‘The Descendants’ Is Best, Say L.A. Film Critics

Terrence Malick named Best Director for “Tree of Life”; critics honor Michael Fassbender and Yun Jung-hee in acting categories

Last Updated: December 11, 2011 @ 3:01 PM

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which took a typically idiosyncratic path with its 2011 awards, has named Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" the best film of the year.

The win came out of the blue, with Payne's delicate blend of drama and comedy not figuring in any of the other awards handed out by LAFCA. But Payne has been a favorite of the group for years, with previous wins for his films "About Schmidt" and "Sideways."

The DescendantsEarlier in a day filled with critics' awards, "The Descendants" was named to the American Film Institute's Top 10 list. But it has not been named the year's best film by another other critics groups, most of which have gone for Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist."

That film was shut out of LAFCA awards.

In a clear indication of how the Los Angeles group goes its own way, its Best Actor and Best Actress awards went to Michael Fassbender and Yun Jung-hee.

Fassbender won for four separate movies: "A Dangerous Method," "Shame," "Jane Eyre" and "X-Men: First Class" — making the LAFCA awards certainly the first time that last film has been mentioned in the acting categories this year.

The selection of Yun Jung-hee for her performance in the Korean film "Poetry" was entirely in keeping with the LAFCA, which nearly always gives one of its top acting awards to a performer entirely outside the mainstream and outside the awards conversation.

Terrence Malick was named Best Director for the unconventional and ambitious "The Tree of Life," with Martin Scorsese taking the runner-up spot for "Hugo."

The group named Christopher Plummer and Jessica Chastain the year's best supporting actor and actress, respectively.

Plummer was honored for "Beginners." Chastain was saluted for the remarkable six films in which she appeared in 2011: "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "The Help," "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields" and "The Tree of Life."

In other early awards, the critics honored the screenplay to "A Separation," the cinematography of "The Tree of Life," the production design of "Hugo" and the music from "Hanna."

Werner Herzog's 3D "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" was named Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Film, while "City of Life and Death" was named Best Foreign-Language Film.

Known as a contentious group split between mainstream critics and  those with more adventurous tastes, LAFCA is not generally a reliable Oscar precursor.

In recent years, the organization has given its top award to "The Social Network," "The Hurt Locker," "WALL-E," "There Will Be Blood," "Letters from Iwo Jima," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Sideways." Of those winners, only "Hurt Locker" went on to win the Best Picture Oscar – something no other LAFCA winner had done since "Schindler's List" in 1993.

The 35-year-old organization also has a history of making unexpected choices in the acting categories, including Sacha Baron Cohen (2006 co-Best Actor for "Borat"), Kim Hye-ja (2010 Best Actress, "Mother"), Yolande Moreau (2009 Best Actress, "Seraphine") and Vlad Ivanov (2007 Best Supporting Actor, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days").

The winners:

Picture: "The Descendants"
     Runner-up: "The Tree of Life"
Director: Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"
     Runner-up: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"
Actor: Michael Fassbender, "A Dangerous Method," "Jane Eyre," "Shame" and "X-Men: First Class"
     Runner-up: Michael Shannon, "Take Shelter"
Actress: Yun Jung-hee, "Poetry"
     Runner up: Kirsten Dunst, "Melancholia"
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
     Runner-up: Patton Oswalt, "Young Adult"
Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "The Help," "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields," "The Tree of Life"
     Runner-up: Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"
Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"
     Runner-up: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"
Foreign-language Film: "City of Life and Death"
     Runner-up: "A Separation"
Animation: "Rango"
     Runner-up: "The Adventures of Tintin"
Documentary / Non-fiction Film: "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
     Runner-up: "The Arbor"
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, "The Tree of Life"
     Runner-up: Cao Yu, "City of Life and Death"
Music/score: The Chemical Brothers, "Hanna"
     Runner-up: Cliff Martinez, "Drive"
Production Design: Dante Ferretti, "Hugo"
     Runner-up: Maria Djurkovic, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Independent/Experimental Film/Video: "Spark of Being"
New Generation: Antonio Campos, Sean Durkin, Josh Mond and Elizabeth Olsen, "Martha Marcy May Marlene: