Today the New York Film Critics Online met for their annual awards voting. NYFCO is a motley bunch of critics ranging from Rex Reed to yours truly, and the group is kind of an underdog when it comes to awards season – we won’t get half the attention that the LA Film Critics Association*, who will announce later today, or the New York Film Critics Circle, who will announce tomorrow, will get. But we’re a dedicated crew, made up of some quality writers (click here to see the full membership).

This was my second year as a voting member at the awards, and it’s still a blast to be sitting next to Kurt Loder and across from Rex Reed. And it’s worth it to try and have a hand in shaping the honors the group gives out. Looking at last year’s list, I see that I was more successful my first time around, but The Fountain did make NYFCO’s ten best for the year, which is a victory in and of itself.

The big winner today was The Queen; while I liked the movie quite a bit, I have to admit to being very mystified as to how it scooped up five awards. I suppose I should just be glad that Babel or Little Miss Sunshine didn’t take the top honor.

Here’s the list of winners, with occasional commentary from yours truly. One interesting note: Most of the winners were films that were sent to NYFCO members as DVD screeners.

Picture – The Queen
I’m not upset that The Queen took the spot (it could have been worse – it could have been Little Miss Sunshine), but I do feel like it’s an exceptionally safe choice. Last year we gave Best Picture to The Squid & The Whale, and I loved that – not just because I loved the film but because we were using our little soapbox to support a movie that got lost in the awards season shuffle. The Queen already has its tickets to the Kodak Theater for the Oscar telecast.
Actor – Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
Actress – Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Director – Stephen Frears (The Queen)
I have to admit that Frears winning was a little stunning. What’s mostly too bad is that Alfonso Cuaron didn’t make a better showing in this category – in Children of Men he doesn’t just get great performances and create a realistic and engaging world, he also engages in impossibly long shots that must have taken tons of technical work. To put it frankly, he directed the shit out of that movie. It feels like he hit every aspect of “Best Directing” while Frears just shot the movie and let the performances do most of the heavy lifting.
Debut as Director – Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris – Little Miss Sunshine
This is the one that galls me. Dayton and Faris – besides directing a very standard, very formulaic picture that deserves no end of the year consideration – have been directing commercials for years. Rian Johnson, who was in this category, truly was a debut director with Brick. The difference between what Rian accomplished with what little experience he had and what Dayton/Faris accomplished with their years behind the camera is astronomical. Rian Johnson was, to put it mildly, robbed.
Ensemble Cast – Little Miss Sunshine
Sure. United 93 would have been the more interesting choice, and it made it into the top three vote getters.
Supporting Actor – Michael Sheen (The Queen)
Supporting Actress – (tie) Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) & Catherine O’Hara (For Your Consideration)
Breakthrough Performer – Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Screenplay – Peter Morgan (The Queen)
Again, a decent screenplay, but by no means the best. From structure to dialogue, nothing in The Queen shouts “What a script!” to me. I was shocked to see it even nominated.
Documentary Feature – An Inconvenient Truth
Foreign Language Picture – Pan’s Labyrinth
A great choice. Pan’s was a very close runner up for Best Picture – now that would have been noteworthy.
Animated Feature – Happy Feet
Cinematography – Dick Pope (The Illusionist)
Another category that should have gone to Children of Men. I can’t imagine how people saw that film, and what was achieved, and then decided to vote for anything else – especially a movie as visually uncompelling as The Illusionist.
Film Music/Score – Philip Glass (The Illusionist)
Humanitarian Award – Deepa Mehta (Water) for taking risks to create films about the difficulties of social change in India especially as it affects women.
This was a hugely controversial award – not in terms of who would get it, but in terms of whether it should even exist. It was the first year NYFCO gave a "Humanitarian Award," and you can at the very least expect that next year it will have a name that indicates it’s about rewarding a movie that created attention on an important issue.

Top 10 Films:
Babel (Paramount Vantage)
The Fountain (Warner Bros.)
Inland Empire (Absurda)
Little Children (New Line)
Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Picturehouse)
The Queen (Miramax)
Thank You for Smoking (Fox Searchlight)
Volver (Sony Pictures Classics)
Water (Fox Searchlight)

* LAFCA’s awards were announced as I was typing this, and as expected some of their choices were exciting and bold, including Paul Greengrass as Best Director and Sacha Baron Cohen sharing Best Actor with Forest Whitaker.