In Middle of Wide-Open Awards Season, Critics Chime In, But Is Anyone Listening? (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst reviews the choices of the numerous critics groups that announced their year-end awards this week.
Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour"

This past week, as happens around this time every awards season, critics from around the country began to voice their opinions about the awards race. With all of the contenders having now been screened for the press, the first critics "top 10" lists started to emerge from influential publications like Sight & Sound magazine (which aggregates critical opinion) and from individual critics like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. Also, critics groups began meeting for their annual votes to determine their collective choices for their year-end awards -- we heard from the New York Film Critics Circle on Dec. 3, the National Board of Review on Dec. 5 and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online on Dec. 9.

When a film or performance receives recognition of this sort, it is, of course, never a bad thing, but the extent to which it actually helps them with Academy members is debatable. Few critics' year-end favorites or critics groups' choices have historically correlated with many choices of the Academy, which tends to embrace more accessible and widely appealing films and performances than they do. Two years ago, for instance, The Social Network topped many critics' top 10 lists and was voted best film by virtually every major critics group, but it still lost to The King's Speech when people who actually make films got the chance to voice their opinion through guild awards and ultimately the Academy Awards.

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What critics and critics groups can do, however, particularly when several of them agree about a film or performance, is shine a bright spotlight that piques people's curiosity, (A) introducing new contenders into the discussion and/or (B) elevating the standing of those that were already considered to be in the mix.

We all already knew that Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) was a serious contender for the best actor Oscar before NYFCC, BSFC and NYFCO gave him their awards in that category, and that Austria's Amour is probably the favorite for the best foreign language film Oscar before the NYFCC, NBR and NYFCO named it as their pick.

But how many Academy members had on their radar veteran character actress Ann Dowd (Compliance) for best supporting actress before NBR awarded her their prize in that category? Or Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea) for best actress before NYFCC singled her out? Or Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild) for best supporting actor before LAFCA heralded him?

And then, in the category of people who were already regarded as contenders but now might be taken a bit more seriously are NBR's best actor pick Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook); 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), who was voted best actress by all three groups that voted on Sunday, LAFCA (in a tie with Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence), BSFC, and NYFCO; and especially Zero Dark Thirty and its director Kathryn Bigelow, the best film and best director choices, respectively, of the NYFCC, NBR, BSFC and NYFC.

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Finally, the critics groups only added to the confusion of several other close categories. The best animated feature awards were split between Frankenweenie (NYFCC, LAFCA and BSFC), Wreck-It-Ralph (NBR) and Chico & Rita (NYFCO), a film that was eligible for the Oscar last year. And the best documentary feature awards were divided between Searching for Sugar Man (NBR), The Gatekeepers (LAFCA), How to Survive a Plague (BSFC) and The Central Park Five (NYFCC and NYFCO), a film that the Academy's documentary branch didn't even include on its Oscar shortlist.

One of the largest critics groups, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, will reveal its nominations Tuesday morning.