ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 2020 AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

The 2020 Online Film Critics Society awards are out. As usual, weird films didn’t fare especially well in the nominations this year. I’m Thinking of Ending Things did the best, with noms for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessie Buckley), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Wolf House also managed to score a nomination for Best Animated Feature, and I suppose we could take some comfort in the fact that the marginally-strange Bacurau was recognized as one of the Best Pictures Not In the English Language. None of them won, however.

As always, I take my voting responsibility seriously. I do not put forward weird films at the expense of worthier mainstream candidates just because it’s “my thing.” I will confess, however, that the 2020 pandemic dampened my ability to see mainstream movies in theaters, and watching almost everything online meant that this year I focused even more heavily on the strange side of cinema to the detriment of the conventional. I saw fewer of the nominated features than at any time since I’ve been voting in this annual poll, which is a fault I hope to correct next year.

Here is the list of this year’s winners, along with my choices and a touch of personal commentary.

BEST PICTURE

Still from NomadlandWinner: Nomadland

Also nominated: Da 5 Bloods, First Cow, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Minari, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Promising Young Woman, Soul, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7

My pick: The Wolf House (not nominated)

Comments: Nomadland had momentum as the consensus choice before the nominations were even announced. The (true) story of a woman who chooses to live a nomadic, hobo-like existence by driving across the southwestern U.S. sleeping in her van, it’s a good film, though I’m surprised at how it dominated the voting. (On its face, it wouldn’t seem to be as ahead-of-the-field as Parasite was last year.) My favorite, The Wolf House, was also our weirdest movie of the year. Among those films that were nominated, I chose the other weird one, I’m Thinking of Ending Things. (Although there were a lot of good movies released in 2020, I didn’t see any mainstream films this year that I thought were truly timeless classics).

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: Soul

Also nominated: Onward, Over the Moon, The Wolf House, Wolfwalkers

My pick: The Wolf House

Comments: Obviously, if I thought The Wolf House was the best overall movie of the year, I also thought it was the best animated feature. Given its experimental horror-movie aesthetics, downbeat mood, and sparse distribution, it’s a triumph that the Chilean stop-motion feature was even nominated here. I was unable to see Soul, unfortunately, but I look forward to it (I have a hard time believing it could unseat The Wolf House, but I’ll keep an open mind).

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Also nominated: Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman; Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; , Da 5 Bloods; , First Cow

My pick: , I’m Thing of Ending Things (not nominated)

Comments: Best Director and Best Picture typically go hand in hand, and this year they did for both me, and the majority of voters.

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods

Also nominated: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Anthony Hopkins, The Father; Steven Yeun, Minari

My pick: Delroy Lindo

Comments: My first chance to join with the majority. Da 5 Bloods was interesting, but flawed; Lindo’s performance as a Trump-supporting Black Vietnam vet was undoubtedly the best thing about the film. I loved his colloquial/Shakespearean jungle monologue.

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Also nominated: Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

My pick: Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear (not nominated)

Comments: McDormand was believable and subtle in Nomadland, but her performance didn’t blow me away. McDormand is underappreciated, but a lot of actresses could have handled this part with equal aplomb. I found Plaza a revelation in her most dramatic role(s) to date; she plays both the adulteress and the wronged woman, and is a magnificently messy drunk, too. She was brave and out there. Off the nominee list, my vote went to Flanigan for her very melancholy portrayal of a pregnant Pennsylvania teen traveling to NYC for a secret abortion. The performance was every bit as subtle as McDormand’s, but she did get one big emotional scene (from which the movie took its title).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami

Also nominated: Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods; Bill Murray, On the Rocks; Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

My pick: Chadwick Boseman

Comments: I did not have time to catch One Night in Miami. I found this was the weakest field of 2020. I even considered for I’m Thinking of Ending Things (all four main cast members should have received nominations, in my opinion.)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Also nominated: Olivia Colman, The Father; Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always ; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

My pick: Maria Bakalova

Comments: Again, I join with the majority. I remember seeing Sacha Baron Cohen stumping for Bakalova in interviews and thinking to myself “of course… but it will never happen.” Bakalova, who played Borat’s teenage daughter so she could interact with unsuspecting dupes who might recognize Cohen’s famous character, had to improvise much of the time—and I hope she got extra hazard pay for her infamous interaction with Rudy Giuliani. We’ll see if the Academy is brave enough to follow suit with this one; she’s currently in the lead, but this just feels like a snub waiting to happen.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner: Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

Also nominated: Da 5 Bloods; Minari; Never Rarely Sometimes Always; The Trial of the Chicago 7

My pick: , She Dies Tomorrow (not nominated)

