ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 25TH ANNUAL AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)

The Online Film Critics Society awards for 2021 are out. Two weird films did reasonably well in the nominations this year: The Green Knight and Titane each received multiple nominations, including for Best Picture, although neither won. Although hurt by its distribution strategy, Memoria nevertheless won a special technical award for Sound Design.

As always, despite the occasional levity in my tone, 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.” Here is the list of this year’s winners, along with my choices and a touch of personal commentary for the major categories.

BEST PICTURE

The Power of the Dog Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated (listed in ranked order of final votes): Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, Dune, The Green Knight, Pig, The Worst Person in the World, Titane, West Side Story, Belfast

My pick: The Green Knight

Comments: Jane Campion’s semi-Western drama led the field with nine nominations, and was a kind of consensus pick: it was not clearly artistically miles ahead of the other contenders in a strong year, but it likely was the most widely seen (via Netflix) and had the fewest negatives attached. It was nothing too fancy or chancy, but above average in every respect, from technical aspects to screenplay to acting. I thought The Green Knight did surprisingly well in the voting considering its many negatives: it was released in July and not fresh on anyone’s mind, it was almost a genre picture (though with a literary pedigree and an art-house sensibility), and it had moments of alienating weirdness (talking foxes, random processions of giants). In this case, just being nominated was, indeed, a victory.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Winner: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Also nominated: Encanto, Flee, Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon

My pick: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Comments: This movie for the YouTube/Snapchat generation has it all: family drama, a cross-eyed dog, contemporary technological satire, robot-fighting action, a giant demonic Furby, subtle references to other movies, and multiple cat filters. A Sony Pictures Animation film that got shelved due to Covid—before getting snapped up by Netflix—beating out two Disney offerings: it feels like a major upset.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: , Licorice Pizza; Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Drive My Car; Steven Spielberg, West Side Story; , Dune

My pick: Steven Spielberg

Comments: Campion expectedly gets the director nod after winning Best Picture, and as mentioned, all the cinematic elements were perfectly blended. Spielberg certainly doesn’t need any more awards, but I was impressed by his pulling off a musical for the first time this late in his career—he’s a natural sentimentalist, and if he were born in an earlier era, this might have been his preferred genre.

BEST ACTOR

Winner: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: , Pig; , tick, tick…BOOM!; , The Card Counter; Hidetoshi Nishijima, Drive My Car

My pick: Nicolas Cage

Comments: Cumberbach was fine as the gruff, macho, Bronco Henry-loving cowboy with a secret. I voted for Cage because… come on, he’s Nicolas Freaking Cage. He actually showed his real range by playing his pig-obsessed chef with a great deal of restraint: despite the jokes, he does not always push it to 11.

BEST ACTRESS

Winner: , The Lost Daughter

Also nominated: Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza, Renate Reinsve, The Worst Person in the World, Agathe Rousselle, Titane; Kristen Stewart, Spencer

My pick: Agathe Rousselle

Comments: Confession: I did not see The Lost Daughter. I chose Rousselle, in her film debut, for what amounts to a dual role as a sexy psychopath and an androgynous refugee—playing the whole thing while knocked up by a Renault.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: Mike Faist, West Side Story; Ciaran Hinds, Belfast;
Troy Kotsur, CODA; Jeffrey Wright, The French Dispatch

My pick: Troy Kotsur

Comments: No offense to Smit-McPhee, who certainly did a good job as a prissy scholalry teen, but seems like we’ve reached the point where voters just see the box marked Power of the Dog and check whatever is beside it. I thought deaf actor Troy Kotsur, who was genuinely moving and the only good thing about the formulaic CODA, gave the year’s best supporting performance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog

Also nominated:  Ariana DeBose, West Side Story; Ann Dowd,  Mass;
Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard; Ruth Negga, Passing

My pick: Riley Keough, Zola (not nominated)

Comments: Cut and paste: everyone was good in Power of the Dog. I wish Keough’s ultra-trashy performance as the troublesome stripper in Zola has gotten a sniff, though. Since Keough wasn’t available, I too voted for the drunken Dunst.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner: Pig

Also nominated:  Belfast; A Hero; Licorice Pizza; Pig

My pick: Agnes (not nominated)

Comments: The daring bifurcated screenplay for Agnes—half phantasmagoria, half sincere exploration of a crisis of faith really surprised me, and had me thinking about it for days. Pig was fun and silly and mainly a showcase for Nic Cage. Among the actual nominees, it got my official vote.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: Drive My Car; Dune; The Lost Daughter; Passing

My pick: Zola (not nominated)

Comments: Zola was a movie script literally adapted from a Twitter thread. I mean, come on, that is an achievement worth recognition. Since it was not available I, too, went with Power of the Dog (I have read the novel and can attest that this is a faithful and economical adaptation fully worthy of its award).

