The Lost Daughter Leads the Gothams

Olivia Colman in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (2021)

Click through the lists of past Gotham Award winners, and you’ll find that it’s rare for a film to win as many as four. But on Monday night, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter won best feature, screenplay, and breakthrough director, and Olivia Colman shared the award for outstanding lead performance with Frankie Faison, who stars in David Midell’s The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.

For her first feature as a director, Gyllenhaal has adapted Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel about Leda, a middle-aged academic whose encounter with a family while on holiday revives disturbing memories. When The Lost Daughter premiered in Venice, Gyllenhaal won her first award for best screenplay and Jessica Kiang wrote for IndieWire that the film is “made with such alertness to the power of cinematic language—particularly that of performance—that even as you feel your stomach slowly drop at the implications of what you’re watching, you cannot break its spreading sinister spell.”

Colman’s Leda, added Kiang, is “something quite extraordinary even within her already extraordinary catalogue: it’s difficult to imagine that anyone else would be able to take this impossible role, in all its unlikeliness and unlikability, in all its witchy unpredictability and completely staid normalcy and make it seem not only plausible but more real for all its contradictions.”

As Kenneth Chamberlain, the Black sixty-eight-year-old Marine veteran who inadvertently sent out a medical alarm and was killed in his home by the white police officers sent to check on him in 2011, Faison is “juggling a lot,” writes Josh Kupecki in the Austin Chronicle, “and he is flat-out brilliant.” In this first year of gender-neutral acting awards, the Gothams split another category, outstanding performance in a new series. Ethan Hawke, who plays abolitionist John Brown in The Good Lord Bird, shares the award with Thuso Mbedu, who stars in Barry Jenkins’s The Underground Railroad as Cora Randall, an enslaved woman who escapes a Georgia plantation.

The documentary category was opened up to international contenders for the first time this year, and Danish-French director Jonas Poher Rasmussen has won for Flee. Combining animation and recordings of his close friend Amin, who fled Afghanistan for Denmark, Rasmussen tells a story that “doesn’t linger on the triumph of Amin’s survival alone,” writes A. G. Sims at Reverse Shot. “Instead, it burrows into the complexity of that survival and its emotional toll, inviting us to think also about the pieces of Amin that didn’t live on, that might’ve been permanently transformed by his trauma. And in doing so, a broader human story sprouts around these edges, about the parts of us that endure, and the parts of us that don’t.”

Drive My Car, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami—Nicolas Rapold interviews both the director and the writer for the New York Times—won best international feature. “It’s one of the great movies about the continuity of art and life,” writes the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, “about the back-and-forth flow between personal relationships and artistic achievements—and about the artifices and agonized secrets on which both depend.”

Sian Heder’s CODA won four top awards at Sundance and now takes home two more. Emilia Jones won the breakthrough performer award for her turn as Ruby, a Child of Deaf Adults, and Troy Kotsur won for his outstanding supporting performance as her father. Squid Game, the international sensation from South Korean director, writer, and producer Hwang Dong-hyuk, won the breakthrough series award for shows whose episodes run over forty minutes, and Reservation Dogs, Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi’s series focusing on the lives of four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma, won the prize in the short format category.

Philly D.A., directed by Ted Passon and Yoni Brook for Independent Lens on PBS, won the breakthrough nonfiction series award. Philadelphia civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner ran for district attorney on a progressive platform in 2017—and won. In April, the New York Times’s James Poniewozik called the series “captivating, timely, and relevant” and suggested that it would make “a good companion piece to last year’s City So Real, about the 2019 Chicago mayoral election and its aftermath. Philly D.A. is less sweeping and nuanced, but it is part of the same conversation about who cities work for and against, and it has a similar consciousness of the interdependent Rube Goldberg components of a big urban machine.”

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