Comments: I was mildly surprised that She Dies Tomorrow didn’t manage any nominations; I know it has other critical boosters. Seimetz’s tale of a woman with an irrational (and contagious) faith in her imminent demise was a more “original” screenplay than any of the other nominees. Promising Young Woman kept me engaged, but, although its caper was well-executed, it took few chances. As a piece of pure realism, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not really my cup of meat—but within its chosen aesthetic it was totally believable, and with a lack of other outstanding official nominees it got my vote.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner: Nomadland, Chloe Zhao

Also nominated: First Cow; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; One Night in Miami

My pick: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Comments: I’m Thinking of Ending Things expanded on the source material while remaining true to the atmosphere, so it earned my vote. I will acknowledge that, as a dramatic film adaptation of a nonfiction book, Nomadland represented a screenwriting challenge that makes it a perfectly reasonable choice in this category.

BEST EDITING

Winner: Nomadland, Chloe Zhao

Also nominated: Da 5 Bloods; Mank; Tenet; The Trial of the Chicago 7

My pick: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (not nominated)

Comments: I can’t see Nomadland here; this slow and straightforward film with a linear progression doesn’t seem to pose much of a challenge for an editor. I suggested Borat, because the film was truly made in the editing room, assembled from a mass of documentary-style footage integrated with fictional scenes. Of those actually nominated, Tenet, with it’s tricky backwards-and-forwards action setpieces, was a reasonable choice. (And honestly, this is yet another spot where The Wolf House could have picked up my vote.)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: Nomadland

Also nominated: Da 5 Bloods; First Cow; Mank; Tenet

My pick: Possessor (not nominated)

Comments: Nomadland wins for its big-screen Southwestern vistas; not a bad choice. Possessor was more than solid, though, with camera trickery incorporated to boot. I always like to award stylish competence over conventional competence in cinematography whenever possible. That may be why I cast my ballot for Tenet among the official nominees.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: Soul

Also nominated: Da 5 Bloods; Mank; Minari; Tenet

My pick: Mank

Comments: I haven’t heard Soul but I firmly believe it will turn out to be great once I do. I voted for Mank, a jazzy vintage swing score with Mancini touches. Both of those scores were written by the team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

BEST DEBUT FEATURE

Winner:  Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman

Also nominated: Radha Blank, The Forty-Year-Old Version; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Darius Marder, Sound of Metal; , The Vast of Night

My pick: , We Are Little Zombies (not nominated)

Comments: I’m not sure enough people saw Little Zombies to give it a fair shot (and voters stay parochial and vote American in this category anyway). Fennell’s movie was a Promising debut. I wasn’t the huge fan of The Vast of Night that others were (in fact, I was shocked at how much praise it got), but there’s no denying that Andrew Patterson has potential, and it will be interesting to see what he can do in the future with a little bit of money in his pocket.

BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Winner: Minari

Also nominated: Another Round; Bacurau; Collective; La Llorona

My pick: The Wolf House (not nominated)

Comments: Since The Wolf House was my favorite movie of the year, and no one in it spoke English, this was an easy choice. I did not see Minari; of those officially nominated, I voted for the Guatemalan ghost story La Llorona. With Bacurau also in the running, it was a great year for Latin American cinema.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Dick Johnson Is Dead

Also nominated: Boys State; Collective; The Painter and the Thief; Time

My pick: Dick Johnson Is Dead

Comments: Again, I agree with the consensus: Kirsten Johnson’s attempt to deal with her father’s upcoming demise by staging his death (and funeral) was an intimate, loving, and entertaining testament, and recommended viewing for anyone who may die someday. As a side note, I spent far too much time this year watching documentaries that didn’t even get nominated. I was disappointed that my second choice, the Chinese Covid-19 documentary 76 Days, chronicling  the earliest days of the pandemic in a Wuhan hospital (without the government’s permission, and therefore at great personal risk), didn’t get a sniff.

2 thoughts on “ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 2020 AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)”

  1. I understand that that “the Wolf House” in particular (and 366 in general) is a little off the beaten path, but considering the artistry and social significance, I’m disappointed that this film society seems to shy away so completely from anything remotely adventurous. Particularly since “the Wolf House” is necessarily more filmic than, say, “Nomadland”.

    (Then again, I’m the kind of guy who feels that Italian Neo-realism was an appalling misuse of what must have been very limited film stock in post-war Italy.)

    1. It’s not just this one. A small critics group (Boston, I think) awarded “Wolf House” best animated feature. But the larger the membership, the less likely that anything experimental will make it. For one thing, the more experimental the film the less likely anyone will be to even have seen it if they aren’t seeking them out, as we are.

      And that’s fine. We don’t want to be the mainstream, but like an object that casts a shadow, the mainstream is necessary for the weird to exist. That doesn’t mean I hate the mainstream, though; by sheer numbers, most of the best stuff ends up there.

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