Awards season is just getting underway, and the New York Film Critics Circle is already rolling out some surprises. With some corners calling “12 Years a Slave” unbeatable at this year’s Oscars, the NYFCC threw a ringer into the mix by naming David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” the best film of 2013. Now, I have a pretty solid “relationship” with the NYFCC, in that often we have been in sync with what is the year’s finest. “Fargo” in 1996, “Mulholland Dr.” in 2001, “No Country for Old Men” in 2007…absolutely, positively YES!!! And there are other examples too(although I don’t know what the hell they were thinking with the tepid “Milk” in 2008). However, my expectations regarding David O. Russell have been downgraded in recent years. His thrilling 1990s work, which included the marvelous black comedy “Spanking the Monkey” in 1994 and the superb 1999 war satire “Three Kings”, had me championing him as a future behind-the-camera master. But the bar has been lowered after critically lauded releases like “The Fighter” in 2010 and “Silver Linings Playbook” in 2012 left me a bit cold. Could “American Hustle” be the release that forces me to renew my faith in Mr. Russell again? We will see.
Now, with all my excitement last month over the buzz for 77-year-old Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”, it appears I should have thrown some kudos towards 77-year-old Robert Redford for J.C. Chandor’s “All Is Lost”. Mr. Redford, always underrated for his acting chops as far as I’m concerned, has been deemed the Best Actor winner by the New York Critics(expect my review in less than a week), beating out the fantastic Chiwetel Ejifor of “12 Years a Slave”. Cate Blanchett has been named Best Actress for her rapturous work in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine”, and my only issue with that is the feeling that Julie Delpy will be almost completely ignored for her wonderful third turn as Celine in Linklater’s “Before Midnight”. Oh, well…the latest installment of the “Before” trilogy is still my favorite 2013 film, so far.
Of course, “12 Years a Slave” was not completely shut out, as it saw helmer Steve McQueen garner the Best Director prize. I wish I was fonder of the overall film, but I’m very happy for Mr. McQueen…he’s a true talent. Recently, I raved about Jared Leto’s fine work in “Dallas Buyers Club”, and his Best Supporting Actor trophy should prove that he’s so much more than just a man in drag. And, as if Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t received enough attention in the last 12 months, with an Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook” and the incredible financial juggernaut of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, she now takes home Best Supporting Actress plaudits for her turn in “American Hustle”. And the riches just keep on coming for Jenn.
Other winners: Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” will easily make my 2013 Top Ten, and the NYFCC seems to agree by calling it the Best Documentary. Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” was very well reviewed here over the summer, and Mr. Coogler has been honored with the award for Best First Feature. Best Animated Feature went to Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”, which the great Japanese animator has deemed his swan song. And I don’t know when I’ll get to experience Cannes winner “Blue is the Warmest Color”(or where for that matter), but I’ve been looking forward to it for months—especially now that the NYFCC has called it 2013’s Best Foreign Language Film. Congratulations to all of the winners! And “12 Years a Slave” could learn something from last year’s “Lincoln”…the last thing you want to be labeled is that early frontrunner.