Armchair bettors everywhere are saying the smart bets for this year’s Oscars are ‘1917’ for best picture, with gold statues surely pointing to actors Joaquin Phoenix for ‘Joker’, Renee Zwellweger for ‘Judy’, Brad Pitt for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and Laura Dern for “Marriage Story”.
These films and performers have snagged some brilliant material in recent weeks at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, known as the BAFTAs.
The approximately 8,500 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are unlikely to reverse the trend.
In Chicago, things work differently.
When the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) gathered nearly five dozen people in a back room of Zia’s Lago Vista restaurant on Ashland Avenue in December to present their annual awards, the list of winners was a little less predictable.
Sure, Brad Pitt was recognized for his work as stuntman Cliff Booth in director Quentin Tarantino’s 1969 Love Letter to Hollywood, but CFCA President Brian Tallerico hinted that it was a very tight vote.
“Well, he was really good,” added Tallerico.
“Parasite” was the group’s pick for Best Picture (as well as the winner in the Foreign Language category and the Directing & Screenwriting category). The South Korean feature film is an international hit for filmmaker Bong Joon Ho and for South Korea itself. Critical Alexandre Riera, CFCA member and Gozamos.com contributor, said the film was surprising in many ways. “It’s social commentary, it’s comedy, it explores the horror of being lower class. It speaks to our times in a way that appealed to everyone,” he said.
The Chicago Film Critics Association Awards are based on independent online voting. “We don’t sit around arguing and campaigning for our favorites,” said CFCA member Bill Stamets, an independent film critic whose work is published in the Chicago Sun-Times. “I haven’t discussed my votes with anyone and I’ve never heard anyone discuss their votes.” Members give weighted votes to their top five choices in each category, then vote on the final five nominees, again with weighted votes from first choice through fifth.
Other CFCA award winners were Adam Driver in “Marriage Story,” Lupita Nyong’o in “Us,” Oscar-winning writer/director Jordan Peele’s second feature after last year’s “Get Out,” and Florence Pugh for her role of Amy in Greta Gerwig. adaptation of “Little Women”.
CFCA member Brigid Presecky said “it’s been a frustrating year for women and awards.” Presecky is the managing editor of FF2 Media, a website where female critics review “every movie written or directed by a woman with a theatrical release in the United States.” Although the CFCA did not award the best director award to Greta Gerwig, Gerwig won the screenplay award. This was Presecky’s joy. She counts Louisa May Alcott’s novel as one of her favorites, and she loved Gerwig’s innovative approach to structure.
“It’s not always that a film meets your expectations, doing justice to the novel on which it is based. Somehow Gerwig understands what Alcott was trying to say and, in a somehow brings to life the exact visions in my head,” she wrote in her Dec. 3 review.
“Acting categories have always baffled me,” said Angelica Jade Bastien, editor for New York Magazine’s Vulture.com. While CFCA nominations for female actors are more diverse than those announced by the Oscars, with recognition for Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen (“The Farewell”), Jennifer Lopez (“Hustler”), Cho Yeo Jeong (“Parasite” ) and Nyong’o (“We”), Bastién really wished there was more love for Alfre Woodard’s great work in “Clemency.”
“It was so strong it was a shame it was overlooked. Not just by us. The distributor, Neon, didn’t put more weight into it. They had their favorites and ‘Clemency’ wasn’t this,” she said.
Daniel Nava, who publishes his very personal take on films at the Chicago Cinema Circuit, mentions a CFCA acting nomination that makes him smile: Elizabeth Moss for her work as an aging punk rock artist in “Her Smell.” The movie “had a smaller distributor who didn’t have the infrastructure to push the movie forward to get the attention of the academy,” Nava said. “It’s something an organization like ours can do. Our instinctive reactions are honored.
The CFCA’s Milos Stehlik Breakthrough Filmmaker Award, named in honor of the late founder of Facets Multimedia, is awarded to beginning filmmakers. Lulu Wang, director of “The Farewell” won – she was one of four directors in the five-person category. The president of the CFCA, Tallerico, is delighted. “As president of the ACCF, I want to hear the voices of critics whose voices I don’t usually hear. I grew up reading white male reviews writing about white male directors, and that won’t give you a new voice. Representation is the key to change,” he said.
Between Stehlik Award nominees and Greta Gerwig’s Best Director nomination, the CFCA is well ahead of the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs on inclusion.
“The old saying goes, you can’t imagine you could do this thing if you don’t see people like you doing it, and that’s why it’s so important to elevate accomplishments like those of the five female directors we spotlighted this year,” says Tallerico.
The 2020 Chicago Film Critics Association Film Festival runs May 1-7 at the Music Box Theater.