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'Small Axe,' 'Nomadland' Win Big with NY, LA, Chicago Film Critics

The 2020 awards season fires up with the New York, LA and Chicago film critics casting their votes on the best of the year.

By Matthew Lissauer

Frances McDormand in "Nomadland."

© Searchlight Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Over the weekend, and just today, critic associations from the three major markets -- New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago -- cast their votes for the best films of the year. While critic group winners do not typically line up with the eventual Oscar winners, they do lend credence to the actors and filmmakers that Oscar voters should pay attention to, and which films they should watch over the Christmas break.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for Oscar voters should be that this year should finally be the year that female filmmakers get their long-overdue recognition. Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland," Eliza Hittman's "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," Emerald Fennell's "Promising Young Woman," and Kelly Reichardt's "First Cow" look to be prime contenders, not just for Best Picture but also Best Director.

© Focus Features / courtesy Everett Collection

Chadwick Boseman is becoming a very strong contender in the Best Actor race, for his final film performances in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "Da 5 Bloods." A posthumous Oscar for his role in either one of these films is starting to look more than likely. Coming up strong, too, is Riz Ahmed for his powerful performance in "Sound of Metal." On the Best Actress side, Carey Mulligan and newcomer Sidney Flanigan look to be leading contenders for "Promising Young Woman" and "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" respectively.

The critic groups have also recognized Steve McQueen's anthology of films, "Small Axe." While the anthology is treated as a limited series on Amazon Prime Video, it's really comprised of five distinct feature-length films, each with a common theme of racial injustice and strife in Britian. The first three "Small Axe" films, "Mangrove," "Lovers Rock," and "Red, White and Blue," premiered in the fall at the New York Film Festival, and later received their own brief limited theatrical runs.

© Amazon Studios

In recent years, there has been a growing debate as to whether movies that premiere on streaming platforms are in fact movies in the traditional sense, as opposed to "made-for-TV films," which usually would compete for Emmys. Comments in the past year, from directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, point to a need for movies that compete for such illustrious awards as an Oscar to premiere in theaters. Amazon has always played ball, but Netflix has notoriously been a major force in upending this by debuting their films on their platform or at least stream "day and date" (some films like "Roma" and "The Irishman" did receive a limited theatrical debut first). However, with the pandemic still raging on, movie theaters still largely shut, and Warner Bros. debuting their blockbuster "Wonder Woman 1984" on HBO Max and in theaters this week (and their entire 2021 film slate doing the same), this ever growing debate as to what constitutes cinema is being thrown an interesting curveball.

In the case of "Small Axe," Amazon looks to disrupt in a different way. In 2016, the four-hour long O.J. Simpson documentary "Made in America" premiered at Sundance in full, but then debuted on ESPN as a four-part series. The doc still received film awards that year. That left Oscar voters wondering where to draw the line, and what exactly is a film. Will there be more ammendments to this as Oscar voters consider McQueen's phenomenal anthology? The L.A. critics chose to honor "Small Axe" as both a collection of films in one sense, while only considering the score for one entry, "Lovers Rock." New York critics honored "Small Axe" cinematographer Shabier Kirchner for his contributions on all the films collectively, while Chicago critics honored acting, directing and technical contributions to each of the separate films.

As 2020 completely upended the theatrical landscape, will it also forever change how we view and regard cinema? McQueen's "Small Axe" anthology might finally settle the debate. Of course, with Oscar elegibility extended to February, and the awards show five months away, at this point anything is possible.

Here are the winners from the three organizations.

  • New York Film Critics' Circle Award Winners

    © A24 / courtesy Everett Collection

  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Winners & Runners-Up

    © Amazon Studios

    • Best Picture - "Small Axe (all films)" / runner-up: "Nomadland"
    • Best Director - Chloe Zhao, "Nomadland" / runner-up: Steve McQueen, "Small Axe (all films)"
    • Best Actor - Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" / runner-up: Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"
    • Best Actress - Carey Mulligan, "Promising Young Woman" / runner-up: Viola Davis, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
    • Best Supporting Actor - Glynn Turman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" / runner-up: Paul Raci, "Sound of Metal"
    • Best Supporting Actress - Youn Yuh-Jung, "Minari" / runner-up: Amanda Seyfried, "Mank"
    • Best Screenplay - Emerald Fennell, 'Promising Young Woman" / runner-up: Eliza Hittman, "Never Rarely Sometimes Always"
    • Best Cinematography - Shabier Kirchner, "Small Axe (all films)" / runner-up: Joshua James Richards, "Nomadland"
    • Best Production Design - Donald Graham Burt, "Mank" / runner-up: Sergey Ivanov, "Beanpole"
    • Best Editing - Yorgos Lamprinos, "The Father" / runner-up: Gabriel Rhodes, "Time"
    • Best Musical Score - Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, "Soul" / runner-up: Mica Levi, "Small Axe: Lovers Rock"
    • Best Foreign-Language Film - "Beanpole" / runner-up: "Martin Eden"
    • Best Documentary - "Time" / runner-up: "Collective"
    • Best Animation - "Wolfwalkers" / runner-up: "Soul"
    • New Generation Award - Radha Blank, "The 40-Year-Old Version"
    • Career Achievement - Harry Belafonte & Hou Hsiao-Hsien
    • The Douglas Edwards Experimental/Independent Film/Video Award - John Gianvito, "Her Socialist Smile"
  • Chicago Film Critics Association Winners & Nominees

