In a meeting at New York's Algonquin Hotel this week, the National Society of Film Critics selected Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" the Best Film of 1984. Jarmusch's film, a comedy in black and white, was shot on a budget of a little more than $100,000.
"Are you kidding? Of course it's unusual," said Jack Kroll of Newsweek, one of the 40 members of the self-selecting body of film critics. "The commercial establishment is quite likely to say, 'Leave it to them to pick a 10-cent movie when we're out here spending $10 million.' "
Robert Bresson, the longtime French avant-garde master, was selected Best Director for his movie "L'Argent." Cinecom, which is distributing "L'Argent," plans to open the movie in Washington later this year. "Stranger Than Paradise" is scheduled to open here later this month.
Steve Martin copped Best Actor laurels for "All of Me"; Vanessa Redgrave was named Best Actress for her portrait of the feminist Olive Chancellor in "The Bostonians."
John Malkovich inspired the evening's most solid consensus, winning Best Supporting Actor for his roles in "The Killing Fields" and "Places in the Heart." Melanie Griffith snagged the Best Supporting Actor garland for her performance as a gum-snapping porn star in "Body Double." "Splash" was awarded Best Screenplay; Chris Menges won the Best Cinematography prize for his work in "The Killing Fields" and "Comfort and Joy." "Stop Making Sense," which tied for second place in the Best Film category (along with "Entre Nous" and "L'Argent") was named Best Documentary.
In so voting, the National Society critics declined to follow the lead of the New York Film Critics Circle, which heaped awards on "A Passage to India," or their Los Angeles brethren, whose awards were swept by "Amadeus." Those two films, along with "The Killing Fields," "Places in the Heart" and "A Soldier's Story," are the leading contenders for the Oscars.
Unlike the meeting of the New York Film Critics Circle, attended by many of the same critics, the conclave was relaxed and convivial, fueled by a premeeting cocktail party at the fabled hotel. "It's always so gloomy, because people hate to be there so long," said Stephen Schiff, the Vanity Fair critic-at-large who was elected to a second term as chairman of the group. "So I made it run briskly." Proxy votes were dropped after the first ballot; this seemed to help "Stranger Than Paradise," which came from behind "The Killing Fields."
The idiosyncratic voting was credited in part to the exclusivity of the group, which, unlike the New York Circle, votes each year on admitting new members. "This group has always been more interesting than New York," said David Ansen of Newsweek, a member of both. "You don't always get your middle-of-the-road choices."
But more important was the absence of several of the more conventional critics. "There is a group of hard-nosed regular newspaper-journalist types who don't seem to like this group very much," said one critic. "They all stayed home this year. So the choices tended to be a little hipper."