Since Todd Haynes’ smart, swooning romance “Carol” debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the movie has been flying under the radar, with the Weinstein Co. seemingly content to let fall festival favorites like “Room” and “Spotlight” grab all the attention.
The strategy, criticized by some as being too low key, was built on a confidence that Haynes’ movie would find favor with critics when it premiered in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Nov. 20 and then win big with either (or both?) the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.
That belief paid off richly today with the New York film critics showering “Carol” with its best picture award, along with prizes for director Haynes, screenwriter Phyllis Nagy and cinematographer Edward Lachman.
“We are so incredibly proud of this news,” Haynes told The Times. “And it means so much coming from New York and the critical community in this town that really formed me as a filmmaker.”
With the New York Film Critics Circle vote today and the Los Angeles Film Critics following suit on Sunday, the awards season has reached the juncture where pundits can help academy members prioritize and perhaps re-order their DVD screener stacks.
The New York group typically steers toward more mainstream choices than its West Coast counterpart. (Full disclosure: I’m a LAFCA member, as are Times staffers Kenneth Turan and Mark Olsen.) The L.A. critics, for example, have frequently rewarded world cinema actresses in recent years, bestowing lead actress honors on the likes of Yolande Moreau, Kim Hye-ja, Yoon Jeong-hee, Emmanuelle Riva and Adele Exarchopoulos.
When New York looks outside the United States, it honors more mainstream performers like this year’s lead actress winner, “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan -- actors who are squarely in the awards-season conversation. (“The Circle’s awards are often viewed as harbingers of the Oscar nominations, which are announced each February,” notes the NYFCC’s website. LAFCA’s makes no mention of the Oscars.)
NYFCC voters stayed close to home with its nonfiction prize, Frederick Wiseman’s moving look at a Queens neighborhood, “In Jackson Heights,” a movie that debuted earlier this month in New York and Maryland. And the group gave its foreign film award to “Timbuktu,” Abderrahmane Sissako’s condemnation of Islamic militarism, which opened in January to wide acclaim.
New York members also hailed Kristen Stewart for her supporting work as an actress’ assistant in the melancholy drama “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a movie that premiered at Cannes in 2014 and has already netted the actress a Cesar Award. Mark Rylance won supporting actor honors for his turn as a Russian agent in “Bridge of Spies.”
The group’s most curious choice came with its decision to honor Michael Keaton as a lead actor for his turn in the journalism procedural “Spotlight.” Open Road Films is campaigning the entire “Spotlight” ensemble -- Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James -- for the Oscars as supporting players. It’s logical: They’re all playing members of the Boston Globe editorial team that investigated allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
But the award isn’t a complete head-scratcher: Keaton does play the editor of the reporting team and clocks in more time on screen than the other actors. Singling him out isn’t all that different from LAFCA honoring Patricia Arquette as a lead last year for her turn as the mother in “Boyhood.”
Sometimes these category calls can be as much about eschewing an overwhelming favorite as saluting a particular actor. Last year, LAFCA chose Arquette over Julianne Moore, who won virtually every other honor for “Still Alice.” This year’s lead actor category might boast a similar, overwhelming favorite: Leonardo DiCaprio for his left-for-dead (but not bear-raped) frontiersman in “The Revenant.” Will the Keaton call be the outlier? Stay tuned.