Film

Unanimous Love for 'Lady Bird' Unites the Golden Globes and the National Society of Film Critics as Awards Season Takes Shape

Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Coming from the National Society of Film Critics a win for Greta Gerwig's critical and commercial hit feels like a step closer to the mainstream.

How were the Golden Globes? I'm asking honestly. Thanks to freezing New York temperatures and a broken water main at Kennedy International Airport on Sunday, I wound up catching a later flight home than expected and missing the show entirely. A quick Twitter scroll and a few YouTube clicks caught me up on some of the highlights: the black gowns, the awkward jokes, Oprah Winfrey's galvanizing acceptance speech and Natalie Portman's gutsy jab at this year's "all-male" director nominees.

As for the Globe winners themselves, they struck me as a purely accidental but still-revealing contrast with a far less publicized slate of film awards handed out the same weekend — namely, the awards that brought me to New York in the first place.

On Saturday, in a small side room at Lincoln Center, I presided over the 52nd voting meeting of the National Society of Film Critics, a group whose distinguished ranks include the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, Time's Stephanie Zacharek and my L.A. Times colleague Kenneth Turan. (This year's awards were dedicated to the memory of the late Richard Schickel, a founding society member along with Morgenstern, plus the late Pauline Kael and Hollis Alpert.)

You would be hard-pressed to find a group of film journalists more out of sync, aesthetically and temperamentally, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the organization that presents the Golden Globes. Unlike some of the other major critics' groups, the National Society doesn't even throw a big awards banquet every year: Our members simply get together one slushy January morning and vote for their favorites, the results are announced on Twitter, and certificates are mailed to the winners. There are no acceptance speeches, no fanfare and certainly no red carpet. I wore black to Saturday's meeting, but only because that was the color of the warmest, heaviest parka I could find.

To no one's surprise but nearly everyone's delight, Greta Gerwig's critically beloved "Lady Bird" ran the table at our gathering, winning not only best picture but also directing and screenwriting prizes for Gerwig, plus supporting actress for Laurie Metcalf. The HFPA clearly admired "Lady Bird" too, enough to give it the Globe for best comedy on Sunday and to honor its exceptional star, Saoirse Ronan, as lead actress in a comedy.

But in the other categories, it seems, wherever the National Society zigged, the Golden Globes zagged. Sally Hawkins won the NSFC actress award for her exquisite turns in "The Shape of Water" and "Maudie," but lost the Globe for actress in a drama to Frances McDormand for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." McDormand's costar Sam Rockwell won the Globe for supporting actor, besting the National Society's favorite, Willem Dafoe for "The Florida Project." Indeed, while "Three Billboards" came up empty-handed with the NSFC, it was clearly the HFPA's designated darling, snaring four Golden Globes including best picture (drama) and screenplay.

More telling contrasts: Daniel Kaluuya, the surprising and entirely deserving winner of the NSFC actor prize for "Get Out," lost the Globe for comedy actor to James Franco for "The Disaster Artist." I can't really fault the HFPA for admiring the eerie brilliance of Franco's performance, or for any decision that puts "The Room" director Tommy Wiseau on the same stage with Hollywood's best and brightest. But I can fault them, as many have already, for classifying Jordan Peele's lacerating horror-satire as a comedy in the first place, and for adding insult to injury by dealing "Get Out" a shutout on Sunday night.

By contrast, "Get Out" was a clear favorite with the National Society, placing a close second to "Lady Bird" in the picture, director and screenplay races. Over the course of many votes cast and several ballots discarded Saturday afternoon, several other challengers reared their heads: chiefly "Phantom Thread," followed by "The Shape of Water," "Call Me by Your Name" and "Dunkirk." But the big nonacting categories nearly always came down to Gerwig and Peele, duking it out with barely a few points separating them at any moment.

Awards watchers may well opine that we could have done more to spread the wealth, perhaps by naming Gerwig best director and giving Peele the screenplay prize, or vice versa. But the specific outcomes of who won what strikes me as less significant, in the end, than the pairing of these two remarkably gifted writer-directors, both of whom already had successful, distinctive careers when they took up the challenge of feature filmmaking, and both of whom proceeded to deliver beyond anyone's expectations.

The ascendancy of a female director and a black director in a predominantly white male field carries enormous symbolic resonance — especially during awards season, where the impulse to reward worthy, exciting work has become inextricably tied up with political and representational concerns. Consciously or not, Gerwig and Peele have become this season's stand-ins for a more inclusive, progressive generation of Hollywood filmmakers, an achievement that would feel like mere tokenism were their movies not also such sharp, vivid statements of personal and political identity.

As many noted well before the Globes ceremony on Sunday, both Gerwig and Peele were glaringly absent from the HFPA's list of director nominees. (That prize went to the Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro for his striking and lyrical work on "The Shape of Water.") The HFPA may have further compounded its own apparent cluelessness by showering so much love on "Three Billboards," which has become the season's clear love-it-or-hate-it favorite.

I have my own reservations about Martin McDonagh's darkly funny, tonally rambunctious thriller, which floats a couple of provocative plot points involving racism and sexual assault but which too often reduces those issues to narrative devices at best and callous punchlines at worst. It's not the greatest look for 2018, but it doesn't negate my admiration for the movie's very real virtues, chiefly the terrific chemistry between McDormand and Rockwell, who bring rich inner shadings to characters written with more gusto than subtlety.

Something similar might be said about Gary Oldman's show-stopping Winston Churchill impersonation in "Darkest Hour" and Allison Janney's arresting embodiment of monstrous motherhood in "I, Tonya," both of which also snagged Globe wins on Sunday and will almost certainly be feted again this season. For better or worse, these are not performances that sneak up on you the way, say, Dafoe does in "The Florida Project" or Metcalf does in "Lady Bird." This is no-holds-barred, grab-you-by-the-lapels acting at its most shamelessly effective.

None of this is meant to draw a hard line between the critics' choices and the HFPA's favorites, which would be a specious, self-serving argument in any case. (Ronan, McDormand, Rockwell and Janney were all well liked enough by my NSFC peers to earn runner-up placements Saturday.) But in wake of this weekend's contributions to the endless conveyor belt that is awards season, I'll simply note that I find myself more grateful than usual for "Lady Bird," the one picture that seemed to unite these two very different groups and force them to set aside their most entrenched instincts.

Coming from the National Society of Film Critics — which has often veered off the awards-season radar by giving best picture to art-house favorites like "Yi Yi," "Waltz With Bashir," "Melancholia" and, most famously, Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language" — a win for Gerwig's critical and commercial hit feels like a step closer to the mainstream. And coming from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which tends to overlook intimate, character-driven indie storytelling in favor of more star-studded fare, the "Lady Bird" love feels like a welcome show of discernment.

Will the motion picture academy prove similarly enraptured? There's a long way to go and a lot of awards shows to plow through before March 4, but I can assure you now that I will not be getting on a plane that night.

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