Are you a fan of hearing that people have won things? Then you're in luck, because between now and the end of February, you'll struggle to go 24 hours without some kind of awards news. After the Gothams and the Independent Spirit nominations last week, the first major salvos of the awards season were fired this week, with the New York Film Critics' Circle giving out their prizes on Monday, and the National Board of Review awarding theirs yesterday.
Neither are necessarily the most reliable of prognosticators -- like all critic's groups, NYFCC can lean artier or more esoteric than the Academy, while the NBR, like the Golden Globes, are mostly intended to seek attention and to rub shoulders with movie stars. But it does indicate a certain amount about where things are heading at this stage, with Oscar ballots two weeks away from going out, and most of this year's films out in the marketplace, or close to it. Below are the most crucial things we've learned from the awards so far.
It took the NYFCC five hours to get through their voting this year, against three last year, and generally less in prior years. This suggests that the debate was more heated than ever, and backs up something that's becoming increasingly clear about this field; there's very little consensus, and a wide range of players in contention. Some have suggested that there could only be six or seven Best Picture nominees, but we feel the exact opposite is true; we're expecting nine or ten (and to be honest, expect that to be the case in most years, at least until the rules change). And while "Amour" in Foreign Language, Anne Hathaway as Best Supporting Actress, and Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor are seemingly frontrunners, a lot of room remains for upsets to that lineup. All of the major films have pros and cons behind them, and this year lacks the kind of popular favorite present in the past two years in "The Artist" and "The King's Speech." Expect to be guessing about many of the categories right up until Oscar night.
Learning that Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" won Director and Feature at the NBR and the NYFCC (picking up Best Actress at the former as well) would make many (including some hasty, shifting-with-the-wind Oscar bloggers) suggest that the Bin Laden movie is now the presumptive frontrunner. We'd disagree. There's no denying that "Zero Dark Thirty" is in a very strong position; it's assured of a nomination, and it'll certainly challenge for Best Picture and many other awards. But neither the NYFCC and the NBR are great precursors for this category; the former matched the Academy four out of the last ten years ("The Artist," "The Hurt Locker," "No Country For Old Men," and "Return of the King"), the NBR only twice ('No Country' and "Slumdog Millionaire"). This could, of course, be an outlying year -- 'ZDT' has as good a chance as anything. But it is a procedural, a film for the brain, not the heart, and it remains to be seen how the audience -- both within the Academy and on a broader scale -- respond to it. Whereas more naturally crowd-pleasing films, in particular the going-down-like-gangbusters "Les Miserables," was never going to be something that did well with the NYFCC. "Zero Dark Thirty" has the traction right now; but don't forget the last film to win both was "The Social Network," another fearsomely smart, somewhat chilly movie that took home all kinds of guild awards, only to beaten by a Tom Hooper movie...