The timing of these critics' groups votes is crucial -- at least to critics' groups, who are all trying to outdo each other in an effort to build their own importance. The New York Film Critics Circle, described in their press release as "the oldest and most prestigious [critics group] in the country," typically hand out their awards early in the season and, as such, are considered an important stepping stone to a film's total Oscar dominance.
Last year, in response to groups like the National Board of Review pushing up their own awards, the NYFCC moved up their own voting. They moved it up so early, in fact, that they were unable to see at least one notable Oscar contender ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which, in retrospect, was not that big of a deal) and pissed off the producers of another ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," after NYFCC member David Denby broke his embargo and wrote his review following a private, for-your-consideration-type screening). I have to assume the blowback from that chaos convinced the organization to restore their voting to its traditional spot in the first week of December.
Either way, that's all inside baseball stuff: the really important part of this news is the fact that the NYFCC, which has a reputation for being mighty stingy with their membership cards, has inducted three new critics into their ranks; all talented, all young, and all certainly (in my eyes, anyway) worthy of the honor. With a distressing number of NYFCC members losing their full-time jobs in the last year (including the Voice's J. Hoberman and Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek), it's good to see them acknowledge the shifting critical landscape in New York, and recognize some of its best young voices.
Now nobody let Denby near "Les Miserables" until he's allowed to write about it...