'Gravity' ties with 'Her' as LA critics' Best Picture winner

Posted by · 12:14 pm · December 8th, 2013

Well, the esteemed men and women of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association were certainly in an indecisive mood today: in the course of today’s voting, which took over four hours to complete, no fewer than three categories ended in ties. Chief among them, of course, was Best Picture, where Alfonso Cuaron’s space epic “Gravity” was named alongside Spike Jonze’s more intimate technological drama “Her.” Both were clear favorites throughout: “Gravity” took three other awards, for Best Director, Cinematography and Editing, while “Her” won the day’s first award (for Production Design) and was a close ruinner-up for Director, Screenplay and Music.

In the acting categories, Best Actress ended in a tie for the second year running, as Adele Exarchopoulos and Oscar frontrunner Cate Blanchett shared the prize; Best Supporting Actor, meanwhile, went to both Jared Leto and zany wild-card choice James Franco for “Spring Breakers.” Bruce Dern and Lupita Nyong’o (scoring the only win here for “12 Years a Slave”) were also selected; check out my running commentary below.

Best Production Design: K.K. Barrett, “Her”

Runner-up: Jess Gonchor, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

I had a feeling “Her” would find favor in this category with this crowd, and not just because it’s a unique vision of Los Angeles. I’ve long loved Barrett’s work as a designer, and this is a real triumph of sleek, color-rich, quirk-infused minimalism — the kind of futurism I can actually imagine us all living in not too far from now. Will it register with the Academy? They prefer their sci-fi with more bells and whistles; many might regard this as contemporary work, and we know how rarely that registers with them. A deserved runner-up citation, too, for Jess Gonchor’s evocatively weathered early-1960s New York, in which the paint practically flakes off the screen. This one seems an easier Academy play to me. Anyway, good start, LAFCA.  

Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Runner-up: June Squibb, “Nebraska”

And so the “12 Years a Slave” newcomer — who, in my opinion, is still the one to beat for the Oscar — takes her first big win of the season. (With due respect to the Boston online film critics, who picked her as part of their “Slave” sweep.) Nyong’o also lost the NYFCC vote by a single point to Jennifer Lawrence last week, so it’s all going pretty well for her. Virtually simultaneously with this announcement, Squibb won the Boston Society of Film Critics Award, so she’s as much a force to be reckoned with as her potty-mouthed character. LAFCA insider Glenn Whipp reports that Sally Hawkins was also in the mix for “Blue Jasmine,” by the way.

Best Film Editing: Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, “Gravity”
Runner-up: Shane Carruth and David Lowery, “Upstream Color”

I like that LAFCA is more comprehensive than most other major critics ‘groups when it comes to technical categories. I also like that they give runner-up citations, since they couldn’t ask for a more chalk-and-cheese split in this category. “Gravity” is obviously a beast in the editing department, and probably already has the Oscar wrapped up for director Alfonso Cuaron (who would join James Cameron in the ranks of filmmakers to win for editing their own work) and Mark Sanger. At the opposite end of the scale, “Upstream Color” is an intricate, minutely detailed rhythmic feat, and I’m pleased to see the critics standing up for it. You know the Academy won’t, after all.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Gravity”
Runner-up: Bruno Delbonnel, “Inside Llewyn Davis”

Glenn Whipp reports that this was a close race, with “Nebraska” also in the frame. Apparently, this one was fiercely debated within the group, as one faction was uncomfortable with rewarding Lubezki for cinematography that is so seamlessly integrated with the film’s visual effects — a conversation I’ve found myself having recently with other colleagues who are uncertain as to where the line should be drawn. For my part, I think we simply have to accept that different films achieve their images by very different means these days, and you can hardly deny the expertise of Lubezki’s achievement here. (There was apparently also talk of rewarding him jointly for “Gravity” and his exquisite traditional work on “To the Wonder,” but I guess it didn’t take.) Meanwhile, NYFCC winner Delbonnel clocks another mention.

Best Supporting Actor: (tie) James Franco, “Spring Breakers”; Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”

Well, we can always count on the LA critics to throw us a curveball or two, and this was apparently an unbreakable tie. (As it would be — “Spring Breakers” fans are hardcore.) Leto (who won the NYFCC award last week) seems to have dominated the voting early on, before the Franco contingent got all up in everyone’s gold-toothed grill. I’m not fully a convert, but this win tickles me: Franco’s Alien is a genuine, gonzo star turn that has inspired a fierce following, and will be talked about for years to come — if critics’ groups can’t be counted on the lend a hand to the odd (in this case very odd) dark horse, then what’s the point? (Even the Spirit voters passed on Franco, so this may be one of his few moments of glory this season.)

Best Animated Feature: “Ernest and Celestine”
Runner-up: “The Wind Rises”

Well, this is delightful. General consensus has it that 2013 has not been a banner year for studio animation, and now LAFCA — which, lest we forget, once gave their Best PIcture award to Pixar movie — has underlined that notion by going all in for the arthouse efforts. And while early wins from the NYFCC and the NBR made it seem that Miyazaki’s beautifully visualized swansong would be the default highbrow option, LAFCA has given a big boost to “Ernest and Celestine,” the whimsical, heart-melting French effort that I’ve been championing since Cannes last year. It also did well in the Annie Awards — alongside “Frozen,” it was the only film to take nominations for Best Feature, Directing and Writing — and has secured a Sundance premiere for its English-language dub. Don’t underestimate it. 

