American Hustle emerged triumphant at the New York Film Critics Circle today, taking awards for Best Picture, Screenplay and Supporting Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. But according to NYFCC member David Edelstein, the vote was a close one. As he told his colleague Jesse David Fox at Vulture:
[T]he final vote for Best Picture resulted in a rare tie-breaker. NYFCC by-laws prevent the actual numbers from being released, but Edelstein said there was a strong American Hustle camp and a strong 12 Years a Slave camp (reflected in McQueen's best director win), and that the vote was remarkably close, with some members expressing "visible dismay" when the final number was tallied. (For his part, Edelstein was "dismayed at the ease with which Cate Blanchett’s phony baloney performance [in Blue Jasmine] was recognized.”)
Usually coming out of the gate in first place (not counting the nebulous National Board of Review), the NYFCC tends to set the table for the critics awards that follow, making every one of their winners a must-see. Apart from Lawrence in American Hustle -- an award that Fox slyly notes may be attributed more to Lawrence's white-hot likability on the talk-show circuit -- there are no major surprises here, but if there were any doubt that Hustle was in the hunt, that's over now.
(Update: Edelstein reached out on Facebook to dispute Fox's implication: "The line about Jennifer Lawrence winning for being "likable" on the talk show circuit is complete nonsense. Say what you will about the NYFCC --and if you're me, you can say plenty -- the members take their responsibilities seriously. And chief among those responsibilities is to recognize great work in any genre and by A-listers, B-listers, or Non-Letter-listers.")
The New York Post's Lou Lumenick posted his own ballot-by-ballot account of the voting procedure to Twitlonger, including the Circle's rules that the proxy ballots of critic not present drop out if a winner is not declared on the first vote, and that, once the balloting shifts to a weighted system where each critic votes for three films, the winner must not only get the most points but must also appear on a majority of ballots. According to an anonymous account relayed to Hollywood Elsewhere, "30 or 31" members were present, with the rest voting by proxy; Lumenick says 30, with 7 proxies. The National Society of Film Critics, which I belong to, uses a similar system, and I can say from experience that both rules can have an enormous impact on the eventual winners. (The Circle at least drops the latter requirement in later rounds; the NSFC keeps voting, and voting, until it's met.)
In particular, Lumenick says that by the fifth ballot for Best Picture, a number of members had left; with only 26 of the NYFCC's 38 members remaining, American Hustle prevailed over 12 Years a Slave, 14-12. A win is a win, and there's no reason the close vote should taint that, but it certainly indicates 12 Years has plenty of life left in it.
Update: Here's what J. Hoberman says will likely be his final ballot for the NYFCC, as he's shifting to covering home video for the New York Times in January. Since every category went to at least a second ballot, Hoberman's proxy would not have factored in any of the eventual winners, but apart from The Wind Rises, it seems he didn't vote for them anyway.
The New York Film Critics Circle Awards for 2013
Best Picture: American Hustle
Best Director: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor: Robert Redford, All Is Lost
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Foreign-Language Film: Blue Is the Warmest Color
Best Animated Film: The Wind Rises
Best Screenplay: American Hustle
Special Award: Frederick Wiseman
Best Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Best First Film: Fruitvale Station
Best Nonfiction Film: Stories We Tell