With Thursday’s announcement of the twenty-eighth annual Gotham Awards nominations, awards season has begun. And let’s face it, it’s going to be an achingly long four and a half months until the Academy Awards are finally presented on February 24. Everyone is quick to point out that the Gothams, focusing as they do on independent film, tell us nothing at all about who’ll win which Oscars, but as Jada Yuan suggested last year at Vulture, they’re nonetheless “the purest indication of how the industry regards movies and actors, without any influence from Oscars campaigning or awards momentum.” And by “industry,” what Yuan actually means, as Zack Sharf notes at IndieWire, are “committees made up of film critics, journalists, festival programmers, and film curators.” In 2016, Yuan may have hit the nail closer to the head when she wrote, “Mostly, it’s just a great party where all of New York’s independent-film scene turns up and gets drunk together.”
Whichever way you cut it, it’s going to be a great night for Rachel Weisz when the Gothams are presented on November 26. Last month, the Independent Filmmaker Project, which has organized the awards since 1991, announced that Weisz will receive this year’s Actress Tribute, and she’s sharing a special jury award for ensemble performance with Olivia Colman and Emma Stone for their work in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite—a film that, along with Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, leads the total number of nominations. Both films have scored three each. Recipients of other previously announced awards, by the way, include RadicalMedia founder Jon Kamen (Industry Tribute), Willem Dafoe (Actor Tribute), and Paul Greengrass (Director Tribute).
Here’s a taste of what the critics have been saying about the nominees.
The two list leaders, The Favourite and First Reformed, could hardly be more different in tone. Set in the English court of the early eighteenth century, Lanthimos’s feature revels in the bitter rivalry between two cousins (Weisz and Stone) for the affection of Queen Anne (Colman). Since The Favourite premiered in Venice and opened the New York Film Festival, Demitra Kampakis has written at Reverse Shot that the “deception, debauchery, and dysfunction that ensue as a result of this power struggle are a bitter delight to behold.” First Reformed, on the other hand, is an austere meditation inspired by Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest and Schrader’s own 1972 book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. At RogerEbert.com, Godfrey Cheshire calls First Reformed “a stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists.”
As for the other three nominees, Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, “seems to move on unceasing currents of emotion, of love and pain, of big heartaches and small joys, of revelations and disillusionments,” writes Reverse Shot coeditor Michael Koresky. In Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, we see the world through the eyes of a young aspiring actress played by Helena Howard, nominated in the breakthrough actor category. “The narrative might be shattered, but the film’s slipstream of emotion is powerful and inescapable,” wrote Bilge Ebiri back when we still had the Village Voice. And Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, focusing on a gifted horse trainer, actually premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight program in Cannes back in May 2017. It’s “exceptional among recent American regional-realist films,” wrote the New York Times’ A. O. Scott earlier this year.
Here’s a telling statistic for documentary filmmakers: all five nominees premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Robert Greene’s Bisbee ’17 restages the brutal breakup of a miners’ strike in Arizona in 1917. At the Film Stage, Daniel Schindel finds that the doc “achieves a singularly strange and unsettling vision of apparently intractable American hatreds.” Hale County This Morning, This Evening captures the lives of African-Americans in Alabama, and in his review for the NYT, Glenn Kenny writes that director RaMell Ross’s “poetic logic is inextricable from his consciousness of race and community, and of his function and potential as an artist grappling with his own circumstances and those of the people he’s depicting.”
Another debut feature, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, traces the lives of skateboarding friends over several years. At RogerEbert.com, Matt Zoller Seitz calls it “a vibrant document of the youngest generation of American men circa 2018 and as a timeless portrait of friendship that could be shown as part of a double feature with Diner, Boyz N the Hood, and I Vitelloni.”
In Shirkers, Sandi Tan attempts to discover just why the narrative feature bearing the same title went unfinished after she and her team began shooting in Singapore in 1992. In his Film Comment column, Eric Hynes notes that the film “vibrates with ambivalence.” Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a portrait of Fred Rogers, has already become the highest-grossing biographical documentary of all time. As Derek Smith writes at Slant, the film “exhibits a steadfast belief that Rogers’s philosophy of love and acceptance can be useful as more than merely a nostalgic balm in troubled times.”
