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Early this morning, the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) — of which I am proud to be a voting member — revealed its nominations for the 17th annual Critics’ Choice Awards, which will take place on January 12 in Hollywood.
In recent years, the BFCA’s choices have correlated with the Academy’s as often as any of the early awards groups’. Last year, the two agreed on nine out of 10 best picture nominees and 18 acting nominees (though, in fairness, the BFCA sometimes includes six nominees in each acting category, whereas the Academy always has just five), and for the past two years they agreed on the same four acting winners. It is a pattern that is hard to explain, since they have literally no overlap — the BFCA is composed of roughly 250 journalists, while the Academy is made up of over 6,000 filmmakers — but it is also one that is hard to ignore. Consequently, people like me who try to predict the Oscars pay very close attention to what the BFCA has to say.
So what are the big trends and take-aways from today’s announcement?
- It’s looking like we may be in for a best picture Oscar battle between the movies about the movies, The Artist and Hugo, which have looked like two of the strongest contenders for weeks (along with The Descendants), and solidified that standing with a field-leading eleven nominations each this morning. Neither film was built to win Oscars in the way that, say, The King’s Speech was last year — indeed, the former is a silent black-and-white film and the latter is a kids’ movie — but if even jaded critics and pundits are susceptible to their emotional wiles, then it’s hard to imagine that Academy members won’t be.
- Several films had very disappointing mornings. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Margin Call, and Margaret were all completely shutout by the BFCA. (Margaret never screened widely and screeners of it were not mailed out, so that snub is not especially surprising; Margin Call is a small movie that seemed to have a very passionate media following, so that snub is somewhat surprising; but the snub of Tinker is pretty worrisome, as it has been well-reviewed by critics, and if even they are shunning it then it’s hard to imagine others responding very differently. I still think it will show up in several below-the-line categories at the Oscars, but my doubts about its prospects for best picture, best actor, and best adapted screenplay nods have been reawakened.)
- Other semi-snubs: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to make it into the best picture or best director (David Fincher) races, which it would probably have been more likely to do with this voting body than any other, since Fincher is a longtime critics’ favorite. (It only registered for best film editing and best original score.) War Horse was denied a best adapted screenplay nod and Beginners was denied a best original screenplay nod. The Adventures of Tintin was nominated for best animated film, but not for best original score (John Williams) or best visual effects. And Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 was nominated only for best art direction, best makeup, best sound, and best visual effects, despite garnering one of the highest ratings from BFCA members of any film this year.
- Drive, a neo-noir thriller, did much better than most people anticipated, tying with The Help for the third most nominations with eight: best picture, best director, best actor (Ryan Gosling), best supporting actor (Albert Brooks), best cinematography, best film editing, best original score, and best action film. As far as the Oscars go, the gruesomely violent film still strikes me as an unlikely bet to crack into the best picture race, but Brooks was already looking like a solid bet even before this, and I’m much more optimistic about the film’s prospects for best actor, best cinematography, best film editing, and best original score nods than I’ve ever been before.
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which we still can’t even talk about, managed four nour nominations — best picture, best director (Stephen Daldry), best adapted screenplay (Eric Roth), and best young actor/actress (Thomas Horn) — despite screening so late in the game that many BFCA members weren’t able to see it in time to vote. Consequently, I have to wonder if some members voted for it without having seen it, based on its strong advance buzz.
- The Ides of March, which many journalists — including myself — liked a lot but had begun to write off due to fading buzz, rebounded with a best ensemble nod today. It didn’t show up in any other categories, which suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that one nod… but if it shows up again tomorrow as a SAG best ensemble nominee then it will be time to take it seriously again.
- A magical week for Bridesmaids continued today with a best supporting actress nod for Melissa McCarthy and a best ensemble nod for the film’s cast. This comes just days after McCarthy was named best supporting actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online and the film made the AFI’s list of the top 10 films of the year and won the New York Film Critics Online’s best ensemble prize. Could this be a surprise best picture Oscar nominee, or is that a bridge too far? I wonder…
- It has long looked like three spots in the best actor Oscar field were locked up — Jean Dujardin (The Artist), George Clooney (The Descendants), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball) — and today’s announcement did nothing to dispel that. For a long time, I thought that Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) had a solid hold on the fourth, but as his film has plummeted in recent weeks I began to question that; today, however, we learned that critics do not hold DiCaprio responsible for J. Edgar‘s shortcomings (rightly so), and that he may yet dig out an Oscar nod for his fine performance. And, as for the fifth and final spot, it has, all along, appeared to be up for grabs amongst a large group of talented actors who did fine work in small films. Today, we learned that two of them may have a better shot than the others: Michael Fassbender (Shame) and Ryan Gosling (Drive). I suppose it makes sense, considering the sort of year that both have had — Fassbender gave strong perfs in four high-profile movies, with Shame stirring up buzz just as ballots came due, and Gosling, the highest-profile of the lot, also had The Ides of March in the discussion. I must admit that it was somewhat surprising to see Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) lose out to both of them; indeed, if the veteran can’t register with even critics, who generally adore him, it’s hard to imagine him registering with the Academy, which has never nominated him.
- The actress race has been among the hardest to crack in recent weeks. Sure, virtually everyone has long agreed that Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Viola Davis (The Help), and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn) have a firm hold on spots, and today’s announcement seemed to confirm that. (Streep will actually be vying for her third BFCA best actress award in four years!) But what of the other two? I’ve been inclined to assume that one would be claimed by Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) for her passion project/return to the screen and that the other would go to one of this year’s young breakthrough actresses, Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), or Felicity Jones (Like Crazy). With the BFCA, the latter panned out, with Olsen snagging a nod, but the former did not, as Close was passed over in favor of two other veterans whose performances have been embraced much more by critics this year: Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Charlize Theron (Young Adult). That is an outcome that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Academy reverse, as both Kevin and Adult are very different from the sorts of films that Academy members tend to gravitate towards.
- In the supporting actor race, the two safe bets have long been Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Albert Brooks (Drive), and the BFCA reaffirmed that this morning. The other slots have been up for grabs amongst a large number of worthy contenders, including many previously-recognized veterans — people like Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Ben Kingsley (Hugo), Kevin Spacey (Margin Call), Jeremy Irons (Margin Call), and the list goes on. The BFCA, however, opted instead for three outside-the-box options — the comeback kid Nick Nolte (Warrior), the standup comic-turned-serious actor Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), and the motion-capture master Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). I suspect that the Academy — rightly or wrongly — will reverse at least one or two of those decisions, which seem a bit too adventurous for their more conservative tastes.
- In the best supporting actress race, the big news is that Jessica Chastain managed to score a nomination despite having five performances up against each other — and that it was for the mainstream blockbuster hit The Help rather than the critically-hailed indie The Tree of Life. If anyone would have been inclined to do the reverse it would have been critics, so that’s a big deal. It is also noteworthy that the BFCA embraced the comedic performance of Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) over the dramatic performances of Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), among others. And it was nice to see Carey Mulligan (Shame) recognized, along with her costar Fassbender, for her raw performance.
- The awards hopes of Arthur Christmas had been left for dead, but has been given a new lease on life by beating out Pixar’s Cars 2 for a spot in the best animated feature category.
- Finally, it should be noted that the BFCA nominated several films that are ineligible for Oscar consideration: Pedro Almodovar‘s The Skin I Live In for best foreign language film (Spain submitted another film for consideration); and the docs Cave of Forgotten Dreams (which exhausted its eligibility with a limited release last year), George Harrison: Living in the Material World (not short-listed by the Academy’s doc branch), and Page One: Inside the New York Times (also not short-listed by the Academy’s doc branch).
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