Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Lunch with the Boston Film Critics

Fourth only to the oil still geysering out of BP's well, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, and the retirement of Amanda Bynes, the ranking crisis in the world today is that the website for the Boston Society of Film Critics currently has "incomplete" winner information listed for both 1988 and 1989. Normally I would find a way to clench my jaw and power through this kind of setback, but as you know, I recently had the movies of these two particular years on the brain, and more than that, the BSFC is one of my absolute favorite film bodies anywhere.

Boston was the breeding ground for everything I came to know about cinema, during four collegiate years in which I haunted all the great theaters of that city: the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner, the Harvard Film Archive, the dearly departed Chéri with its huge single screen, and especially the Landmark Kendall Square, where I regularly stayed for longer spans of time than the paid workers did. During these years of discovering movies, the BSFC made gorgeously unexpected and catholic choices in their awards: they Best Picture'd Out of Sight before the NSFC thought of it, they thought gloriously outside the commercial box on Best Foreign Film selections like Taste of Cherry (which I had seen on the big screen at Coolidge Corner, and then again at the Harvard Film Archive), and showed great discernment and prescience in giving their 1998 Best Actress prize to then-unknown Samantha Morton for her lacerating work in Carine Adler's Under the Skin, also cited as the year's best debut feature. Nathaniel recently reminded us that 1998 wasn't the easiest year to find stellar Best Actress candidates, and the BSFC always came through in a clutch. The year before, Helena Bonham Carter very deservingly won for The Wings of the Dove, but even though runner-up information isn't as easy to find on the Web as it once was, I remember that she barely pipped Katrin Cartlidge in Career Girls and Tilda Swinton in my beloved Female Perversions (screened at the Landmark Kendall Square). Those are the sorts of gutsy choices that can win me over in perpetuity, and that's why the BSFC joins the New York, Los Angeles, and National Film Critics societies as the only film critics' organizations whose annual citations I archive on my website.

So, during my lunch break, since I was already in the library hunting down Levinas and the Cinema of Redemption, et al., I popped over to the microfiche room to get to the bottom of the missing BSFC winners' lists in 1988 and 1989. I realize that precisely no one is waiting for this info, but since IMDb currently isn't accepting updates to their Awards pages, I figure there is some sad Googler out there who will want this info, which I have already passed along to the BSFC itself. Maybe one of you kids can set the record straight over at Wikipedia. Forthwith:

Boston Society of Film Critics, 1988

Picture: Bull Durham
(see how smart they are?)

Director: Stephen Frears, Dangerous Liaisons
(snubbed by the Academy, but fêted here)

Actress: Melanie Griffith, Working Girl
(disappointing, since all sites erroneously list the superior Susan Sarandon in BD)

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
(extremely well-played, BSFC!)

Supporting Actress: Joan Cusack, Married to the Mob, Stars and Bars, and Working Girl
(just the kind of body of work one likes to see recognized)

Supporting Actor: Dean Stockwell, Married to the Mob and Tucker: The Man and His Dream
(lots of critics' prizes that year for Stockwell)

Screenplay: Ron Shelton, Bull Durham
(couldn't have done better than that)

Cinematography: Sven Nykvist, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
(again, well-played)

Foreign Film: Salaam Bombay!, Mira Nair
(an important film to recognize, and trounces Oscar's choice)

Documentary Feature: The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris
(virtually everyone's choice, and understandably so)

Special Awards: Liane Brandon (Boston-based independent filmmaker) and Richard Williams (animation director, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?)

I love the BSFC for those kinds of broad-minded Special Awards. Even better, they honored five of the year's best revival series at Boston movie theaters, and the five best movies that were either unearthed, restored, or re-released during the calendar year, which in this case included the long-hidden Manchurian Candidate, the LGBT festival screening The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart and Louis Malle's important film Lacombe, Lucien. Could a critics' body do more important work than shining a light on revivals and restorations, alongside the big-tent pictures?

Boston Society of Film Critics, 1989

Picture: Crimes and Misdemeanors
(sure knocks Oscar's choice into the shade)

Director: Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors
(at least he held on for an Oscar nod)

Actress: Jessica Tandy, Driving Miss Daisy
(uh-oh! breaks Pfeiffer's sweep of all the other critics' organizations)

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot
(a well-earned repeat for Daniel)

Supporting Actress: Brenda Fricker, My Left Foot
(did her awards heat begin here?)

