The Tree of Life and Take Shelter were the big winners on Sunday when the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) cast its votes for the best films of 2011.
Last weekend, fellow critics groups in Boston and Los Angeles, along with the Broadcast Film Critics Association, cast their votes as well – with The Artist, Hugo and The Descendants emerging as favourites.
With both The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, however, Toronto's critics chose to honour "ambitious films that took bold risks," said TFCA president and film critic Brian D. Johnson. "These are both intimate dramas that play out on an apocalyptic canvas, and impart a sense of wonder and mystery."
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's meditative drama about a middle-aged man (Sean Penn) contemplating the meaning of life amidst memories of his upbringing in rural Texas in the 1950s, won awards for best picture and best director. Take Shelter, a drama about a working-class Ohio man who begins having disturbing apocalyptic visions earned Michael Shannon a best-actor award and Jessica Chastain a best-supporting-actress nod.
The best-actress award went to Michelle Williams for My Week with Marilyn, in which she plays Marilyn Monroe during the period she shot the film The Prince and the Showgirl in England. Canada's Christopher Plummer was given best-supporting-actor honours for his role in Beginners, about an elderly man who comes out of the closet to his adult son (Ewan McGregor). Best screenplay went to Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin for Moneyball, the inside-baseball drama starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Two Chilean films were also honoured: Mysteries of Lisbon, by Raoul Ruiz (who died this past August), won best foreign film; best documentary feature went to Nostalgia for the Light by Patricio Guzman for his film essay connecting a famous astronomical site in South America's Atacama Desert with the search for the remains of General Pinochet's victims. The science-fiction film Attack the Block, about a South London gang that takes on an alien invasion, won best first feature prize for writer-director Joe Cornish.
The TFCA, which consists of more than 40 print and broadcast critics based in Toronto, will hold back its Canadian prizes until a gala dinner on Jan. 10. They include the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award with a $15,000 cash prize. The three nominated films are Café de Flore, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg and Monsieur Lazhar, directed by Philippe Falardeau. The Jay Scott Prize, named after the late Globe and Mail critic and with a $5,000 purse, will be given to an emerging artist. Also included in the evening's event will be the Deluxe Student Film Award, which awards $5,000 in post-production services to a student filmmaker. Cronenberg has also selected a list for a special award presentation.
As critics across the world weigh in, no one film has dominated awards as clearly as The Social Network and The Hurt Locker did in 2010 and 2009. But a handful of films are clearly leading the way: This past weekend, the American Film Institute picked Alexander Payne's Hawaiian drama, The Descendants; so did the Los Angeles Film Critics' Association. Another front-runner this year is Jessica Chastain: the Los Angeles group voted for her as best supporting actress in six films – Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields and The Tree of Life.
The Artist and Hugo are also leading nominations. The Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online both voted for The Artist, as did the New York Film Critics' Circle earlier this month. The National Board of Review checked in a couple of weeks ago, voting for Martin Scorsese's Hugo.
On Tuesday, the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) – with about 250 members in Canada and the United States – announced that The Artist and Hugo are both up for 11 nominations. The biggest critics' group in North America, the BFCA may be the best bellwether of potential Oscar nominations.