LAFCA President Simon Says: Inception Not on my Top Ten

On Sunday, October 24th, members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will gather to decide who is going to receive their 2010 Career Achievement award. As with all matters involving LAFCA, the man at the helm of the proceedings will be President Brent Simon, truly one of the nicest-guy film critics out there.

Because LAFCA has had a history with this award and others of thinking outside the publicist box – past Career kudos for example have gone to editor Dede Allen, cinematographer Conrad Hall, executive John Calley and French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo – they are fairly impervious to the full-court PR press. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get heated this coming weekend.

“We frequently have around two dozen Career candidates,” reveals Simon via e-mail interview with FishbowlLA. “Any member who nominates an individual speaks for a bit about their reasoning, and we typically have at least eight to ten solid candidates who garner the majority of the vote. Sometimes, candidates make strong showings several years in a row before being selected. Other times, they remain perennial bridesmaids.”

LAFCA recently added LA Weekly critic Karina Longworth and Los Angeles Times independent film beat man Mark Olsen to its ranks, which puts the organization’s membership at 54. As the LAFCA ranks have swelled, so too have the number of slots available for the Oscar derby’s Best Picture prize. We asked Simon what he thought the chances were for our Best Picture of the year so far (sorry, The Social Network).

“I think the expansion of the Best Picture race absolutely guarantees Inception a seat at the table come Oscar time,” Simon (pictured) predicts. “Academy voters love spectacle, and while they’re often quite slow to warm to genre offerings, it’s clear that they respect Christopher Nolan a great deal. I also think the film’s commercial relevance ($800 million worldwide) is a big plus, as well as the fact that it’s an original idea.”

Simon then goes on to make a bold statement. “I don’t think Inception would even slot into my current Top Ten,” he announces. “I definitely enjoyed the ride, but – though it sounds like a coldly clinical diagnosis – the movie’s lack of a proper antagonist helped render the willy-nilly finale a bit less gripping for me than it was for others.”

Alongside his LAFCA duties, Simon is currently the film editor at H Magazine as well as a regular contributor to Screen International, New York Magazine’s Vulture and Magill’s Cinema Annual. He also comments on cinema and politics via his evocatively named blog For the Greensboro, NC native, one of the year’s true film highlights so far has come from the documentary The Tillman Story.

“I don’t know if there’s a more jaw-dropping documentary scene this year than the footage of Pat Tillman’s brother at his funeral, telling off the pro-military crowd in the audience – which included John McCain – and saying that his brother was not in heaven, but rather just dead,” suggests Simon.

Meanwhile, on the unavoidable Hollywood junket trail, Simon says a recent standout interview session involved yet another documentary, Countdown to Zero. “I had a fascinating chat with outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson,” he remembers. “To hear her get to talk about her heretofore private passion was quite interesting, to say the least.”

Update – 10/24: LAFCA has chosen Paul Mazursky as its 2010 Career Achievement honoree. Says Simon via today’s press release: ““It’s impossible to imagine American independent cinema in its current form without Paul Mazursky, in all his multi-hyphenate glory. From his work as an actor, including in Stanley Kubrick’s first film, Fear and Desire, to his genre-spanning career as a writer and director, Mazursky is a great figure of world cinema as well as an American original, and LAFCA is proud to honor him.”