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Chinese director Chloe Zhao’s ‘The Rider’ picked best picture of 2018 by US film critics

  • ‘It’s a heartbreaking movie with a lot of staying power,’ the US National Society of Film Critics said of Beijing-born filmmaker’s piece
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 11:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 10:34pm

The National Society of Film Critics on Saturday chose Chloe Zhao’s low-budget debut feature, The Rider, as best picture of 2018.

Director Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white Roma period piece set in modern Mexico won the most awards – as best picture runner-up, best foreign-language film and for best cinematography. Cuaron also got the award for best director.

The society of leading film critics voted for Olivia Colman as best actress in The Favourite and Ethan Hawke as best actor in First Reformed. The top accolade for best supporting actor went to Steve Yeun of Burning, while Regina King of If Beale Street Could Talk nabbed best supporting actress. About 40 of the society’s 64 members voted.

Best screenplay went to The Death of Stalin, and best non-fiction film to Minding the Gap, a documentary directed by Bing Liu about the complex friendship between three skateboarding young men, including himself, in their hometown of Rockford, Illinois.

The film critics society was founded in 1966, electing its voting critics from newspapers and other major US media outlets. The 53rd annual awards were hosted by New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Centre.

Justin Chang, the society’s chairman and the Los Angeles Times’ film critic, said 2018 yielded “an embarrassment of riches” among new films, but The Rider stood out among them – a contemporary western drama shot in the badlands of South Dakota.

There, a family living in a trailer against the backdrop of the rodeo circuit struggles with autism, brain damage from a bronc riding competition, drinking and gambling, but somehow endures.

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The film, directed by a woman from Beijing who was educated in the US and now lives there, “is a mixture of documentary realism and fiction”, Chang said.

“She uses non-professional actors in a way that’s intimate and organic; it’s a heartbreaking movie with a lot of staying power.”

He noted that the society does not base its choices either on a film’s box office or its budget. “We care about the quality of the films.”

The 2018 winners reflect this year’s wide ethnic and technical diversity in film production, including Burning, a South Korean mystery drama directed by Lee Chang-dong.

Roma, directed by the Mexican-born Cuaron, has also been named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

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“A lot of directors are rediscovering the striking, atmospheric properties of black-and-white cinema,” Chang said – including Cuaron, who also directed the 2001 prize-winning Y Tu Mama Tambien.

In Roma, Cuaron’s lavish visuals capture a young domestic worker in the Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City in the 1970s, exploding with domestic, social and political turmoil.

“It’s the critical hit of the season,” Chang said.