Critics’ choices: SEFCA 2015 shines on Spotlight

Director Tom McCarthy’s factbased ensemble drama Spotlight, widely considered a front-runner in this years Academy Awards race, bested all competition in the annual year-end voting of the Southeastern Film Critics’ Association (SEFCA) and was named the best film of 2015.

“Spotlight was a clear favorite with our members,” said SEFCA president Philip Martin, chief film critic at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in an official statement released Monday. “It was an exceptionally deep year, with 99 movies – as opposed to about 80 most years – receiving at least one vote in the poll. But Spotlight appeared on 80 percent of the ballots and received 19 No. 1 votes, by far the most of any film. Rarely have we had that sort of consen sus about the top film.”

Currently in release from Open Road Films, Spotlight is a compelling dramatization of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prizewinning investigation into the ongoing cover-up of child molestation within the Catholic Church, and boasts an all-star cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and Brian d’Arcy James.

McCarthy and Josh Singer’s screenplay received top honor in SEFCA’s Original Screenplay category, the runner-up being Bob Petersen and Pete Docter for the Pixar/Disney animated smash Inside Out, and Spotlight reaped the top spot for the Best Ensemble Acting category, with The Big Short the runner-up.

“It’s interesting to note that five actors – Keaton, Slattery, James, Ruffalo and Schreiber – received votes in the Best Supporting Actor category for their work in Spotlight,” said Martin. “Keaton also received a vote in the Best Actor category.” (Last year, Keaton won SEFCA’s Best Actor award for his performance in Birdman.)

Spotlight director McCarthy was the runner-up in the Best Director category, topped by George Miller for his post-apocalyptic blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Best Actor award went to Bryan Cranston for his turn as real-life Hollywood screenwriter and Blacklist victim Dalton Trumbo in (what else?) Trumbo, with Michael Fassbender the runner-up for his turn as real-life techno-messiah Steve Jobs in (what else?) Steve Jobs.

Brie Larson won Best Actress for Room, with Saoirse Ronan the runner-up for Brooklyn. The inimitable Sylvester Stallone has proven his signature character Rocky Balboa is never down for the count by winning Best Supporting Actor for Creed, with Mark Rylance the runner-up as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies. Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress for Ex Machina with Kate Winslet the runner-up for Steve Jobs.

Emma Donoghue won Best Adapted Screenplay for Room, having also penned the best-selling novel upon which the film is based, and Charles Randolph and Adam McKay scored the runner-up position for The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction best-seller. Asif Kapadia’s Amy, which traces the meteoric life of singer Amy Winehouse, won Best Documentary Feature, with Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s Best of Enemies, about the televised William F. Buckley/Gore Vidal debates during the 1968 Presidential election, was the runner-up.

Laszlo Nemes’ Holocaust drama Son of Saul (Saul fia) won Best Foreign Language Feature, with Hsaio-Hsien Hou’s period adventure The Assassin (Nie yin niang) the runner-up. Inside Out won Best Animated Feature, with Anomalisa the runner-up. John Seale’s work on Mad Max: Fury Road won Best Cinematography, with Luca Bigazzi’s lensing of Youth the runner-up.

Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel’s offbeat documentary Finders Keepers, detailing the dispute over an amputated foot (!), won the Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South, which is named for the late film critic and SEFCA charter member. Is it any surprise that Finders Keepers takes place in North Carolina?

Last year, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel squeaked past Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman in one of the closest SEFCA races ever to win Best Picture, but history did not repeat itself in 2015, as Spotlight cruised to victory to claim the big one.

SEFCA’s Top 10 list was as follows:

Spotlight Mad Max: Fury Road Room Brooklyn Carol The Big Short The Martian Inside Out Bridge of Spies Trumbo

Each year, the SEFCA awards are voted on by professional critics in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. This year, 55 critics (including yours truly) cast votes. !