Accolades for Marriage Story and Laura Dern

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019)

Netflix had a very, very good Monday. When the nominations were announced for the forty-seventh Annie Awards, which honor the year’s best animated work, Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi noted right off that “Disney’s stranglehold over the organization has loosened ever so slightly.” Amidi counts thirty-seven nominations for Netflix, followed by twenty-five for Disney and nineteen for Dreamworks. Then the New Yorker posted a piece in which Richard Brody explains why he finds that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which began streaming a few days ago following a limited theatrical release, is “even more satisfying, even more thrilling, when viewed at home on Netflix.” The streaming giant then wrapped its excellent Monday by dominating the Gotham Awards in New York.

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, which will begin streaming on Friday, has won best feature, screenplay, actor (Adam Driver), and the audience award. Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s American Factory, distributed in partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, won best documentary for its complex depiction of the effects of a Chinese company’s takeover of a shuttered factory in Ohio. And Ava DuVernay’s soul-rattling When They See Us, a four-part miniseries dramatizing the 1989 Central Park jogger case and its aftermath, won the Gotham for a breakthrough series whose episodes run over forty minutes.

The award for a breakthrough series whose episodes run under forty minutes has gone to Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, and Sam Zvibleman’s middle-school comedy PEN15, and it’s one of only four Gothams presented last night to an entity not affiliated with Netflix. Awkwafina won best actress for her portrayal of a Chinese-American writer who travels to Changchun with her family to be with her terminally ill grandmother in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell. Taylor Russell scored the breakthrough actor award for her turn as the young daughter in the suburban family at the center of Trey Edward Shults’s Waves. And Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre won the breakthrough director award for The Mustang, which the New York TimesManohla Dargis calls a “seductively heartfelt male melodrama.” The Gothams also presented tributes to DuVernay, Sam Rockwell, FilmNation founder Glen Basner, and Laura Dern, who can be seen in two movies this season, Greta Gerwig’s Little Women and Marriage Story.

A Second Look at Marriage Story

Since we posted an overview of the first round of raves back in September, Film Independent has announced that its Robert Altman Award, presented each year to one film’s director, casting director, and ensemble cast, will be going to Marriage Story during the Indie Spirit Awards ceremony in February. At Reverse Shot, Demi Kampakis calls the film “a devastating gut-punch that visits the emotional battlefield of divorce in its compassionate depiction of one couple’s matrimonial dissolution, and the financial and familial wreckage left in its wake.” In his Film Comment column, Jonathan Romney writes that just because Marriage Story is “brisk, witty, and revels in a mischievous sense of fun does not mean that it isn’t also Bergmanesque—that it isn’t, in its way, as harrowing in its view of spousal difference as any sombre huis clos psychodrama by the sage of Stockholm.”

As Charlie, a New York theater director, and Nicole, an actress determined to return to Los Angeles to star in a television pilot, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson “remind us why they’re in such high demand to play everything from sentient operating systems to doubt-ridden Portuguese missionaries to Russian-trained superspies to space-opera edge lords,” writes Slate’s Dana Stevens. “Johansson and Driver are superb performers, attentive, generous, versatile, and able to register minute shifts of feeling and understanding on their admittedly well-proportioned features.” At the same time, the NYT’s A. O. Scott suggests that it’s the trio playing the lawyers—Alan Alda (“a rumpled mensch”), Ray Liotta (“a shark in a suit”), and Laura Dern—who “collectively come close to stealing the movie, in part because they are playing performers fully in their element in ways that Charlie and Nicole are not.”

Another Tribute to Laura Dern

Baumbach has given Dern “one of the all-time great introductory shots,” writes Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “Immaculately dressed and coiffed, she apologizes to her client for looking ‘so schleppy.’ Dern somehow conveys the character’s self-absorption while winking to us; we laugh at this person, but we also, weirdly, trust her.” Ebiri notes that “there isn’t one role, or type of role, or even a style of performance one can point to as the reason for her decades-long success. Her stardom is defined not by an ability to do a few things extremely well but by the staggering variety of full-bodied characters she inhabits while retaining her essence.”

Dern is the first recipient of what Vulture is calling its “Honorary Degree of Master of Culture,” and when E. Alex Jung asks her how she feels about that, she recalls being cast in a movie on her second day at UCLA. When she asked the film department for a leave of absence, they read the screenplay “and said, ‘Not only are you giving up your college career if you go make this film, but we can’t believe you would want to do this movie anyway.’ That movie was Blue Velvet, and now, when you go to get your master’s in film at that school, three movies are musts—one of them is Blue Velvet. But I never got a degree until now.”

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