Best Music: T Bone Burnett, “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Runner-up: Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett, “Her”

This is the advantage of having an award for “Best Music” rather than “Best Original Score” — you can interpret it as you will, thereby making room for Burnett’s marvellous “Inside Llewyn Davis” soundtrack, which may not be made up of original compositions, but could hardly be more individual or essential to the film. (Needless to say, he won’t be eligible for any Oscar attention. The Academy used give awards for adapted and song scores, and I personally think it’d be worth reintroducing something along those lines.) Meanwhile, not surprising to see the delicate cool of Arcade Fire’s work on “Her” grab a mention from this rather hip voting group.

Douglas E. Edwards Independent/Experimental Film/Video Award: Charlotte Pryce, “Cabinet of Wonders”

Well, that sure is one elegantly named category, LAFCA. I can’t profess any insight here, but it’s another example of how this group doesn’t view their awards as a mere Oscar crib sheet, and three cheers for that.

Best Documentary Feature: “Stories We Tell”
Runner-up: “The Act of Killing”

“The Act of Killing” may be one of the year’s most celebrated films — it was voted the best film of 2013 in Sight & Sound’s annual critics’ poll — but Sarah Polley’s profoundly personal family memoir is edging ahead of it in the critics’ award count. It took the NYFCC and NBR wins last week, and now adds another big one. “Killing,” meanwhile, just won the Boston vote, and took the European Film Award last night. Both will obviously have very full mantelpieces by the time the Oscars come around — but will the Academy embrace these formally unorthodox films as warmly as the critics are? I hope so, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Runner-up: Spike Jonze, “Her” 

A second win for Cuaron, and a third for “Gravity,” which is having a strong showing here than with any other critics’ group so far. That’s not too surprising — LAFCA has previously gone to bat for critically beloved, technologically cutting-edge blockbusters, including Best Picture winners “E.T.” and “WALL-E.” Could “Gravity” take the big one? This bodes well. And with Jonze as runner-up, the group again pleasingly balances achievements both vast and intimate in a single category. Glenn Whipp tweets that Steve McQueen came in third, while votes were reportedly pretty widely spread — apparently, there was even a sizable body of Paolo Sorrentino support.

Best Actor: Bruce Dern, “Nebraska”
Runner-up: Chiwetel Ejiofor, “12 Years a Slave”

Well, LAFCA’s longstanding affection for Alexander Payne had to show up at some point, and here it is. Whipp reports that this was a category “unprecedented” in its closeness, with Dern, Ejiofor, Robert Redford and Matthew McConaughey hard to separate, but the veteran edged it. And with this and that NBR win earlier in the week, Dern looks an increasingly solid Oscar nominee. He clearly wants it, too: first (and last) nominated 35 years ago, he has been hitting the publicity trail harder than just about anyone else in the race this year.

Best Screenplay: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater, “Before Midnight”
Runner-up: Spike Jonze, “Her”

Well, this choice should go down very well. I had a feeling “Before Midnight” would not be left empty-handed by this group — I expect Julie Delpy to figure into the Best Actress vote shortly — but this is a sweet and appropriate reward for this close, storied collaboration. I fully expect it to secure the trilogy’s second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, if nothing else. Meanwhile, poor Jonze, pipped earlier by Cuaron for Best Director, is the bridesmaid once more — but it’s clear there’s a lot of love for “Her” out there. 

Best Actress: (tie) Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Adele Exarchopoulos, “Blue is the Warmest Color”

The second tie of the day: clearly there are some fiercely unmovable camps in this year’s LAFCA voting. It’s actually the second year in a row that they haven’t been able to make up their minds in this category, and have split the difference between the putative Oscar frontrunner (Cate Blanchett this year, Jennifer Lawrence last year) and the French outsider from the Palme d’Or champ (Adele Exarchopoulos this year, Emmanuelle Riva last year). Blanchett would obviously be sitting pretty with or without this win, but this is a big boost for Exarchopoulos, who has a lot of hurdles standing between her and an Oscar nod: subtitles, her age and profile, and her film’s youthful focus and sexuality-based narrative. I thought this might be the group to stand up for her, given their recent international outlook in this category: in six of the last seven years, a foreign-language performance has taken the prize.

Best Picture: (tie) “Gravity” and “Her”

Well, looks like the LAFCA crowd were just in a generally indecisive mood today. This seemed to be going “Gravity”‘s way after those three wins earlier — but the support for “Her” was strongly evident in Jonze’s reportedly close runner-up finishes for Best Director and Best Screenplay. And that’s fine by me: both are remarkable films, entirely different in scope and scale, so a tie seems fair. Meanwhile, this gives “Gravity” its first Best Picture win of the season, sealing its locked-in Oscar nomination, while “Her” consolidates that surprise NBR win this week to emerge as far more than a fringe contender. 

Best Foreign Language Film: “Blue is the Warmest Color”
Runner-up: “The Great Beauty”

Whoops, I forgot this was coming — I guess they now save this category for last in case a foreign-language film wins Best Picture and renders this category redundant. Anyway, hardly a surprising outcome, both because of the Best Actress result and, well, because Abdellatif Kechiche’s film has won almost every one of these awards going so far. I still wonder what’ll happen if the French submit it for the Oscar next year. (Provided, of course, that it receives no general nods this year. Oh, the confusion.) Meanwhile, “The Great Beauty,” which trumped “Blue” at the European Film Awards last night, settles for second place.

New Generation Award: Megan Ellison

Well, who’s going to argue with that? As a producer of “Her,” Ellison has already scored with this group, but this has been an awesome year for her and Annapurna Pictures, with her name also on “American Hustle,” “The Grandmaster” and even “Spring Breakers.” The sky’s the limit for her.

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