BEST EDITING

Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: Belfast; Dune; Licorice Pizza; West Side Story

My pick: Dune

Comments: Cut and paste comment about everything in Power of the Dog being excellent. This is the hardest category for non-experts to judge; unless the cutting is purposefully flashy, editing should go unnoticed. In all honesty, documentaries, which are almost all built via editing mountains of footage, could win every year, though they are never nominated. This year Summer of Soul would have been a good choice. When in doubt in the editing category, non-editors usually look for movies with thrilling action sequences, which is how Dune ended up getting my vote this year.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated: Dune; The Green Knight; The Tragedy of Macbeth;
West Side Story

My pick: The Tragedy of Macbeth

Comments: Western vistas always do well in this category (see last year’s Nomadland). ‘s The Tragedy of Macbeth deserved far more nominations than it got (this was its sole nod), and it was an easy choice for me. It should have also earned multiple acting noms along with Best Production Design, where it should have been the clear choice based on its expressionist sets.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: The Power of the Dog

Also nominated:  Dune; Encanto; The French Dispatch; Spencer

My pick: Spencer

Comments: Repeat comments about Power of the Dog, but my colleagues selected the wrong one of the two Jonny Greenwood scores nominated this year. The dissonant Spencer added immensely to the feeling of dissociation felt by Diana Spencer in her impressionistic biopic, and it stands alone as a score, a fascinating mix of free jazz and distortion together with “aristocratic” instruments like strings, harpsichord, pipe organ, and even a touch of bagpipes. There is far too little pipe organ in today’s music world.

BEST FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Winner: Drive My Car

Also nominated: Flee; A Hero; Titane; The Worst Person in the World

My pick: The Worst Person in the World

Comments: Titane had no shot if even I passed it up to vote for Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, a character study full of witty dialogue and perfectly polished vignettes (such as the ridiculously erotic sequence where two tipsy revelers spend a long and intimate night explicitly not cheating on their partners). Every other critic loved Japan’s dramatic Drive My Car, but it made very little impression on me;I’m not sure I could cite the basic plot points without a refresher.

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Also nominated: Flee; Procession; The Rescue; The Velvet Underground

My pick: Summer of Soul

Comments: Everyone got this one right. The film consists of never before seen performances from 1969’s free concert series, the Harlem Cultural Festival (aka “the black Woodstock”). The lineup was actually better than Woodstock: young Stevie Wonder, old Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone… and that’s just a small taste of the onstage talent. In between acts, director Questlove does an excellent job of providing historical context of 1969 Harlem, of where each performer sat on their career arc, and, most meaningfully, of what it meant to the attendees to celebrate black culture on an epic scale. The best concert film in years, but much more than that: it’s an excavation of a cultural treasure that had been lost for decades.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Winner: The French Dispatch

Also nominated: Dune; The Green Knight; Nightmare Alley; West Side Story

My pick: The Tragedy of Macbeth (not nominated)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Winner: Dune

Also nominated: Cruella; The French Dispatch; Spencer; West Side Story

My pick: Spencer

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Winner: Dune

Also nominated: The Green Knight; The Matrix Resurrections;
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings; Spider-Man: No Way Home

My pick: Dune

BEST DEBUT FEATURE

Winner: , The Lost Daughter

Also nominated: Rebecca Hall, Passing; Fran Kranz, Mass; Michael Sarnoski, Pig; Emma Seligman, Shiva Baby

My pick: Pig

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
Dune for Sound Design
In the Heights for Choreography
Memoria for Sound Design
No Time to Die for Stunt Coordination
West Side Story for Choreography

BEST NON-US RELEASE
1970,  Poland
Bank Job, United Kingdom
Benediction, United Kingdom
The Girl and the Spider, Switzerland
The Medium, Thailand
Ninjababy, Norway
Petite Maman, France
Pleasure, Sweden
The Tsugua Diaries, Portugal
Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash,  Indonesia

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Sheila Nevins

John Williams

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS

  • IATSE Workers, for bringing attention to labor issues in the film industry and fighting for better standards.
  • Turner Classic Movies (TCM), for providing worldwide access to classic films, including silent movies.
  • The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA), an important non-profit organization devoted to the preservation of film: http://www.AMIAnet.org

2 thoughts on “ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY 25TH ANNUAL AWARDS (WITH OUR VOTES)”

  1. I thought Chaske Spencer’s performance in “Wild Indian” was one of the most mesmerizing I’ve ever seen. Hands down best actor of 2021 for me.

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