The Japanese drama “Drive My Car” has been named the best film of 2021 by the National Society of Film Critics, which met virtually on Saturday to select its annual awards.
The film beat Celine Sciamma’s “Petit Maman,” which finished second, and Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” which finished third. “Drive My Car” director Ryusuke Hamaguchi won the best-director award over Campion and Sciamma, with the citation also singling out Hamaguchi’s other 2021 film, the anthology drama “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.”
While the NSFC is an organization of critics for U.S. outlets, a sizable majority of the wins went to films not in English, including three of the four acting awards. The award for “Drive My Car” made it only the fifth film to sweep the critics awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics.
The first four to do so were “Schindler’s List,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The Hurt Locker” and “The Social Network.”
Both of the lead acting awards went to performances not in English, with Hidetoshi Nishijima winning the best-actor prize for “Drive My Car” and Penelope Cruz taking best-actress honors for “Parallel Mothers.” Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”) and Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”) were runners-up to Nishijima, while Renate Reinsve (“The Worst Person in the World”) and Alana Haim (“Licorice Pizza”) finished behind Cruz.
In the supporting categories, Anders Danielsen Lie continued the trend of non-English acting wins for “The Worst Person in the World,” followed by Vincent Lindon for “Titane” and a tie between Mike Faist for “West Side Story” and Kodi Smit-McPhee for “The Power of the Dog.” Ruth Negga won the supporting-actress award for “Passing,” making her the only winner for a performance in English; her runners-up were Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story” and Jessie Buckley for “The Lost Daughter.”
Screenplay and cinematography awards went to “Drive My Car” and “The Green Knight,” respectively. The Best Nonfiction Film category was won by the animated Danish documentary “Flee.”
Because a non-English film won Best Picture, the NSFC did not vote in its usual Best Foreign-Language Film category.
Special Film Heritage Awards went to Maya Cade, the creator of the Black Film Archive, and to recently deceased directors, critics and film historians Bertrand Tavernier and Peter Bogdanovich.
The National Society of Film Critics consists of 59 critics, though some members abstain from voting if they haven’t seen enough films. The group was established in 1966, and for much of its history it made more idiosyncratic best-film choices than the Oscars.
The last two years in a row, though, the NSFC winner – 2019’s “Parasite” and 2020’s “Nomadland” – went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. That gave the two organizations five matches in the last 12 years, after they only agreed four times in the previous 44 years.
This year’s vote was dedicated to the critics Morris Dickstein and Michael Wilmington, longtime NSFC members who recently died. Voting is conducted using a weighted system for each voter’s first, second and third choices, with balloting continuing until one film is mentioned on the majority of ballots.
The winners, with point totals:
Best Picture: “Drive My Car” (48 points)
Runners-up: “Petit Maman” (25), “The Power of the Dog” (23)
Best Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, “Drive My Car” (63)
Runners-up: Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Power of the Dog” (44); Simon Rex, “Red Rocket” (30)
Best Actress: Penelope Cruz, “Parallel Mothers” (55)
Runners-up: Renate Reinsve, “The Worst Person in the World” (42); Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza” (32)
Best Supporting Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, “The Worst Person in the World” (54)
Runners-up: Vincent Lindon, “Titane” (33); Mike Faist, “West Side Story” (26) and Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Power of the Dog” (26)
Best Supporting Actress: Ruth Negga, “Passing” (46)
Runners-up: Ariana DeBose, “West Side Story” (22); Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter” (21)
Best Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car” and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” (46)
Runners-up: Jane Campion, “The Power of the Dog” (36), Celine Sciamma, “Petite Maman” (28)
Best Screenplay: Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe, “Drive My Car” (46)
Runners-up: Pedro Almodovar, “Parallel Mothers” (22); Paul Thomas Anderson, “Licorice Pizza” (20)
Best Nonfiction Film: “Flee” (41)
Runners-up: “Procession” (28) and “The Velvet Underground” (28)
Best Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo, “The Green Knight” (52)
Runners-up: Ari Wegner, “The Power of the Dog” (40); Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, “Memoria” (35)
Special citation for film awaiting U.S. distribution: “Returning to Reims,” Jean-Gabriel Periot
Film Heritage Award: Bertrand Tavernier and Peter Bogdanovich
Film Heritage Award: Maya Cade for the Black Film Archive