Gothams, Polls, and Lists

The Daily — Jan 12, 2021
Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao during the making of Nomadland (2020)

In a virtual ceremony that the New York TimesKyle Buchanan describes as “more glitchy than glitzy,” the thirtieth annual Gotham Awards were presented last night, and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland won not only best feature but also the audience award. Last week, Nomadland led the National Society of Film Critics awards, taking best feature, director, cinematography for Joshua James Richards’s work, and actress for Frances McDormand, who plays a woman roaming the American west after losing her husband, job, and home. The week before, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists honored Nomadland in all four of those categories and added two more for Zhao’s editing and her adapted screenplay based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.

The Gothams’ choice for best actress is Nicole Beharie, who plays a single mother and former beauty queen in Channing Godfrey Peoples’s debut feature, Miss Juneteenth. At, Christy Lemire argues that “this would be a star-making role in an ordinary world.” Riz Ahmed has won best actor for his performance as a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing in another debut feature, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, which Beatrice Loayza, writing for Sight & Sound, calls “a song of mourning and rebirth with surprising emotional resonance.”

Gotham juries have declared two ties this year. The award for best documentary is split between Ramona S. Diaz’s A Thousand Cuts and Garrett Bradley’s Time. A Thousand Cuts focuses on Maria Ressa, a Filipino reporter targeted by populist president Rodrigo Duterte. “Charming, hardworking, committed, compassionate, and earnest, she and this haunting, depressing, infuriating film are reminders that every time a politician slings mud at the ‘lamestream press’ or talks about ‘fake news,’ what they're really doing is declaring war on facts—and on the people who still believe in the truth,” writes Richard Whittaker in the Austin Chronicle.

Time, for which Bradley won a directing award at last year’s Sundance, tracks the hard and lonely campaign of activist Sibil Fox Richardson to see her husband’s release from prison, where he’s serving a sixty-year sentence for robbing a bank. Fox Rich, as she’s known to most, fights the Louisiana legal system for two long decades while raising six children. “Exquisitely framed and directed, Time excels for its stirring emphasis on interiority, highlighting moments of subtle introspection, resolve, and astoundingly, joy,” writes Dessane Lopez Cassell at Hyperallergic, where Time tops the editors and contributors’ list of the top fifteen films of 2020.

Time is also David Ehrlich’s #1 film of the year. His annual video countdowns are among the most popular of their kind, and this year, he declared that he’d only make another one next year if he can raise $10,000 for Rich Family Ministries, “a New Orleans nonprofit whose mission is to provide families, communities, and the accused of Louisiana with the resources they need to actively engage in their legal matters.” In less than twenty-four hours, he met and surpassed that goal.

The other tie at the Gotham Awards is for best screenplay. Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version, the winner of the other directing award at Sundance last year, is “a highly personal story about being torn between ‘making it,’ selling out, and forging a path as an MC,” writes Violet Lucca for Sight & Sound. Dan Sallitt’s Fourteen is “a spare and emotionally bracing drama that quickly defines full, complicated characters with roiling interiority, and puts them through bold stories that challenge their conceptions of self and our understanding of their psychologies and spirit,” wrote Daniel Kasman in the Notebook when he first saw it at the Berlinale in 2019.

In Fernanda Valadez’s Identifying Features, a mother treks across Mexico, looking for her son who set out to cross the border into the U.S. The winner of an audience award and another for best screenplay in Sundance’s world cinema dramatic competition, the film has won the Gothams’ best international feature award. Andrew Patterson has won the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director award for The Vast of Night. “How on earth Patterson made a movie about a UFO hovering over a small town in the late 1950s without falling back on every cliche in the book is the fun and wonder,” writes Sheila O’Malley at

The breakthrough actor award goes to Kingsley Ben-Adir for his performance as Malcolm X in Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, set on February 25, 1964, when he gathered Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown in a hotel room to discuss their roles in the civil rights movement. The Gothams have also honored two series, Watchmen, which happens to star Regina King, and I May Destroy You, which has made creator, writer, and codirector Michaela Coel one of the most promising new talents of the year.

In other best-of-2020 news, Roger Koza has polled 161 filmmakers, critics, and programmers from around the world and posted all their lists and comments in one epic scroll. The clear favorite is Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, the story of a friendship between a cook and a Chinese immigrant in the Pacific Northwest of the 1820s. You’ll find more engaging list compilations at desistfilm, Talkhouse, and the Toronto Review.

Since the last best-of-2020 roundup, notable individual lists have been posted by Bill Ackerman, Dennis Cozzalio, Michael Nordine, Srikanth Srinivasan, and Blake Williams. And Steven Soderbergh has put up his annual record of all that he watched and read between the first and last days of 2020, including four viewings of David Fincher’s Mank and early cuts of his own two latest films, Let Them All Talk and No Sudden Move.

One highlight of Nicolas Rapold’s conversation with Amy Taubin, Eric Hynes, Jessica Kiang, and Beatrice Loayza about their favorites of 2020 is the way Taubin and Kiang respectfully agree to disagree regarding Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut feature, Beginning, the winner of four top awards in San Sebastián. Dario Llinares and Neil Fox, the Cinematologists, discuss their favorites for about an hour and a half as well.

Since last March, all of us have probably taken in more repertory viewing than usual, and Philip Concannon has written up a finely annotated list of his discoveries. And for the fourteenth year running, Kristin Thompson has put together an outstanding top ten, looking back ninety years to the best films of 1930 and reflecting on features by, for example, Alexander Dovzhenko, Yasujiro Ozu, Josef von Sternberg, F. W. Murnau, René Clair, and G. W. Pabst.

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