Year-end awards from critics groups have two purposes in the big-picture (which is to say the Oscar) context. In the aggregate, if enough of the groups are in agreement to form a consensus, they can make an accolade seem like an established fact–sort of a “how could you dare to ignore this?” message. (Although as The Social Network can testify, that’s still no guarantee of Oscar success.) And individual awards can showcase less-prominent talent in the hope of gathering support for at least a nomination, lest that person otherwise get no recognition at all.
The New York Film Critics Circle, which has lately decided that it has to be the first group out with its awards (although at least this year they waited until they’d seen all the year’s movies before voting), seemed to do a little of both this year.
The marquee awards of Best Picture and Best Director went to Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which doesn’t open until December 19 and is already riding a wave of excellent early reviews and enthusiastic tweets. Also showing strength was Lincoln, which won major awards for Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Supporting Actress Sally Field and Best Screenplay by Tony Kushner. If those choices are echoed by other groups, they could gain (or strengthen, in the case of Day-Lewis) frontrunner status.
The “please don’t forget this one” award was Best Actress for Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, an excellent performance in a turgid art film that was barely seen outside the film festival circuit. Also benefiting from some attention was Matthew McConaughey, awarded as Best Supporting Actor for his roles in both Magic Mike and Bernie. McConaughey had a great year (the group didn’t even cite his work in Killer Joe and The Paperboy), and this could be his time, if he can gather some momentum.
The day’s big losers: Les Miserables (although the Oscar path for that film is likely through popular success and Guild awards, rather than the critics), Argo and especially Silver Linings Playbook, which badly needs a surge of critical support, and couldn’t even win what was supposed to be its signature award for Jennifer Lawrence.
Other awards were Best Foreign Film to the festival-praised Amour, Best Documentary to The Central Park Five, Best First Film to the documentary How to Survive A Plague , and the surprising choice of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, for Best Animated FIlm.
Next up is the National Board of Review on Wednesday, followed by the Los Angeles Film Critics next weekend and a slew of others (including the Golden Globe nominations) next week.
Best Film -Zero Dark Thirty
Best Director - Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Best Screenplay - Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Best Actress -Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
Best Foreign Language Film - Amour
Best Animated Film - Frankenweenie
Best Supporting Actor - Matthew McConaughey (Bernie, Magic Mike)
Best Supporting Actress - Sally Field (Lincoln)
Best Cinematographer - Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty)
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary) - The Central Park Five
Best First Film - David France (How To Survive A Plague)