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New York Film Critics Circle names ‘First Cow’ best movie of 2020

Orion Lee and John Magaro in the western film "First Cow."
Orion Lee, left, and John Magaro in the movie “First Cow.” The New York Film Critics Circle named Kelly Reichardt’s western fable the best film of 2020.
(Allyson Riggs / A24)

The New York Film Critics Circle on Friday voted Kelly Reichardt’s western fable “First Cow” the best film of 2020, while also giving special honors to Spike Lee and the art-house distributor Kino Lorber for their roles in a movie year deeply marred by the pandemic.

The film critics, assembling virtually, gave their top award to “First Cow,” a delicate tale of friendship and capitalism in the mid-1800s Oregon Territory. Reichardt’s film, released in theaters in March just days before the onset of COVID-19 forced cinemas to close nationwide, hasn’t been widely seen but remains one of the year’s most critically acclaimed film. The Associated Press also named “First Cow” its No. 1 film.

The critics also gave out awards to “Borat Subsequent Movie Film” co-star Maria Bakalova for best supporting actress and to Chadwick Boseman for best supporting actor for his final performance in the August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman died in August.

Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang’s best movies of 2020 include ‘Nomadland,’ ‘First Cow’ and ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things.’

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Best actor went to Delroy Lindo for his performance as a Vietnam War veteran in Spike Lee’s “Da Five Bloods.” Best actress was given to Sidney Flanigan who plays a Pennsylvania teenager who travels to New York for an abortion in “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” Eliza Hittman, who wrote and directed “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” won best screenplay. Chloe Zhao, the filmmaker of “Nomadland,” took best director.

Spike Lee released two features in 2020 — “Da Five Bloods” and “David Byrne’s American Utopia” — but he was given a special award for a three-minute short he released on Instagram: “New York New York,” a documentary tribute to his home city, made during the pandemic’s first wave.

The group’s other special citation went to Kino Lorber for creating the virtual cinema service Kino Marquee, which shares proceeds with independent theaters closed by COVID-19. The critics pointedly said the honor was for a service “designed to help support movie theaters, not destroy them.”

The New York Film Critics Circle Awards are usually part of a wave of critics group honors that can occasionally influence awards season. Such awards would typically be a drumbeat this time of year, but little is normal about this year’s awards season. The Oscars and the Golden Globes, along with many other awards shows, have been postponed by about two months.

Other NYFCC picks include: “Time” for best nonfiction film, “Bacurau” for best foreign language film, “The Forty-Year-Old Version” for best first film, “Wolfwalkers” for best animated film, and the five-film anthology “Small Axe” for best cinematography.

The cast and filmmakers of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” remember the late Chadwick Boseman and his final screen role.

The Chicago Film Critics Assn. announced the nominations for its annual awards on Friday. “Nomadland” led with seven nominations; “Da 5 Bloods,” “First Cow” and Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” each earned six nominations; David Fincher’s “Mank” and Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” were each recognized with five. “Nomadland,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “First Cow,” “Promising Young Woman” and Steve McQueen’s “Lovers Rock” (part of his “Small Axe” anthology) are the nominees for best film.

Boseman was nominated as both best actor for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and for best supporting actor for “Da 5 Bloods.” The awards will be presented during a virtual event on Dec. 21.

Times staff contributed to this report


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