Critics' Choice Awards: 5 Key Takeaways for Oscar-Watchers

Alfonso Cuaron - Critics' Choice Awards - H Getty 2019
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The 24th Critics' Choice Awards were handed out on Sunday night at a ceremony in Santa Monica. Last year, no awards ceremony's results better "predicted" the eventual Oscar results than those of the Critics' Choice Awards — the two groups overlapped on The Shape of Water for best picture; Guillermo del Toro for best director; Gary Oldman for best actor; Frances McDormand for best actress; Sam Rockwell for best supporting actor; Allison Janney for best supporting actress; Call Me by Your Name and Get Out for best adapted and original screenplay, respectively; Blade Runner 2049 for best cinematography; Phantom Thread for best costume design; Darkest Hour for best makeup and hairstyling; Coco for best animated feature and its "Remember Me" for best original song; and The Shape of Water for best original score and best production design.

The Critics' Choice Awards' film categories are voted on by a few hundred critics and entertainment journalists who are members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (full disclosure: I am one of them), whereas Oscar winners are determined by about 9,000 people who actually work on movies and are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (full disclosure: I am not one of them). There is no overlap between the two, so one really shouldn't have any bearing on the other — and yet Hollywood, as much as any other community, is susceptible to group-think, and so the early big awards shows, like the Critics' Choice Awards, often serve as a guiding light for the people who vote on those that follow.

With just 41 days until the 91st Academy Awards, here are five things that I was thinking about as I left the Critics' Choice Awards...

1. Roma's best picture prospects are not a figment of my imagination

In 91 years, the best picture Oscar has never been awarded to a film that is primarily or entirely in a language other than English, so many have questioned the notion that the first could be Alfonso Cuaron's Spanish-language drama from Mexico — which also happens to be in black-and-white, stars nobody you've ever heard of and is being distributed by Netflix.

I was skeptical that Roma could win the top Critics' Choice Award because, while the BFCA is "a critics' group," and Roma has dominated with critics' groups thus far, the BFCA is a large body that includes members from all over America whose tastes tend to run towards more populist fare — like, say, A Star Is Born, Green Book or Black Panther.

The fact that this group awarded Roma best picture — even though voters could have simply recognized it for best foreign language film and then given the top honor to something else — is a true testament to how strong the film (and its campaign) really is, as are its other wins for best director and best cinematography, which both went to Cuaron.

With Green Book recently kneecapped and A Star Is Born humbled after so-so showings at the Golden Globes and now the Critics' Choice Awards, Roma now looks better positioned than ever to make history in the best picture Oscar category. Meanwhile, if Cuaron wins the best director Oscar, it would mark the fifth time in six years that one of "The Three Amigos" has claimed that honor; and if Cuaron wins the best cinematography Oscar, it will mark the first time ever that the winner in that category also directed the film for which he won (I say "he" because only one female DP has ever even been nominated for the Oscar in that category and did not win).

2) Best actress remains the most fascinating race

In a year packed with excellent lead performances by females, two have emerged as the strongest Oscar contenders: Lady Gaga, the pop star who surprised many by more than holding her own as an actress in A Star Is Born (the first film in which she has ever starred), and Glenn Close, who, in The Wife, reminded people why she has long been regarded as one of our greatest thespians. (The Favourite's Olivia Colman is also outstanding, and won best actress in a comedy honors on Sunday, but it's growing harder to see her beating the other two.)

Close upset Gaga to win the best actress (drama) Golden Globe, and then they tied for the best actress Critics' Choice Award (not long after Gaga won the best original song Critics' Choice Award for "Shallow"). I thought that Gaga had the edge with the BFCA, for which a screener of The Wife might not have been a top priority, and I still feel that way about the upcoming SAG Awards — but, in this case, at least, I underestimated my fellow members, and we got the result that we did.

