More relevant to the Oscars than the Indie Spirits nominations is the momentum built up during the Season of the Critic – from now all the way through December, we will be hearing from every critics’ group under the sun on their choices for the best of the best of the year, and while critical acclaim is hardly necessary for Oscar success, it can be really pretty helpful when it comes to giving outside contenders some time in the spotlight.
For the past two years, the critics have almost unanimously rallied behind two films: “The Hurt Locker” and “The Social Network.” Why did “The Hurt Locker” ultimately prevail at the Academy Awards, while “The Social Network” fell by the wayside? Well, the critics have to walk a delicate line when it comes to telling Academy voters what to think. I think, perhaps, that the critical attention for “The Hurt Locker” was necessary, because it made the film a top priority for voters when it came to watching their screeners, and once they saw it, its artistry could not be denied; without the critics, the film might’ve been completely ignored. On the other hand, industry types were going to be watching the latest David Fincher-directed, Aaron Sorkin-penned drama no matter what; the bevy of critics awards felt less like a plea for Academy voters just to watch the film, and more like a direct order for what they should give Best Picture.
Who really knows. The general expectation for this year is that the critics will be a bit more scattered, with plenty of discerning choices available, from “The Tree of Life” and “Drive” to “The Descendants” and “Shame.”
The New York Film Critics’ Circle, however, decided today to start things off with a resounding “None of the above,” instead agreeing on the cinephile crowd-pleaser of the season, “The Artist.” Could the silent tribute to early filmmakers turn into an unexpected juggernaut? Harvey Weinstein is certainly doing his best to see that it does, but I would still suspect that the wealth will get spread around a bit more. What’s clear is that if you still don’t think a silent, black and white French film can win the Oscar, it’s time to wake up. People who see this movie love it. I certainly can’t wait to finally get at some point in the next couple of weeks.
Elsewhere, the NYFCC provided a major boost to “Moneyball,” which had always been lurking on the edges but now looks to be a legitimate contender. It needed some critic’s notices to stay in the conversation, and a Screenplay nod for Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, as well as recognition of Brad Pitt’s work in the film (along with “The Tree of Life;” the NYFCC has no problem earmarking an actor for several roles in the same year, even if Pitt was more supporting in Malick’s opus) guarantee that we’re going to keep talking about it. And I say bully to that.
The victory for Streep in “The Iron Lady” is boringly familiar; the NYFCC also gave her their prize in 2009 for “Julie & Julia.” The nod for Chastain is well deserved, of course, but by recognizing her for all three of her best roles this year, the critics have provided absolutely no help in whittling her down to one surefire contender.
So the biggest bumps here are obviously for “The Artist,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life,” and Albert Brooks’ supporting campaign for “Drive-” anything else that catches your eye here?
- Best Picture: “The Artist”
- Best Director: Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
- Best Actor: Brad Pitt, “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life”
- Best Actress: Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
- Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, “Drive”
- Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, “The Help,” “Take Shelter,” “The Tree of Life”
- Best Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, “Moneyball”
- Best First Feature: Margin Call
- Best Non-Fiction Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
- Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
- Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life”
- Special Award: filmmaker Raoul Ruiz (posthumous)