By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 18, 2012 at 9:45AM
In the heat of a diverse Oscar season, critics have again singled out a movie that stands apart from that race: With 128 votes among 204 critics listed in Indiewire's Criticwire network, Leos Carax's surreal opus "Holy Motors" topped Indiewire's seventh annual poll for Best Film. "Holy Motors" star Denis Lavant garnered the most votes for Best Performance.
A substantial increase from last year's voting pool of 162 critics (when "The Tree of Life" won the same prize), this year's results mark the unveiling of Criticwire's new survey feature, which visualizes the voting results across hundreds of pages. Overall, 1,862 ballots were cast across 10 categories. View the results for all the categories here.
Despite the overwhelming support for "Holy Motors" in the two prominent categories of Best Film and Performance, the rest of the poll reflected the range of critical favorites released in theaters in 2012. Kathryn Bigelow landed Best Director for "Zero Dark Thirty," which opens in limited release on Wednesday. Other winners included Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the Best Supporting Actor category for "The Master," which also won Best Original Soundtrack or Score for Jonny Greenwood's compositions. Jafar Panahi's "This Is Not a Film," a first-person account of the Iranian director's experience under house arrest, led the Best Documentary category, holding onto its popularity among critics a full 10 months after its U.S. theatrical release.
Meanwhile, Sundance and Cannes award-winner "Beasts of the Southern Wild" triumphed in the Best First Feature category and Oscar hopeful "Lincoln" won Best Screenplay. Rounding out the poll, Amy Seimetz's SXSW-premiering "Sun Don't Shine" won Best Undistributed Film and Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" won Best Ensemble, an award for which it was previously nominated (but didn't win) last month at the Gotham Awards.
None of them, however, have followed quite the same winding path as "Holy Motors." Compared to 2011 poll champion "The Tree of Life," which started its public life on a high note by winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, "Holy Motors" has endured a more complex route that has garnered it cult appeal. The film played in competition at Cannes to critical acclaim but failed to win any prizes at the festival. However, Carax's first feature-length effort in 12 years continued to sustain strong word of mouth and additional ahead of its theatrical release this fall, generating strong responses from audiences as far reaching as the New York Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. It also topped a poll conducted by Film Comment, which revealed its results last week.
Above: One of two musical sequences in "Holy Motors."
The continuing support for the movie may even surprise its director. "I thought it would be really difficult, that it would be too strange for people," he told Indiewire in an interview earlier this year. However, Carax expressed an enthusiasm similar to numerous critics with respect to the performance by the chamelonesque Lavant, who plays a peculiar man named Monsiuer Oscar as he embodies a wide variety of characters in vaguely defined situations over the course of a single day. "He became a greater actor while I wasn't making my films," Carax said, recalling his collaborations with Lavant over the course of 30 years. "I don't know what happened to him in real life or in his work or both that made him an actor who could play any part, but now he can."
Next page: More details from the poll results along with a sampling of this year's voters.
"Holy Motors" may have appealed to a majority of voting critics, but it faced substantial competition in the Best Film category from similarly dark, tense dramas about passionate individuals. Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology character study "The Master" took second place with 100 mentions for Best Film, just ahead of the 93 mentions of "Zero Dark Thirty."
For each ballot in which critics were asked to create lists -- Best Film, Best Performance, Best Supporting Performance and Best Undistributed Film -- films were ranked using a simple point system visible in the numerical breakdown of the top 50 winners available here. In the other categories, critics submitted single votes.
This year's participants included a broad sampling of print and online critics, including The New Yorker's Richard Brody, former Village Voice critic and current Blouin Artinfo contributor J. Hoberman, former L.A. Weekly critic Karina Longworth, Yahoo! Movies' Thelma Adams, Indiewire co-founder and Film Society of Lincoln Center director of digital strategy Eugene Hernandez, MSN Movies' Glenn Kenny, Israeli critic Yair Raveh, retired Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, and New York Daily News' Elizabeth Weitzman. A full list of Criticwire network members can be found here.
Participating Indiewire staffers included myself, senior editor Peter Knegt, assistant editor Nigel Smith, television editor Alison Willmore, contributor Bryce Renninger, and Thompson on Hollywood's Anne Thompson. Criticwire editor and blogger Matt Singer and Criticwire assistant editor Steve Greene also cast votes in the survey, which closed Sunday night.
Reflecting the range of sensibilities among this year's voting pool, the top 11 finalists (including one tie) that received the most mentions for Best Film hailed from seven different countries and several of them won in other categories. These included both a first feature (Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild," one of two films tied for sixth place) and a purported last one (Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse," in eigth place). Panahi's "This Is Not a Film," the aforementioned winner for Best Documentary, tied in fifth place for Best Film with Wes Anderson's Best Ensemble winner "Moonrise Kingdom." Best Screenplay winner "Lincoln" ranked ninth place in the Best Film category.
With so many critics participating in the poll this year, readers may consider looking beyond the films that received the majority votes in order to peruse the results for the stray films that received single votes in various categories. In this regard, the Best Undistributed Films results holds particular interest. The narrowly-defined category asked voters to single out new films screened for the first time in 2012 that have yet to be acquired for U.S. distribution. Even with such restrictions, however, critics singled out an diverse list of finalists. While Seimetz's Florida noir "Sun Don't Shine" topped the category by a significant margin -- it was also nominated for the Gotham's Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award -- it was closely followed by Belgium director Joaquim Lafosse's immigration drama "Our Children" and the Romanian dark comedy "Everybody in Our Family."
And that's only the top of the pile. Since no concise summary could possibly convey the volume of films represented by these results, we urge readers to explore the various survey pages now available on Criticwire. The current design for the Criticwire Network, which we teased in the announcement of last year's poll results, has been designed so that movie lovers of all stripes may browse through individual critical opinions and discover countless movies rather than merely focusing on a handful of favorites. While only a limited number of films can claim the winning slots, there's plenty of room for exploration in the list of titles beneath them.
Stay tuned for more breakdowns of Indiewire's critics poll as well as reactions from various winners throughout the week -- as well as further coverage on the Criticwire blog.
Lists of the top finalists in each category of the critics poll can be found here.