Supporting Actor: Danny Aiello, Do the Right Thing
(confoundingly, one of very few critics' laurels for this film)

Screenplay: Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors
(they sure did love this one)

Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus, The Fabulous Baker Boys
(another unimpeachable choice)

Foreign Film: Story of Women, Claude Chabrol
(way tougher choice than Cinema Paradiso)

Documentary Feature: Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber
(against the strong critical tide for Roger & Me)

Special Awards: To the Brattle Theatre, on its 100th anniversary, and to the restoration efforts of the Coolidge Corner Theater and the Somerville Theater

Again, the BSFC goes out of its way to honor local film culture, specifically on behalf of some of the very moviehouses that, less than a decade later, would be so central to my informal education. And again, five more film series were honored by the group, including a very important retrospective at Harvard of the work of John Cassavetes, and five more citations for major rediscoveries and restorations, including those for Carnival of Souls, Lawrence of Arabia, the controversial animated film Coonskin, and the Yiddish-language film The Dybbuk from 1937.

I hope everyone is now resting easier with this crucial information. But if you take a few rental suggestions away from this post, I assure you that you can hardly go wrong! And while you're at it, if this inspires you to keep up with the regular reviews filed by Wesley Morris and Ty Burr over at the Boston Globe—two of the country's best weekly reviewers, employed by a paper that is still supporting the role of the serious film critic—then I'll be even happier that I spent my lunch break on this. Carry on!

P.S. The BSFC winners from 1992 are not listed as "Incomplete," but I know there was no way that listing was a full one, so (I can't stop!):

Boston Society of Film Critics, 1992

Picture: Unforgiven
(no stunner)

Director: Robert Altman, The Player
(nice splitting of the prizes)

Actress: Emma Thompson, Howards End
(all of the extant sites erroneously promote Judy Davis to this category)

Actor: Denzel Washington, Malcolm X
(a consensus choice, but who could argue?)

Supporting Actress: Judy Davis, Husbands and Wives and Where Angels Fear to Tread
(I think this was the only group to list both of these turns)

Supporting Actor: Gene Hackman, Unforgiven
(again, not a surprise but you can't blame them)

Screenplay: Neil Jordan, The Crying Game

Cinematography: Jack Green, Unforgiven
(once again, a well-earned prize for an Academy runner-up)

Foreign Film: Raise the Red Lantern, Zhang Yimou
(eclipses his early 00s work, if that's all you know)

Documentary Feature: Brother's Keeper, Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky
(another personal favorite)

Special Awards: To David Kleiler for his comitment to diverse, alternative programming at the Coolidge Corner Theater, and to Frank Avruch of WCVB-TV for hosting The Great Entertainment for 18 years

Recognized film series included "Classic Arkoff: At the Drive-In with American International Pictures" and "Marvelous Méliès" at Harvard Film Archive; "The Films of Mike Leigh" at the Museum of Fine Arts; "The Films of Robert Altman" at the Brattle; and "Yiddish Film: Between Two Worlds," jointly screened at the MFA, Coolidge Corner, and Brandeis University. Discoveries and rediscoveries included De Palma's Blowout, Altman's California Split, Renoir's The Golden Coach, Leigh's Meantime, and Welles's Othello.

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Blogger Andrew K. said...

I always forget that you like HBC in The Wings of the Dove (probably because you don't speak of her that often) but I do love that performance - I actually prefer her incarnation of Kate to the one on Forster's page.

re Melanie Griffith. eh, she's all right but as you point on Sarandon (she and Glenn are so easily my picks that year.) Sarandon needs to do a proper comedy film again.

(Off topic, it's so weird one of the two times I like Kevin Costner is this, the other is in The Upside of Anger. Incidentally two SNUBBED performances by the Academy. Lame.)

3:08 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

After watching Huppert in The Piano Teacher, I was hungry for more and decided to watch The Story of Women. It didn't really work for me.

And don't even remind me of Daniel Day-Lewis! One film every 2 or 3 years and he chose Nine (which I didn't dislike but I don't think he offered anything) and has no immediate plans?? I'm not talking to him.

3:54 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

I did 1988 in wikipedia. Maybe tommorow I'll do the rest if nobody has done it by then.

4:28 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger Bill C said...

Wait, wait--hold up: Amanda Bynes retired?

7:10 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

I love that 1989 list, especially after your suggestion in the last post's speech transcript that the Oscar-approved movies of that year were... dispiriting. I'll now be sure to check out Crimes and Misdemeanors, My Left Foot and Do the Right Thing as potential companions to When Harry Met Sally in my beloved birth-year slate. =D

10:05 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@A:EE: Careful! The Wings of the Dove is by Henry James, silly rabbit. Though I understand the misleading principle by which HBC = E.M. Forster, at least until it meant Batty Wife of Tim Burton.

