If you’ve been following the major festivals from the last half-year, some of the top finishers in our New York Film Festival Critics Poll should be familiar names. Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” which led nearly every category in our look at critics’ favorites from Toronto, once again finished ahead of a crowded field by receiving the most votes for Best Feature. On the acting side, Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” continues its impressive post-Cannes run with top five finishes in both Lead and Supporting Performance categories.
We asked members of our Criticwire Network who attended the festival to single out noteworthy NYFF titles in seven different categories, including the aforementioned Best Feature and two performance categories. As usual, each of the 35 ballots we received was ranked in order of preference on a simple points scale.
It’s rare that a film coming so late in the festival ends up at the top of one of these polls, but joining the two familiar films near the top of multiple categories is Spike Jonze’s “Her.” Bringing to life a slightly futuristic story of a man’s loving relationship with his trusty electronic device, Jonze narrowly edged out McQueen in the overall tally as the festival’s Best Director. (The film is still in its first wave of early returns, but it currently stands at a mythic, almost-unthinkable "A+" Criticwire average.)
Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” had a mixed reception at Cannes this past May, but the response from critics at NYFF placed it much higher on the list this time around. The added attention meant a third-place finish for Payne and the film itself in their respective categories, with cast member June Squibb topping all other Best Supporting Performance candidates. In addition to Squibb, the entire cast finished neck-and-neck with that of fellow Cannes Competition film “Inside Llewyn Davis” for the Best Ensemble prize.
A pair of films that topped the most recent update of our running tally of the Best (theatrically-released) Indies of 2013, “Captain Phillips” and “A Touch of Sin,” also placed highly on a number of ballots.
Another multiple poll appearance belongs to Isabelle Huppert. After getting some first-place consideration last year for her role as the daughter in "Amour," Huppert cracked the top five Lead Performances with her turn as a stroke victim in Catherine Breillat's "Abuse of Weakness."
The Best Feature list also included a few notable documentaries among the more lauded fictional tales: “The Square,” Jehane Noujaim’s film about the efforts to maintain stability in post-Mubarak Egypt, turned heads in New York nearly nine months after debuting amidst a slew of impressive docs at Sundance (and has since been significantly re-edited). The carefully observed “Manakamana,” documenting cable car rides to and from a Nepalese temple, also drew ardent support, much as it did during previous engagements in Locarno and Toronto.
Conspicuously absent from many of these categories is one of the more anticipated titles of the festival: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Ben Stiller’s directorial effort earned him a handful of nods in the Best Feature and Best Director tallies, but his starring turn went unrecognized.
The upper tier of two final categories, Best Scene and Biggest Surprise, were largely composed of representatives from the films already mentioned. But Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” and James Gray’s “The Immigrant” also landed mentions in both categories as part of a strong overall showing for American indie voices.