    © Searchlight Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Best Picture

    • "Da 5 Bloods"
    • "First Cow"
    • "Lovers Rock"
    • "Nomadland" - Winner
    • "Promising Young Woman"

    Best Director

    • Emerald Fennell, "Promising Young Woman"
    • Spike Lee, "Da 5 Bloods"
    • Steve McQueen, "Lovers Rock"
    • Kelly Reichardt, "First Cow"
    • Chloé Zhao, "Nomadland" - Winner

    Best Actor

    • Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"
    • Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" - Winner
    • Anthony Hopkins, "The Father"
    • Delroy Lindo, "Da 5 Bloods"
    • Steven Yeun, "Minari"

    Best Actress

    • Jessie Buckley, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"
    • Carrie Coon, "The Nest"
    • Viola Davis, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
    • Frances McDormand, "Nomadland" - Winner
    • Carey Mulligan, "Promising Young Woman"

    Best Supporting Actor

    • Chadwick Boseman, "Da 5 Bloods"
    • Bill Murray, "On the Rocks"
    • Leslie Odom, Jr., "One Night in Miami"
    • Paul Raci, "Sound of Metal" - Winner
    • David Strathairn, "Nomadland"

    Best Supporting Actress

    • Maria Bakalova, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" - Winner
    • Toni Collette, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"
    • Amanda Seyfried, "Mank"
    • Letitia Wright, "Mangrove"
    • Yuh-Jung Youn, "Minari"

    Best Original Screenplay

    • "Da 5 Bloods" - Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
    • "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" - Eliza Hittman - Winner
    • "Promising Young Woman" - Emerald Fennell
    • "Soul" - Pete Docter, Mike Jones & Kemp Powers
    • "The Trial of the Chicago 7" - Aaron Sorkin

    Best Adapted Screenplay

    • "The Father" - Christopher Hampton & Florian Zeller
    • "First Cow" - Jonathan Raymond & Kelly Reichardt
    • "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" - Charlie Kaufman
    • "Nomadland" - Chloé Zhao - Winner
    • "One Night in Miami" - Kemp Powers

    Best Animated Film

    • "Onward"
    • "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon"
    • "Soul"
    • "The Wolf House"
    • "Wolfwalkers" - Winner

    Best Documentary

    • "Collective"
    • "David Byrne's American Utopia"
    • "Dick Johnson is Dead" - Winner
    • "The Social Dilemma"
    • "Time"

    Best Foreign Language Film

    • "Another Round" - Winner
    • "Bacurau"
    • "Beanpole"
    • "Collective"
    • "La Llorona"
    • "Vitalina Varela"

    Best Cinematography

    • "First Cow" - Christopher Blauvelt
    • "Lovers Rock" - Shabier Kirchner
    • "Mank" - Erik Messerschmidt
    • "Nomadland" - Joshua James Richards - Winner
    • "The Vast of Night" - Miguel Ioann Littin Menz

    Best Original Score

    • "Da 5 Bloods" - Terence Blanchard
    • "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" - Branford Marsalis
    • "Mank" - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
    • "Soul" - Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste - Winner
    • "Tenet" - Ludwig Goransson

    Best Art Direction

    • "Birds of Prey"
    • "Emma."
    • "First Cow"
    • "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"
    • "Mank" - Winner

    Best Costume Design

    • "Birds of Prey"
    • "Emma." - Winner
    • "First Cow"
    • "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
    • "Mank"

    Best Use of Visual Effects

    • "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"
    • "The Invisible Man" - Winner
    • "The Midnight Sky"
    • "Possessor"
    • "Tenet"

    Best Editing

    • "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" - Robert Frazen - Winner
    • "Lovers Rock" - Chris Dickens & Steve McQueen
    • "Nomadland" - Chloé Zhao
    • "Tenet" - Jennifer Lame
    • "The Trial of the Chicago 7" - Alan Baumgarten

    Milos Stehlik Award for Promising Filmmaker

    • Radha Blank, "The Forty-Year-Old Version"
    • Lee Isaac Chung, "Minari"
    • Emerald Fennell, "Promising Young Woman" - Winner
    • Darius Marder, "Sound of Metal"
    • Andrew Patterson, "The Vast of Night"

    Most Promising Performer

    • Maria Bakalova, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"
    • Kingsley Ben-Adir, "One Night in Miami"
    • Sidney Flanigan, "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" - Winner
    • Kelly O'Sullivan, "Saint Frances"
    • Helena Zengel, "News of the World"

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