@James: Thanks for uploading those onto Wikipedia!

@Bill C: Ah, forever the bearer of bad non-news....

@Colin: My Left Foot I go back and forth about as a film, but it's hard to argue with the acting. Crimes and Misdemeanors I haven't seen in about a decade, but it definitely had me. Do the Right Thing is impossible not to have a strong reaction to, one way or another or even another. Enjoy! But not without looking for Shohei Imamura's Black Rain, my favorite film of that year.

10:20 PM, June 22, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

you make such good use of free time. truly. the only thing i accomplished yesterday was finally watching CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 which i loved.

I always love Varda so i don't know why i haven't seen more.

5:54 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

P.S. that 1989 best actress situation kills me. you don't wanna know how many times i've held on to that "all critics awards" things for Pfeiffer to get me through the bad Oscar night memory.

6:00 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

That Bull Durham pick is classic. Love it! I wasn't aware that the BSFC were that cavalier an organisation but some of these choices are GUTSY.

I actually don't mind that Griffith and Tandy won, since I think that those performances are two that get unfairly criticised as bad when there are parts of both turns that I really like. Gotta agree with everyone else though that Pfeiffer was pretty much robbed, but I guess they figured she was going to be the next Streep, or something.

6:36 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

Out of all those wonderful categories, possibly the one I appreciate the most is the 1988 nod for Joan Cusack. She's literally the only reason I can rewatch Working Girl - well, her and Carly Simon's theme tune - and I think she hardly ever gets her fair dues, so brava, BSFC!

This post was especially cool for me, by the way, because in about two months I'm flying to Boston to live and study there for a year! Not in Harvard, I'm afraid, but in Boston College and I've already bookmarked those critics in the Boston Globe.

10:52 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Nathaniel: I haven't managed to watch Cléo yet, so you're ahead of me there. I knew the Sarandon/Griffith and the Tandy/Pfeiffer situations would be hard for you, so I hope you're holding up!

@Cal: Which is not to say that Griffith is bad in Working Girl, but I saw less in the performance on re-watch a year or two ago than I had remembered, and given the abundant options in '88, this seems pretty feeble.

@Catherine: Indeed about Cusack. I'm wondering if her awards campaign got its traction here, because that Oscar nod surprised a lot of people. But more to the point: you'll have such a lovely time at B.C.! A great place. Let me know off board, if you want to, what you're planning on studying.

11:16 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Catherine said...

I haven't picked my courses yet (my major is English though) but once I do, I'll be sure to let you know!

11:46 AM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

Honestly, as soon as I typed I said, “that doesn’t sound write” and alas yes…let’s just call that a momentary lapse in judgement (yikes).

12:35 PM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

"that doesn't sound right" goodness gracious...I am just OFF this week.

12:53 PM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Catherine: I have a friend named Kevin Ohi who teaches in the English Department at Boston College, and I can't say enough about how terrific he is. But I'm sure whomever you wind up working with there will be great. I also know someone who just finished a Master's in Early Modern/Renaissance lit in English and in Italian, so if you wanted recommendations from her, I could pass them on. Enjoy!

@Andrew: You know I'm just ribbing. I make mistakes like that all. the. time. In fact, every single time I get an e-mail about a review, any review, the first thing I always do is go back and re-read that piece and groan about all the run-ons and typo's.

1:05 PM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Colin Low said...

If it's any comfort, Nick, among the many things your writing has taught me is that a run-on or two (or three, or five) never hurt anybody, especially when in service of a glorious insight.

... at least, when minimally nested ;)

9:11 PM, June 23, 2010  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

You're insane, and I love you for it.

Had no idea you were such a Bull Durham fan ... hurrah! I'm cheering on the bleachers with you (and Susan, of course).

4:17 AM, June 24, 2010  
Blogger John T said...

I know that this is not the point of this, but has Costner or Sarandon ever been sexier than they were in Bull Durham? That is, of course, rhetorical-the picture answers the question.

3:24 PM, June 27, 2010  
Anonymous Rax said...

Thank you for this, Nick! It's nice to see I'm not alone in caring (obsessing?) about film critics awards. About five years ago I spent hours submitting winners of forty years of Kansas City Film Critics Circle awards to IMDB and still remember the excitement I felt when they finally showed up on the site; let's up the missing BSFC winners will eventually find their way there, too.

1:00 PM, June 30, 2010  

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