Goodbye to Language Cannes 2014

Goodbye to Language,” Jean-Luc Godard’s visually and sonically inventive 3D extravaganza, was named best picture of the year by the National Society of Film Critics on Saturday.

In honoring the French New Wave icon’s 39th feature, a densely layered 69-minute fantasia on the ongoing evolution of language, history, coupledom and cinema, the Society went decidedly against the grain in a season that has largely favored “Boyhood,” which was feted by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Although Richard Linklater’s 12-year coming-of-age drama lost the NSFC’s top prize by a single point in the final balloting, it still came away with wins for director and supporting actress Patricia Arquette.

Besides “Boyhood,” the only film to receive more than one award was “Mr. Turner,” Mike Leigh’s portrait of the British painter J.M.W. Turner, which was cited for Timothy Spall’s lead performance and Dick Pope’s cinematography.

It’s hardly the first time the NSFC, with its long-standing reputation for discerning, under-the-radar choices, has refused to conform to a predictable awards-season narrative. Typically the last of the major critics’ organizations to weigh in each year, the group has a strong track record of bestowing its top honors on films from overseas, including “Waltz With Bashir,” “Melancholia,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Yi yi.”

Although Kino Lorber’s national rollout for “Goodbye to Language” has been small even by those arthouse standards, limited to a handful of 3D-equipped specialty venues across the U.S., the film is easily Godard’s best-received work in the decade-plus since “In Praise of Love,” and has had no shortage of ardent critical champions since its premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Society hewed to a more familiar path in other categories, even echoing the New York Film Critics Circle’s choices in all four acting races: In addition to the victories for Spall and Arquette, Marion Cotillard was named best actress for her performances in both James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and the Dardenne brothers’ “Two Days, One Night,” while J.K. Simmons took supporting actor honors for “Whiplash.”

Similarly in keeping with their multiple mentions this season, Wes Anderson received the screenplay prize for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” while “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’ documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was named best nonfiction film. Along with Cotillard, a runaway favorite for actress (beating her closest competitor, “Still Alice’s” Julianne Moore, by more than 40 points), “Citizenfour” was the only winner to be determined on the first ballot.

A Film Heritage award was voted to Museum of Modern Art’s associate curator Ron Magliozzi and film conservation manager Peter Williamson, for identifying and assembling the earliest surviving footage of 1913’s “Lime Kiln Field Day,” which would have been the first feature film to star a black cast. Ron Hutchinson, co-founder and director of the Vitaphone Project, also received a Film Heritage honor for his extensive efforts to collect and restore original soundtrack discs for early sound shorts and features, including the recent Warner Bros. restoration of 1929’s “Why Be Good?”

Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas was elected to succeed David Sterritt as chair of the Society. The group’s 49th annual meeting, held at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center in New York, was dedicated to the memory of two Society members who died last year, Jay Carr and Charles Champlin.

The full list of winners:

Picture: “Goodbye to Language” (25)
Runners-up: “Boyhood” (24); “Birdman” and “Mr. Turner” (tie, 10)

Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood” (36)
Runners-up: Jean-Luc Godard, “Goodbye to Language” (17); Mike Leigh, “Mr. Turner” (12)

Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner” (31)
Runners-up: Tom Hardy, “Locke” (10); Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice” (tie, 9)

Actress: Marion Cotillard, “The Immigrant” and “Two Days, One Night” (80)
Runners-up: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” (35); Scarlett Johansson, “Lucy” and “Under the Skin” (21)

Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash” (24)
Runners-up: Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher” (21); Edward Norton, “Birdman” (16)

Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood” (26)
Runners-up: Agata Kulesza, “Ida” (18); Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler” (9)

Screenplay: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (24)
Runners-up: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Armando Bo, “Birdman,” and Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice” (tie, 15)

Nonfiction film: “Citizenfour” (56)
Runners-up: “National Gallery” (19); “The Overnighters” (17)

Cinematography: Dick Pope, “Mr. Turner” (33)
Runners-up: Darius Khondji, “The Immigrant” (27); Fabrice Aragno, “Goodbye to Language” (9)

Film Heritage: Ron Magliozzi and Peter Williamson, the Museum of Modern Art; Ron Hutchinson, the Vitaphone Project

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