New York Film Critics Winners: Japanese Film ‘Drive My Car’ Named Best Picture

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Cannes Film Festival
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Ryusukue Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” has been named the best film of 2021 by the New York Film Critics Circle, which announced its winners on Friday in New York City.

The choice came as a real surprise at the end of an awards announcement that had been dominated by Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” which won awards for director Campion, lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch and supporting actor Kodi Smit-McPhee.

“Drive My Car,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July, is a three-hour drama about a theater director and the young woman who is hired to chauffeur him when he travels to Hiroshima to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya.”

Lady Gaga won Best Actress honors for her work in Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci.”

In the supporting actress category, the group had a surprise winner, Kathryn Hunter for “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Hunter, a British stage performer known for her physicality, plays all three of the witches (as well as an old man) in the Shakespeare tragedy, and contorts her body into strange, birdlike shapes to do so.

Joachim Trier’s “The Worst Person in the World” was named the year’s best foreign-language film, while Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s animated documentary “Flee” was named best nonfiction film. The Netflix animated feature “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” won in the Best Animated Feature category.

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter,” which dominated the Gotham Awards on Monday, was named the year’s best first feature.

“Licorice Pizza” won the screenplay award, while “West Side Story” won for cinematography.

Three special awards were also named: to Maya Cade for the creation of the Black Film Archive; to the late Diane Weyermann, who was honored for “supporting daring and impactful filmmaking” at Sundance and Participant; and to Marshall Fine for his years of service as the NYFCC’s general manager.

While it’s risky to treat critics’ awards as a true indicator of what might win the top prizes once Academy and industry voters begin casting their ballots, the strong showing for “The Power of the Dog” was important, coming as it did one day after the film was completely shut out in the National Board of Review voting. “Drive My Car,” while a strong contender for a nomination in the Oscars’ Best International Feature Film category, is unlikely to get much traction as a Best Picture candidate.

The NYFCC, which likes to position itself as “a principled alternative to Oscar,” has given its top prize to the same movie as the Academy Awards 30 times in its 86-year history, but only four times in this century, and not since “The Artist” won both awards in 2011. The last five NYFCC winners were “La La Land,” “Lady Bird,” “Roma” and “The Irishman,” all of which received multiple Oscar nominations including Best Picture, and last year’s winner, “First Cow,” which became the first NYFCC winner in history to be completely overlooked by the Academy.

In the 11 categories in which both groups give out awards, the only one of last year’s NYFCC winners that went on to win the Oscar was director Chloé Zhao for “Nomadland.”

The New York Film Critics Circle was founded in 1935 and is the oldest film critics’ group in the country. It consists of 50 members, with Time Magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek serving as chair.

The NYFCC plans to hold its annual Gala Awards dinner on Jan. 10 at Tao Downtown, the pandemic permitting.

The winners:

Best Film: “Drive My Car”
Best Director: Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog”
Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog”
Best Actress: Lady Gaga, “House of Gucci”
Best Supporting Actor: Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog”
Best Supporting Actress: Kathryn Hunter, “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
Best Screenplay: “Licorice Pizza”
Best Nonfiction Film: “Flee”
Best Animated Feature: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”
Best Foreign-Language Film: “The Worst Person in the World”
Best First Film: “The Lost Daughter”
Best Cinematography: “West Side Story”
Special Award: Maya Cade for the creation of the Black Film Archive
Special Award: Diane Weyermann, posthumous award for supporting daring and impactful filmmaking at Sundance and Participant
Special Award: Marshall Fine, for his years of service as NYFCC’s general manager and decades on the New York film scene