Brad Pitt’s New York Film Critics Circle Home Run
With the New York Film Critics Circle announcing their awards this morning at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Oscar landscape shifted — and suddenly Brad Pitt is on top. Way on top. With a best actor win, Pitt overtook current frontrunner — and good friend — George Clooney, riding high on "The Descendants" terrific reviews. Hopefully, this news won't test the Ocean's 11 co-stars' bromance. The biggest surprise may be that this mainstream Hollywood matinee idol charmed the notoriously fractious and often contrarian group, which has been awarding prizes since 1935.
Pitt's acting win is also a big boost for the A-lister's two movies — the baseball dramedy "Moneyball" and the art-house puzzler Tree of Life. While "Moneyball" also won best screenplay, "Tree of Life" earned Best Cinematography and the Circle recognized Pitt's co-star Jessica Chastain for best supporting actress in that and other films, including "The Help" and "Take Shelter."
Not only does this put Pitt in the lead for best actor — it also pushes "Moneyball" up the ladder in the top ten Best Picture nominees — probably to a rung among the top five. However, Pitt may have some 'splaining to do to his partner Angelina Jolie, whose directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey" was snubbed by the group when it failed to be recognized as a best first film.
But what's good for Pitt is bad news for Clooney. He did not make a strong showing in the Best Actor race today. He barely made a dent in best director for "Ides of March," much less best supporting actor. Also hit was "The Descendants" juggernaut, with NY critics' favorite Alexander Payne not winning Best Director. The closest the Hawaii-set film came to recognition was in the best screenplay category, where it definitely will land as one of the best adapted screenplay nominees, despite today's loss. Shailene Woodley was in play for best supporting actress and still may have a spot in the top five nominees, but only if the movie performs more strongly in other critics awards.
The critics never explain their choices, but I infer that Pitt won because he demonstrated his range — from the stern and distant father in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," a movie without easy explanation in which he plays an iconic American patriarch, to the Robert Redfordesque handsome hero as Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane in a movie ripped from the headlines about America's favorite pastime. In other words, he used his star power to give wattage to a film that wasn't successful at the box office, and he made starring in a smart American studio movie seem easy. And the critics definitely favored "Moneyball" over "The Descendants" today — the proof is in the "Moneyball" screenplay win.
It may be that even though Clooney excelled as an upper class man in Hawaii belatedly accepting responsibility to family and nature, and brought both humor and pathos to the role, the majority of the New York critics didn't consider it enough of a stretch. I'm of the opposite opinion: to me, Clooney is a latter-day Clark Gable. I think he opened up a window on this character, a man who reveled in being the "back-up parent" until disaster struck. His range is demonstrated as much by his jealousy-fueled mad dash in slippers to find out who his wife was cheating with, as his final quiet moment where he connects with his two daughters.