Reflecting the topsy-turvy season it has been thus far in honoring the top films of 1999, the National Society of Film Critics split its best picture award between “Being John Malkovich” and “Topsy-Turvy,” the first time the 34-year-old group has had a tie for its top award.
The big winner with the society was USA Films: The amalgam of Gramercy and October Films can count among its booty not only the two best pic prizes, but honors for “Topsy-Turvy” helmer Mike Leigh as best director, “Malkovich” scribe Charlie Kaufman in the screenplay category and, in something of an upset, Eric Rohmer’s “Autumn Tale” as best foreign language film.
Russell Crowe copped the best actor award for his work in “The Insider,” while the society voted the best actress award to Reese Witherspoon for “Election.”
The supporting actor and actress honorees, like the actor winner, were identical to those selected by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., with Christopher Plummer prevailing for his Mike Wallace turn in “The Insider,” and Chloe Sevigny taking the nod for “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Wim Wenders’ “Buena Vista Social Club” was named best non-fiction film, while Conrad L. Hall’s work on “American Beauty” earned him best cinematography honors.
The voting session, which took place Saturday at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, was a long one, with numerous categories requiring several ballots before winners emerged.
Runners-up were “Election” for picture, David O. Russell (“Three Kings”) and Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) for director, Jim Broadbent (“Topsy-Turvy”) and Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”) for actor, Swank and Kate Winslet (“Holy Smoke”) for actress, Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Magnolia”) and Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”) for supporting actor, Julianne Moore (“Magnolia,” “Cookie’s Fortune,” “A Map of the World,” “An Ideal Husband”) and Samantha Morton (“Sweet and Lowdown”) for supporting actress, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (“Election”) and Alan Ball (“American Beauty”) for screenplay, “The Dreamlife of Angels” and “All About My Mother” for foreign-language film, “Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.” and “American Movie” for non-fiction film, and Emanuel Lubezki (“Sleepy Hollow”) and Freddie Francis (“The Straight Story”) for cinematography.
In non-competitive areas, the National Society gave its experimental film award to avant-garde filmmaker Robert Beavers and voted a special citation to James Quandt of the Ontario Cinematheque.
The group also selected four winners of its film heritage award: the U.S. theatrical release of the rediscovered camera-negative print of Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion” by Rialto Pictures; the newly preserved 50th anni re-release of Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” by Rialto; the U.S. video and DVD release of Gaumont’s original version of Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” by Home Vision and Criterion; and the TV premiere of the four-hour expanded version of Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” on Turner Classic Movies.
Significantly, the National Society of Film Critics has become the first group to protest what it calls “the rash decision by the Directors Guild of America’s National Board to retire, and soon rename, the Guild’s annual D.W. Griffith Award for distinctive achievement in film direction.”
In a public letter to the DGA, the society states, “The recasting of this honor, which had been awarded appropriately in D.W. Griffith’s name since 1953, is a depressing example of ‘political correctness’ as an erasure, and rewriting, of American film history, causing a grave disservice to the reputation of a pioneering American filmmaker.”