The contrast between Gaga and Close couldn't be greater in every respect. The rookie and the veteran. The star of a big studio flick and the star of a small art-house one. The emotionally overwhelmed speech-reader (Gaga seems to react to every honor, even ones from our little group, the same way one might expect her to respond to winning an Oscar) and the poised off-the-cuff speaker (Close gave a killer speech at the Globes and another at the Critics' Choice Awards). And while way more Academy members have seen Gaga's movie than Close's, way more Academy members have worked with Close than with Gaga.

All of those are factors that can shape the way an Academy member votes. It will be fascinating to see how this category plays out the rest of the way.

3) Mahershala Ali not only survived the nuking of Green Book, but might be stronger for it

Very few forms of life are supposed to be able to survive a nuclear attack ... but one of them just might be Mahershala Ali.

The Moonlight Oscar winner has faced a seemingly endless barrage of uncomfortable predicaments during his journey with Green Book. First, the family of the man he plays in the film, Dr. Don Shirley, began knocking the movie; then his co-star used the n-word; and then, in the week since he won the best supporting actor Golden Globe, just as Oscar nomination voting was taking place and True Detective's third season was premiering, the pic was nuked by highly unflattering and suspiciously timed media reports about its director Peter Farrelly and co-writer Nick Vallelonga.

And yet, at the Critics' Choice Awards, Ali held off Can You Ever Forgive Me's wonderful Richard E. Grant to win best supporting actor honors — in spite, or perhaps because, of all that he has had to endure with Green Book since the movie went in the can. What I mean is that Ali is extremely well-liked and respected, and while some are no longer comfortable supporting the film in which he appears, they don't want to punish Ali for the sins of others, and may, in fact, want to give him a pat on the back for his suffering. He is now poised to become one of a very small number of people who have won two acting Oscars within three years.

4) Christian Bale is looking good

Hollywood is deeply divided about Vice, but not about the performance at its center: Christian Bale as Dick Cheney. A week after winning the best actor (musical/comedy) Golden Globe, Bale won the best actor and the best actor in a comedy Critics' Choice awards for his chameleonic performance.

Academy members, like BFCA members, are likely to have the option to give a first Oscar to A Star Is Born's Bradley Cooper, Bohemian Rhapsody's Rami Malek or Green Book's Viggo Mortensen — all eminently worthy candidates. But even people who don't like Vice come away from it blown away by how much Bale, one of our greatest actors, captures the "Darth Vader" of politics, body and soul.

That's why Vice's hairstyling and makeup team have been shortlisted for an Oscar nomination and won the Critics' Choice Award, and it's why Bale — who won the best supporting actor Oscar eight years ago for The Fighter  — is still the man to beat in the current best actor race. (He would join Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington and Kevin Spacey as the only men who have won both lead and supporting acting Oscars.)

5) The cliffhanger of Regina King v. Amy Adams

Two lovely and amazing actresses who have never received the Oscar love they deserve have been going head-to-head for the best supporting actress prize all season: If Beale Street Could Talk's Regina King, who has never been Oscar-nominated, and Vice's Amy Adams, who has been Oscar-nominated but gone home empty-handed five times, one short of the record for a living performer (currently held by the aforementioned Close, who is 0-for-6),

King, an Emmy winner in three of the last four years, beat Adams at the Globes and again at the Critics' Choice Awards, receiving very enthusiastic applause from the audiences at both shows — but, it must be acknowledged, there is some historical reason to doubt that she can beat Adams at the Oscars.

King's Beale Street performance was not nominated for a SAG Award or a BAFTA Award, two important precursors. BAFTA has a troublesome history when it comes to recognizing black performers, so we may be able to chalk up the BAFTA snub to that — but SAG does not. And in the 24 years in which SAG has previously presented acting awards, only two performances that weren't even nominated for a SAG honor went on to win an Oscar: Christoph Waltz's in Django Unchained (2012), who was awarded best supporting actor, and Marcia Gay Harden's in Pollock, who was awarded best supporting actress.