LA Film Critics Awards: Asian Directors Dominate as Netflix Is Embraced

Lee Chang-Dong and Alfonso Cuaron at LAFCA - H Getty 2019
Rich Fury/gettyimages

There were no surprise winners at the 44th Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards ceremony on Saturday night — the results were determined and announced back on Dec. 9 — but it was nevertheless striking to see the podium at this event occupied, for much of a three-plus-hour gathering, by filmmakers of Asian descent and/or filmmakers gushing about making movies with Netflix, which is often portrayed as the Big Bad Wolf of the film industry.

Addressing a packed ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City, Claudia Puig, the president of the 60-critic organization (13 members are female), noted early on that this year's group of winners was the most diverse in the organization's history, with 14 of the 18 winners women and/or people of color. "Film transcends borders," she emphasized — one of many speakers' thinly veiled references to the ongoing government shutdown over President Donald Trump's insistence on getting funding for a border wall.

With regard to Asian representation, I have never seen a stretch of a Hollywood awards show like the one during which prizes were presented, more or less consecutively, to Burning's Lee Chang-dong and Shoplifter's Hirozaku Kore-eda (who tied for best foreign language film), Minding the Gap's Bing Liu (best film editing, shared with Joshua Altman), The Rider's Chloe Zhao (New Generation Award, in absentia), Shirkers' Sandi Tan (best documentary/nonfiction film) and Hayao Miyazaki (Career Achievement Award, in absentia). As for non-directors, Burning's Steven Yeun was awarded best supporting actor honors.

Kore-eda told the crowd, "Films can break down walls."

Female helmers were well-represented, too. Leave No Trace's Debra Granik collected the best director prize — a shot across the bow of other groups who have not even nominated women for that honor this season — as her film's stars Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Dale Dickey looked on. And also honored were Can You Ever Forgive Me's writer and original director Nicole Holofcenter (best original screenplay) and Tan.

Netflix, meanwhile, received gushing praise from the teams behind Alfonso Cuaron's Roma (which was awarded best picture and cinematography honors), Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind (Special Citation) and Tan, creating the unmistakable feeling that 'the invaders' are beginning to be embraced by the establishment.

Should Roma feel confident that the top LAFCA honor will catapult it to the same pedestal at the Oscars? It's hard to say. In 10 of the 43 previous years in which the LAFCA has presented a best picture award, its winner went on to win the best picture Oscar — but only four times in the last 25 years: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Rocky (1976), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Terms of Endearment (1983), Amadeus (1984), Unforgiven (1992), Schindler's List (1993), The Hurt Locker (2007), Spotlight (2015) and Moonlight (2016).