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Film critics choose ‘The Rider’ as best picture of 2018

(L-R) Composer Nathan Halpern, actor Brady Jandreau, director Chloe Zhao, actor Tim Jandreau, and executive producers Michael Sagol and Jasper Thomlinson attend a screening of 'The Rider' during the 55th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on October 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 movie 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 among 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 U.S. media outlets. The 53rd annual awards were hosted by New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Justin Chang, the society’s chairman and the Los Angeles Times’ film critic, told The Associated Press that 2018 yielded “an embarrassment of riches” among new movies, 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.

The film, directed by a Beijing-born woman who was educated in the United States and lives here, “is a mixture of documentary realism and fiction,” Chang said. “She uses nonprofessional 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 movies.”

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.

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

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

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

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