Critics' Choice Awards Draws Oscar Nominees for an Audition, of Sorts

'Dallas Buyers Club'

This fact-based drama stars Matthew McConaughey as the real-life Texas electrician Ron Woodroof, who was blindsided with an HIV diagnosis and procures non-toxic alternatives treatments from all over the world through both legal and illegal means.

The 19th Critics' Choice Awards, hosted by Aisha Tyler, took place at Barker Hanger in Santa Monica on Thursday night, just hours after the Academy revealed its 86th Oscar nominations -- and, in my humble opinion, many of the night's big winners stand a strong shot of repeating their victories at the Oscars on March 2.

12 Years a Slave took home best pic, receiving a standing ovation from much of the audience when it was announced as the winner by Julia Roberts. (Other presenters included Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Jessica Chastain, Margot Robbie and Ben Kingsley.) Best director, however, went to Gravity's Alfonso Cuaron. Dallas Buyers Club claimed best actor (Matthew McConaughey) and best supporting actor (Jared Leto), Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett won best actress and newcomer Lupita Nyong'o rebounded from her Golden Globes loss to win best supporting actress. And Her won best original screenplay, 20 Feet from Stardom was awarded best documentary, The Great Gatsby was recognized for its art direction and costume design, American Hustle's makeup was feted and Gravity cleaned up in the technical races.

The Critics' Choice Awards, which are determined by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), of which I am a member, have one of the stronger track records when it comes to "predicting" the Oscars. The BFCA's best picture choice has gone on to win the best picture Oscar in six of the last seven years (only The Social Network missed), and their acting winners have matched up on 12 of 16 occasions over the last four years. There is, of course, no particular rhyme or reason for this -- the BFCA is comprised of roughly 250 people who report on movies, whereas the Academy is comprised of 6,028 people who make them -- but that doesn't keep people from paying very close attention to who is nominated for or wins the Critics' Choice Awards.

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One of the things about the Critics' Choice Awards that appeal to Oscar hopefuls is the chance to get up on stage in a room full of industry insiders -- with a large audience also watching at home over The CW Network -- and make a strong impression on them. For the winners of the traditional categories, a strong acceptance speech can increase, to some degree, the likelihood of wins at other events that are still to come, like the Screen Actors Guild Awards; as the best actor winner, McConaughey, for instance, got a moment in the spotlight, gave a speech that reminded people about why they like him and hit on his key talking points (that he recently rebooted his career out of a desire to do better work, etc.) and may have won over some people who weren't already in his camp for other awards shows. This is how momentum builds over the course of the season.

The BFCA also, shrewdly, created a bunch of categories that do not exist at the Oscars or most other award shows, but which offer other contenders a chance to step up to the podium and make strong impressions of their own. For instance, on Thursday night, Oscar nominees Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) won best actor in a comedy, Amy Adams (American Hustle) won best actress in a comedy, Sandra Bullock (Gravity) won best actress in an action movie, the cast of American Hustle won best ensemble and Before Midnight scribes Richard Linklater, Ethank Hawke and Julie Delpy accepted something called the Louis XIII Genius Award. The potential for those moments, in addition to or instead of traditional recognition (all of the above were also nominated in the corresponding mainstream categories), certainly served as an incentive for these folks to show up at the ceremony (and grittingly endure tons of photograph requests from star-struck journalists during commercial breaks).

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It must be noted that another noteworthy thing about the Critics' Choice Awards is that it has been held, last year and this year, on the night of the day on which Oscar nominations were announced at 5:30am PST. This is not particularly appreciated by the folks -- journalists and talent -- who had to get up at the crack of dawn for the noms, but it does turn the ceremony into a great spectator sport, since everyone is curious to see whether the highest-profile Oscar snub victims who were also nominated for a Critics' Choice Award will still show up. Last year, to their credit, Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper all did, and this year Daniel Bruhl, Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey did, as well. (Robert Redford was never going to be able to attend; his Sundance Film Festival kicked off tonight in Utah.)

For most of those in attendance, though -- talent, publicists and journalists -- the ceremony really served as one thing above all others: a last gasp of fresh air before we all submerge ourselves into the chaos and madness that is the second phase of the awards season, beginning first thing tomorrow. Let the games begin!

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg