In just the first of a coming avalanche of groups that will unveil their various movie awards/prizes/best lists, the New York Film Critics' Circle, considered one the more discerning groups of critics in the country, yesterday announced its 2011 award winners. Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist — a silent, black-and-white drama about the silent, black-and-white era of 1920s Hollywood — won Best Picture and Best Director. (Word is The Weinstein Co. will open The Artist in Cincinnati in December.) Brad Pitt won Best Actor for his performances in Moneyball and The Tree of Life, while the slightly overpraised Moneyball won Best Screenplay (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin) and The Tree of Life deservedly grabbed the award for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki).
In something of a surprise, Meryl Streep grabbed Best Actress for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady — a surprise in that the film hasn't been getting much buzz. (On the other hand, this is Streep we're talking about — she could play a Smurf and likely get a nomination.) In an even bigger surprise, Albert Brooks won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a vicious, cold-hearted gangster in Drive. And, in no surprise whatsoever, Jessica Chastain was named Best Supporting Actress for her performances in The Tree of Life, Take Shelter and The Help (but not The Debt?)
Finally, Werner Herzog's often fascinating, sometimes indulgent (what's new?) Cave of Forgotten Dreams won Best Non-fiction Film; Asghar Farhadi's widely acclaimed A Separation won Best Foreign Language Film; and J.C. Chandor compelling Wall Street drama Margin Call won for Best First Feature.
Could the Circle's choices be a precursor of what's to come from the Academy? I wouldn't rule it out: three of its last four Best Picture winners have also gone on to win the Oscar, while five out of its last six Best Actor winners have also taken home the coveted golden statuette.