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
In 2013, the IFP changed the name of its Open Palm Award in honor of the cofounder of the independent film distributor October Films. As with the documentary contenders, all five of this year’s nominees saw their films premiere at Sundance. Ari Aster terrified audiences in Park City with his debut feature, Hereditary, and reviewing it for 4Columns, Nick Pinkerton’s found it “difficult not to catch a whiff of tannis root and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968).” At Slant, Niles Schwartz argues that Bo Burnham “illumines a ray of unequivocal authenticity” in Eighth Grade, in which Elsie Fisher, nominated for a Breakthrough Actor award, plays a teen at odds with the world.
Jennifer Fox has based The Tale on her own experiences of being abused as a child. At RogerEbert.com, Sheila O’Malley has found the film “extraordinary and disturbing.” Crystal Moselle has followed up on her acclaimed documentary The Wolfpack with Skate Kitchen, a narrative feature about a real-life team of skateboarding women, and for the Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov, “exploring the niche subculture of this interracial, pansexual band of outsiders in all its mundane detail makes for a surprisingly sweet film.” And this summer in the Village Voice, April Wolfe wrote about Boots Riley’s “profoundly hilarious and disturbing and shocking and stirring directorial debut,” Sorry to Bother You.
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara are nominated for The Favourite, and so is Paul Schrader for First Reformed. Tamara Jenkins scores a nomination for Private Life, in which a married couple go through what Jenkins, in Maria Fontoura’s interview with her for Rolling Stone, calls “fertility hell.” Andrew Bujalski discusses his film Support the Girls and other movies about work on a recent episode of the Film Comment Podcast. And Cory Finley’s screenplay for his directorial debut, Thoroughbreds, in which a couple of high school girls plan a murder, “is full of sharp, exactingly timed exchanges whose rat-a-tat rhythms exert a spellbinding pull,” writes Keith Watson at Slant.
IndieWire’s Eric Kohn spoke with Adam Driver when Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman premiered in Cannes. Driver plays the white face of the black cop who’s infiltrated the KKK and says that his character is “confronted for the first time in his life about whether his personal history is important.” In Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, Ben Foster plays a vet suffering from PTSD and trying to raise a daughter. “He actually can’t function,” Foster tells Alex Heeney at Seventh Row.
Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “like a buddy road movie to me,” Richard E. Grant, who costars with Melissa McCarthy, tells Alissa Wilkinson at Vox. Also nominated are Ethan Hawke for First Reformed and Lakeith Stanfield for Sorry to Bother You.
In Björn Runge’s The Wife, Glenn Close plays the true literary talent behind her husband, the Nobel Prize winner, and, as Michael Schulman writes in his profile for the New Yorker, she “shows how much can be expressed through containment, through choosing what not to reveal.” Kathryn Hahn (Private Life) is “one of the best actresses working today,” argues to Sheila O’Malley in Film Comment, “and it’s a thrill to see her at the center of a film, jagged with heartbreak, rage, hormones.” The NYT’s Manohla Dargis observes that, in Regina Hall’s face in Support the Girls, you can see “what it takes to be a woman in this man’s world—the spirit, grit, pain and, of course, laughter.”
Reviewing Andrew Dosunmu’s Where Is Kyra? for the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang turns at one point to Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance: “Remarkably, she doesn’t compete with the movie’s rigorous visual scheme; she completes it.” And in Hereditary, Toni Collette’s “operatic, hypnotic performance seals the deal every second she’s on the screen,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.
We’ve mentioned Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) and Helena Howard (Madeline’s Madeline). Also nominated are Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie for her turn as Ben Foster’s daughter in Leave No Trace; KiKi Layne, who plays Tish in If Beale Street Could Talk—when Barry Jenkins called her up to tell her she was cast, “I just remember wanting to get him off the phone so I could scream and cry and call my mama,” she tells Kyle Buchanan in the NYT; and Yalitza Aparicio, “the beating, throbbing heart of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma,” as Shinan Govani calls her in the Toronto Star.
Also . . .
The Hollywood Reporter’s Hilary Lewis has the lists of the breakthrough series nominees, both the long and short form categories, and IFP members will be voting to determine the winner of the Gotham Audience Award from November 19 through 24.
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