This year’s Film Independent Spirit Awards will not be presented in a tent on the Santa Monica Beach on a sunny afternoon before the Oscars. Instead, the thirty-sixth ceremony will be staged in some form or another on Thursday, April 22, with the Oscars following on Sunday, April 25. Today, presenters Olivia Wilde, Barry Jenkins, and Laverne Cox beamed in from their isolated locations to announce the nominations for the Spirits, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always leads with seven.
Eliza Hittman’s third feature, the winner of a special jury award at Sundance and a Silver Bear in Berlin, reemerges in this strange awards season that had up to now been dominated by Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow (just three Spirit nominations) and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland (five). The other two nominees for best feature are Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari (a strong second with six) and George C. Wolfe’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (five).
With her first two features, It Felt Like Love (2013) and Beach Rats (2017), Hittman “proved herself one of the finest chroniclers of adolescence,” writes Melissa Anderson at 4Columns. Never Rarely Sometimes Always, an emotionally wrenching road movie following two cousins into New York where one of them will terminate her pregnancy, “further cements that status in a much more ambitious project. The filmmaker expands her geographical scope, setting part of the movie in Pennsylvania, and takes on a topic—the erosion of reproductive rights—of national urgency. Refusing to grandstand, Hittman has made a vital film about the perils of female adolescence in a country rank with hypocrisy, hysteria, and worse about sexually active young women.”
Louis Delluc Prize
There was more awards season news today—from France. Sébastien Lifshitz’s Adolescents, a portrait of two teenage girls, Anaïs and Emma, is the first documentary to win the prestigious Louis Delluc Prize since Raymond Depardon’s Modern Life in 2008. “Shot in gorgeously lit widescreen by DPs Antoine Parouty and Paul Guilhaume, the film looks more like a full-fledged fictional feature than a documentary, capturing moments of aesthetic bliss,” wrote Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter in December.
Anaïs’s family struggles to make ends meet, while Emma’s is comfortably well-off. Mintzer finds that what’s “most telling about Lifshitz’s depiction of these dual trajectories is the way it reveals how social status, especially in a somewhat rigidly class-structured country like France, winds up playing such a pivotal role in each girl’s fate, assuring they will have very divergent futures but never guaranteeing which one of them will be happier.”
The prize for the best French feature has been awarded annually since 1937, and in 1999, the jury currently presided over by former Cannes president Gilles Jacob began recognizing best first features as well. This year, that award goes to Josep, the first animated film to win it. Directed by Aurélien Froment, a cartoonist for Le Monde who signs his work as Aurel, the story is based on the life of Josep Bartolí, an illustrator who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, took refuge at an internment camp in France, escaped to Mexico, where he became one of Frida Kahlo’s lovers, and then headed up north, where he fell in with the likes of Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock before becoming a set designer in Hollywood. He was, of course, blacklisted in the 1950s. Josep is “a delicate, thoughtful film, moving and real,” finds Cath Clarke in the Guardian.
The International Documentary Association has presented its top award to Crip Camp, Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht’s look back at Camp Jened in upstate New York, where in the 1960s and ’70s, physically challenged teenagers “could act up and feel free,” as Hannah McGill puts it for Sight & Sound. She finds the film as “shaggy, positive, and inspiring a beast as the institution it memorializes.” Garrett Bradley has won the IDA’s award for best director for Time, and you can watch a conversation with her and a good number of other honorees, including Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI), winner of a career achievement award, right here.
Sober but not somber, the New York Film Critics Circle’s presentation of its awards on Sunday night could serve well as a model for handling these ceremonies during a pandemic. In prerecorded messages, Bong Joon Ho expresses his admiration for Kelly Reichardt and First Cow and Francis McDormand recalls seeing The Rider (2017) in Toronto and deciding right then and there that she had to work with Chloé Zhao. Martin Scorsese jovially congratulates Spike Lee for his special award for New York New York, a three-and-a-half-minute ode to the city shot in May. Visibly shaken, Lee recorded his appreciation on January 6, having just watched that mob storm the Capitol. And he has thoughts on the future of the country.
Lee’s Da 5 Bloods has won best film and director from the National Board of Review, and finally for now, the American Film Institute has released its lists of the ten best films and ten best television programs of 2020 with a special award going to the filmed performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.Never Rarely Sometimes Always hasn’t made the AFI’s cut, but Minari and Nomadland have.
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