Crix’ Picks Praise ‘Sense,’ ‘Vegas’

Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas” was named best film of 1995 by the New York Film Critics Circle on Dec. 14, although the crix tapped Ang Lee as best director for his “Sense and Sensibility.”

The two films are taking early leads in the awards races, with “Vegas” star Nicolas Cage nabbing a best actor nod from the crix only a day after snaring a National Board of Review award. The NBR named “Sense” its top movie and Lee best helmer, and while “Vegas” made the NBR’s 10-best list it trailed “Sense,” Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” and Christopher Hampton’s “Carrington.”

Actress nods

The Circle, in its 61st annual award announcements, named Jennifer Jason Leigh best actress for her performance in “Georgia.” The NBR chose Emma Thompson for her work in both “Sense” and “Carrington.”

As did the NBR, the Circle chose Kevin Spacey as best supporting actor of the year, citing his work in “Seven,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Swimming With Sharks” and “Outbreak.” Both the Circle and the NBR picked Mira Sorvino as best supporting actress for her turn in Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite.”

The crix gave the best screenplay award to Emma Thompson for “Sense.”

‘Wild’ surprise

The Circle’s cinematography award went to Lu Yue for his camera work in “Shanghai Triad,” but, in the only real surprise on the roster, the best foreign film nod went to Andre Techine’s “Wild Reeds.” The French film had difficulty finding a distributor following a so-so review in the New York Times during last year’s New York Film Festival. Strand Releasing eventually grabbed the rights.

Repeating its NBR performance, Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb” was named best nonfiction film (formerly best documentary) by the Circle. An optional award for best first film went to Chris Noonan for “Babe,” the helmer’s debut fictional feature (his previous films have been documentaries).

And in an apparent and well-aimed swipe at the Joseph Papp Public Theater’s recent decision to discontinue its 13-year-old Film at the Public program, the Circle issued a special award to recognize program founder and director Fabiano Canosa.

The Circle’s nearly three-hour-long voting process produced only one winner on a first round of votes: “Crumb.” Other categories took at least three attempts at a winner, with the best picture slot seeing a battle between “Vegas,” “Sense” and Todd Haynes’ “Safe,” a picture not even represented on the NBR’s 10 best list. Haynes also made a strong showing in the Circle’s best director votes, coming in third after Lee and Figgis.

Batting 1.000

Cage’s two-day winning streak bodes well for his shots at upcoming awards, but the same can’t be said for any of the year’s best actresses. Emma Thompson, who won the NBR award Dec. 13, apparently was a distant also-ran in the Circle’s view. Elisabeth Shue of “Vegas” and “Safe’s” Julianne Moore scored more crix votes than Thompson – as did Nicole Kidman (“To Die For”) and Meryl Streep (“The Bridges of Madison County”).

The Circle’s foreign film voting also produced a tight race, with “Wild Reeds” edging out Abbas Kiarostami’s “Through the Olive Trees” and Gianni Amelio’s “Lamerica.” Zhang Yimou’s “Shanghai Triad, ” the NBR’s choice for best foreign pic, placed further down the crix’ list.

The Circle, founded in 1935, comprises 24 scribes from major New York-based newspapers and magazines. John Anderson of Newsday, 1995’s Circle chairman, will be succeeded in ’96 by Bob Campbell of Newhouse Newspapers.

The Circle’s annual awards dinner is set for Jan. 7 at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room. The NBR holds its gala Feb. 26 at Tavern on the Green.

The NBR’s choice for best television movie was John N. Smith’s Canadian entry “The Boys of St. Vincents.”

The NBR’s 10-best list was topped by “Sense,” followed in descending order by “Apollo 13,” “Carrington,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” Rob Reiner’s “The American President,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” Wayne Wang’s “Smoke,” Roger Mitchell’s “Persuasion,” Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects.”

Robin Little, NBR awards administrator, said that the 60-member group reached a quick consensus on the two top spots but that debate on the rest of the list was “very, very contentious.” Both “Sense” and “Apollo 13” “went right to the top without too much question,” she said.

In addition to choosing Yimou’s “Shanghai Triad” as best foreign film, the NBR gave the director a special “freedom of expression” award for his battle against censorship in China. The NBR, organized in 1909 to fight censorship, presents the freedom award on an optional basis.

The NBR’s runners-up for best foreign-language film were Claude LeLouch’s “Les Miserables,” Michael Radford’s “The Postman” (II Postino), Gerard Corbiau’s “Farinelli” and Gianni Amelio’s “Lamerica.”

Other NBR awards included a Career Achievement Award to James Earl Jones (currently featured in Miramax’s “Cry, the Beloved Country”); an ensemble acting award to the cast of “The Usual Suspects”; a special award for their screen-writing careers to Betty Comden and Adolph Green; the Billy Wilder Award (for a career in direction) to Stanley Donen; and a special award for outstanding newcomer to Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”). Mel Gibson, who directed and starred in “Braveheart,” won a special achievement award in filmmaking for his career.

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