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‘Roma’ Needed Those NYFCC Wins, But They Don’t Always Predict Oscars

The New York Film Critics Circle is prestigious and influential, but not necessarily predictive: It likes to support the underdog.

“Roma”

Netflix

When the New York Film Critics Circle gave “Roma” three big prizes, for Alfonso Cuarón’s cinematography and direction as well as best film of 2018, the most prestigious critics’ group threw its support behind a lauded movie that needs their help.

As the Mexican foreign-language Oscar submission, “Roma” could easily be sequestered to that universe, along with the National Board of Review and NYFCC’s foreign-language winner “Cold War.” Three significant NYFCC wins will boost “Roma”‘s credibility as a top contender, while the NBR’s selection as one of the Top Films of 2018 elevated “Roma” away from the international realm.

Still, “Roma” has a long way to go before Oscar night. While the NYFCC is influential, it’s not necessarily predictive; the last time it agreed with the Academy’s Best Picture was 2011, with Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist.” And “Roma” is groundbreaking but not an easy sell; it’s black-and-white and Spanish-language, with immersive deep-focus long-take cinematography and sophisticated surround sound instead of a conventional score. Its series of unfolding scenes leaves some moviegoers narratively unengaged; others (like me) fall into the movie and emerge emotionally drained.

The Oscar campaign for “Roma” also must contend with the Netflix factor, whatever that may be. While my informal polls do not reveal a significant anti-Netflix bias among voters, others believe it’s there. I’m hearing enthusiastic support for Netflix’s attempts to give cinematic spectacle “Roma” a significant theatrical presence, and while the streamer refuses to report the box-office numbers, that hasn’t stopped outlets (including IndieWire) from reporting them based on online reservations and other sources. The film is perceived as a hit, albeit an arthouse one. Clearly, Netflix is spending heavily to make sure the film is sampled with billboards on Sunset, coffee-table books, and plenty of handshaking events.

Oaxacan schoolteacher Yalitza Aparicio’s extraordinary emotive performance deserves Best Actress nods from critics groups, SAG, the Golden Globes, and BAFTA on the way to the Oscar, but it’s a competitive year. The NYFCC went with Regina Hall (“Support the Girls”) for Best Actress (the first black woman to win in this category after 83 years), following their vote for comedienne Tiffany Haddish last year for “Girls Trip.”

Regina Hall, "Support the Girls"

Regina Hall in “Support the Girls”

Magnolia/YouTube

The other Regina, “If Beale Street Could Talk” star Regina King, took Supporting Actress from the NYFCC, cementing her lock on that award all the way to the Oscars. And Ethan Hawke is having a good week, as he took Best Actor at both the Gothams and NYFCC, guaranteeing that “First Reformed” — whose New York-based director Paul Schrader took home another Best Screenplay win — will rise in awards voters’ screener piles.

Also scoring multiple wins this week was rookie director Bo Burnham, who scored Gotham, NBR, and NYFCC emerging director wins for “Eighth Grade.” British actor Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) also got a much-needed NYFCC push in the Supporting Actor race.

Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and Richard E. Grant as "Jack Hock" in the film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Photo by Mary Cybulski

Oddly, Fox Searchlight’s other top Oscar contender “The Favourite,” which opened with the best per-screen average in limited release of the year last weekend, was entirely overlooked by the NYFCC. Perhaps they figured it was in good shape. The group likes to push underdogs, and instead of rewarding Brad Bird’s Oscar frontrunner “The Incredibles 2″ with its Best Animation prize, they went with recently revealed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

In another surprise, instead of going for non-fiction frontrunners “RBG” or “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the NYFCC rewarded another first-timer, Bing Liu, for “Minding the Gap.”

The NYFCC can be influential, if not predictive, with Oscar contenders such as “Lady Bird,” “La La Land,” “Carol,” “Boyhood,” and “American Hustle” taking home Best Film in recent years. Their 84th ceremony will take place on Monday, January 7.

Here’s the list of winners:

Best Film: “Roma”

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”)

Best First Film: “Eighth Grade” (Bo Burnham)

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke (“First Reformed”)

Best Actress: Regina Hall (“Support the Girls”)

Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”)

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King (“If Beale Street Could Talk”)

Best Non-Fiction Film: “Minding the Gap” (Bing Liu)

Best Screenplay: “First Reformed” (Paul Schrader)

Best Cinematography: “Roma” (Alfonso Cuarón)

Best Foreign Language Film: “Cold War” (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Best Animated Film: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)

Special Award: Kino Classics Box Set “Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers”

Special Award: David Schwartz, stepping down as Chief Film Curator at Museum of the Moving Image after 33 years

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