for two movies, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Up in the Air), but it still looks like a Jeff Bridges career achievement year. Meryl Street, Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique won the others, which will probably mirror the Academy Awards.

The two areas where NYFC might be of help to potential nominees is that In the Loop (perhaps the best writing of the year) won for best screenplay and since there are ten nominees for screenplay at the Oscars (original and adapted), this may very well help remind the voters. It was also runner up for the Los Angeles Film Critics award. Also to be noted is the win of The White Ribbon for cinematography in both the NYFC and LAFCA, which may help translate to Oscar noms (assuming it will be eligible; I’ve been told it’s going to open the last day of the year and unless it’s played for a week in either LA or New York, it shouldn’t be eligible for anything but foreign language film).

I was also excited to see that the NYFC awarded Of Time and the City, Terence Davies wonderful portrait of his home city, Liverpool, through found footage, best non-fiction film (no longer always called documentary because too many people are expanding what the term documentary means). Also Summer Hours, the beautiful French film, won best foreign film for both NYFC and LAFCA, but since it’s not the French foreign language film entry (The Prophet is), that won’t make any difference.

Today, the Golden Globes were announced, but I have to talk to my best friend Jerry first before commenting on that. Also, Wed. or Thurs. I’ll start listing what I think are going to be the nominees, unless I suddenly find myself with time on my hands and do it earlier.

END OF DAYS: Reviews of O’Horton, Summer Hours, The Boys, Up

A series of films opened with the subject matter of people getting older and/or time passing. Never the most cheerful of subjects, but one of the most avoidable ones.

The first is O’Horton, a character study of a man who is forced to retire as a train conductor. He doesn’t really take it well, becoming lost in a haze of ennui and not knowing what to do with his life. He’s the sort of central character that writing teachers and authors of screenwriting tomes will tell you it’s against the rules to create, the passive observer of life whose main goal is to survive whatever is thrown at him. O’Horton goes through a series of adventures he has little control over until he finally decides to take a leap of faith (both metaphorical and literal) and realizes that just because he’s retired that doesn’t mean life has to end. Sorry, screenwriting 101, O’Horton, written and directed by Bent Hamer, is a fascinating movie, a deeply moving meditation over what to do when one has to start over late in life. It’s quirky and slightly off kilter, a film made by someone with his own personal take on life.

Summer Hours is about a family that has to decide what to do with an inheritance. Only one of the children wants to hold on to everything; the others have gone their own ways and have little use for the great house and what’s inside it that their mothers left them when she died. In many films, the set up would be an excuse for the author to have the various characters go at each other, yelling and screaming about their awful lives, with secrets and crisscrossing accusations tumbling out of their mouths like the contents of Fibber McGee’s closet. Writer and director Olivier Assayas takes a different turn. Everyone here acts very adult and very reasonable, demonstrating that even when everyone acts the way they should, life is still tragic and sad. I saw Summer Hours last year at a film festival and considered it one of the best films of 2008.
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story is about the songwriting team of Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman who were the only songwriters on under contract at Disney and gave the such well known songs as the peripatetic It’s A Small, Small World. The movie is strongest when it is a character study of these two men who for some reason, reasons even they don’t understand, become estranged. The main cause was probably just a difference in temperament and background (one was a serious man who was one of the first Americans to enter a concentration camp—the Sherman’s are Jewish; the other a happy go lucky guy who never saw action). The movie is weakest when directors Gregory V. and Jeff Sherman try to make these men out to be songwriting geniuses. The Sherman’s were good, reaching their apotheosis in the movie Mary Poppins. But please, they were no Stephen Soundheim, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Jacques Brel.
Up is a fun story with that old chestnut of a plot, an older person and a kid bonding (it dates at least as far back as Little Lord Fountleroy and Shirley Temple movies). It’s a beautifully told story and a beautiful to look at movie. Ed Asner gets to reprise his Lou Grant curmudgeon with a heart of gold role as the old geezer, though he finds his geezerized match in Christopher Plummer. The talking dogs are a riot. And it’s all in 3D.