NEW YORK — In voting held Thursday at Sardi’s Restaurant, the 39 members of the New York Film Critics Circle hailed David Lynch’s bracingly mysterious “Mulholland Drive” as the best picture of 2001 and tapped Robert Altman for its director nod for his work on “Gosford Park.”
Altman’s English-set murder mystery, released by USA Films, nabbed two additional awards — screenplay for Julian Fellowes and supporting actress for Helen Mirren. Another USA Films release, Hong Kong helmer Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” won foreign language film kudos and the cinematography gong for Christopher Doyle and Pin Bing Lee.
“In the Bedroom,” Todd Field’s directing debut, nabbed actor and actress kudos for Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek. The intimate drama, which premiered at Sundance last January and is in distribution via Miramax, also took the nod for first film.
In a tightly contested race, animated film nod went to Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life,” from Fox Searchlight. Technically experimental effort eked out a win a victory over DreamWorks box office smash “Shrek” by just two votes.
Steve Buscemi won supporting actor kudos for “Ghost World,” from United Artists and MGM, and French vet Agnes Varda’s “The Gleaners and I,” released by Zeitgeist Films, took nonfiction film.
A special award went to “Lola” and “Bay of Angels,” two 1960s classics directed by French New Wave helmer Jacques Demy. Both were restored by Demy’s widow Varda and released domestically by WinStar.
Although Lynch co-won the best director prize for “Mulholland Drive” at the Cannes Film Festival, pic’s victory here has to be seen as something of a surprise. It must also represent a further vindication for the director, as the work was originally created for ABC-TV as a pilot, only to be rejected and eventually resuscitated with French coin for further shooting and post-production for theatrical release, domestically by Universal Focus.
An elated Fellowes told Daily Variety: “Tony Hopkins rang me to congratulate me. He said, ‘This is the big one.’ This is enough, let this be enough! I am tremendously, tremendously thrilled. You always wonder whether they will get it, and obviously they did get it.”
Altman, who was credited for the original idea for “Gosford Park” along with Bob Balaban, added: “We didn’t expect anything there, so I was really surprised and thrilled. The film doesn’t even open until the day after Christmas.”
None of the other races were as close as that for animated film, but the runners-up provide further insight into how the critics were leaning. Among the runners-up were, for best picture, “Gosford Park” and “In the Bedroom”; director, Lynch and Field; screenplay, “Memento” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”; actor, Jim Broadbent for “Iris” and Denzel Washington for “Training Day”; actress, Naomi Watts for “Mulholland Drive”; and foreign language film, “No Man’s Land” and “Amores Perros.”
In a wide open Oscar year, everyone in the film biz is keeping an eye on the year-end prizes. While the New York Film Critics Circle provides a few clues, the winners are not exactly Oscar shoo-ins. Last year’s NYFCC winners included “Traffic,” director Steven Soderbergh, and thesps Tom Hanks (“Cast Away”) and Laura Linney (“You Can Count on Me”).
For the first time in recent memory, no film from a major studio won a NYFCC prize; however, several of the distribs are attached to major studios. USA Films nabbed five awards; Disney subsid Miramax took two; and United Artists, Fox Searchlight, Universal Focus and Zeitgeist clinched one each.
“I think that everyone is of the considered opinion that it was a dismal year overall, especially for films that came from Hollywood,” said John Anderson, chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle and chief film critic at Newsday. “The winning films were really all art division films. I think that sort of says it all.”