LAFCA Embraces Fox Searchlight's Awards Slate, But Almost Entirely Shuns Studio Fare (Analysis)

Tree of Life - H 2011
Fox Searchlight

Voting was conducted Sunday afternoon to determine the honorees for the 37th annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, which will take plane Jan. 13 at the InterContinental Hotel in Los Angeles, and while no single film dominated the honors, one studio certainly did.

Fox Searchlight has to be thrilled with the fact that its entire slate of 2011 awards contenders garnered prominent recognition today. Their top Oscar hopeful, The Descendants, won best picture (edging second strongest, The Tree of Life); The Tree of Life's Terrence Malick won best director, Jessica Chastain won best supporting actress (also for her work in The Help and four other films), and Emmanuel Lubezki won best cinematography (the group previously recognized him five years ago for Children of Men); Shame's Michael Fassbender won best actor; and Martha Marcy May Marlene's Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Josh Mond and Elizabeth Olsen won the New Generation award. Talk about an unbelievable showing.

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To me, it was very surprising that LAFCA completely snubbed The Artist, which has generally been a critics' darling ever since its premiere at Cannes (it was the New York Film Critics Circle's pick for best picture) and is probably the best picture Oscar favorite, and somewhat surprising that none of this year's quality big-studio movies -- especially Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Sony), The Help (Disney), The Ides of March (Sony), J. Edgar (Warner Brothers), Moneyball (Sony), War Horse (DreamWorks), and Young Adult (Paramount) -- were represented in any category, with the exception of one tip of the cap to Hugo (Paramount) in a below-the-line category (keep reading).

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In several categoris, LAFCA echoed the choices of a number of the awards-dispensing groups that scooped it by a few weeks. Christopher Plummer (Beginners) continued his march to the Oscars with another best supporting actor title to go along with those that the Hollywood Film Awards and National Board of Review have already voted for him to receive; Rango reaffirmed its status as the front-runner for the best animated feature Oscar with another win to go along with its National Board of Review prize; Dante Ferretti's work on Hugo was recognized for best production design, as it previously was by the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association; and Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams -- though ineligible for this year's Oscars because it received a limited release last year -- cemented its status as one of this year's biggest critics' favorites by picking up another best documentary win to go along with those for which the New York Film Critics Circle and Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association have already chosen it.

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LAFCA also made a few bold choices that could give a bit of a boost to long-shot contenders. They voted to award their best screenplay award to Asghar Farhadi for the original script of his Iranian film A Separation (the first time that the group had ever given that particular prize to a foreign-language film). And they also singled out the Chemical brothers for their electronic score to the action-flick Hanna (on the heels of honoring Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' similarly unconventional score for The Social Network last year).

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Of course, LAFCA wouldn't be LAFCA without making a few way outside-the-box -- or at least way outside the more mainstream awards race -- selections, as has long been their tradition. For some reason, these often tend to come in the best actress category -- the last two winners of which were Yolande Moreau (Seraphine) and Kim Hye-Ja (Mother) -- and this year was no exception, with Yun Jung-Hee winning for Poetry, which only a handful of Americans who are not in LAFCA have even heard of, much less seen. Consequently, this won't thrust Hye-Ja into Oscar contention, however worthy she may be, but it will do for her what all of these early awards announcements do for all of the films and people they choose to single out: namely, to increase public awareness of and interest in them, which can make all the difference in the world for those contenders that were already a part of the discussion, even if only on its perimeter.