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The State of the Race: The NYFCC Shakes Things Up

This morning, the New York Film Critics announced that they’re moving up their voting date to November 28, before the National Board of Review announces and becoming the first major critics groups to announce their choices.  This could have been done for two reasons.  The first is that they want to put distance between themselves and the other award announcements. This, because they can no longer tolerate being one more member of the orgy.  It could also be because they want to be first.  I doubt that’s the reason. I think they are trying to create distance.

Let’s face it.  No critics group with any self-respect wants to be associated with the ongoing circus of the awards race.  They are all jointly horrified as to what it’s become.  If they are somehow forced to write about it they must do so with either mild apathy or bemusement.   Writing about the Oscars is itself judged fairly harshly by many film critics.  Why, because to them it’s not about the films it’s about the contest, the sport, the competition, the money, the publicity.  It’s about everything it shouldn’t be about.  It has been polluted.

Writing a blog about the Oscars is sort of like being known as the girl who works the red light district.  Everyone wants to know you but no one wants to admit they know you.  Perhaps I’m overstating things.  Either way, not a lot has changed. The fact remains that the film critics who take film criticism seriously do not take the Oscar race seriously.

The move to November 28 would be more suspect if it were any group BUT the NYFCC.  While I don’t believe any group that hands out awards is immune to the inherent corruption that goes on in any sort of ceremony that requires voting, winners and losers — the NYFCC does try to maintain their integrity, as in, they want to sit as far across the room from Oscar as they possibly can.  Here are the main reasons and let’s ruminate on the repercussions of this move:

1. It’s about the movies, stupid, not about the awards

It’s hard not to take them at their word when they say they are voting for the films and performers they thought were the best of the year.  Full stop.  It’s always hard to reach a consensus, though, ain’t it?  Their press release mentions Oscar, just as it also mentions the need to disassociate from Oscar.

2. We like the influence.  But we don’t shape our tastes to try to influence.

It’s a slippery slope, though, ain’t it.  Aim directly at Oscar and you look too desperate.  But if Oscar somehow matches your own tastes?  Does that mean more influence? Greater importance? Or does it just mean you are happy that they, the lowbrow Academy, had the good taste to think the way you did?  It’s hard to say how much or little the NYFCC values its influence.  It probably has the best track record, going back many decades, as it was, for years, the only critics group that gave out awards.  They aren’t like the Broadcast Film Critics who make a point every year to talk about how well they match up with Oscar — I don’t think they got the memo that you’re not supposed to admit that publicly.

We’ve entered a new era, though, where writing about the Oscars is an economic decision now.  So you see journalists and film critics, some of whom are members of the NYFCC, writing about the Oscar race.  And if they’re writing about the race they are going to be accepting advertising from publicists for those movies on their websites.  Is that, then, a conflict of interest? Many of the Broadcast Film Critics also accept Oscar ads.  The point here, to me, is that when you’re talking about voting, when you’re talking about winners of any art form, you are basically talking about the same species as Oscar.  Maybe the NYFCC is the mustang and the Oscar is the Clydesdale but they’re both horses and it is most definitely still a race for “best.”

3. Just how influential are the NYFCC? 

Unless they go totally off the rails like the LA Film Critics sometimes do, like, for instance, American Splendor for Best Picture, they are tremendously influential.  The reason being, that award sits mighty prettily on the For Your Consideration ads.  Also, a win like that puts a contender in the race.  They stood strong behind The Kids Are All Right. It was probably headed for an Oscar nomination anyway but that was a very good example of a critics group altering the race early on.  From then on, of course, it was The Social Network all the way (even the NYFCC gave their award to the Fincher film, as if we need reminding).

Here is a chart for the Los Angeles, the NYFCC and Oscar.

New York, 24 match-ups for Best Picture with Oscar.
National Board of Review, 19.

So historically, the New York Film Critics beat the National Board of Review.  But who’s counting.

NBR | Los Angeles | New York | Oscar

2010 The Social Network The Social Network The Social Network The King’s Speech
2009 Up in the Air The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker The Hurt Locker
2008 Slumdog Millionaire Wall-E Milk* Slumdog Millionaire
2007 No Country for Old Men+ There Will Be Blood* No Country for Old Men+ No Country
2006 Letters from Iwo Jima* Letters from Iwo Jima* United 93 The Departed
2005 Good Night, and Good Luck Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain* Crash
2004 Finding Neverland Sideways Sideways* Million Dollar Baby
2003 Mystic River American Splendour Return of the King+ Return of the King
2002 The Hours About Schmidt Far From Heaven Chicago
2001 Moulin Rouge In the Bedroom* Mulholland Drive A Beautiful Mind
2000 Quills Crouching Tiger* Traffic* Gladiator
1999 American Beauty+ The Insider* Topsy-Turvy American Beauty
1998 Gods and Monsters Saving Private Ryan* Saving Private Ryan* Shakespeare in Love
1997 L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential* L.A. Confidential* Titanic
1996 Shine Secrets & Lies* Fargo* The English Patient
1995 Sense and Sensibility Leaving Las Vegas Leaving Las Vegas Braveheart
1994 Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump Pulp Fiction* Quiz Show* Forrest Gump
1993 Schindler’s
Schindler’s List+ Schindler’s List+ Schindler’s List
1992 Howards End Unforgiven+ The Player Unforgiven
1991 Silence of the Lambs+ Bugsy* The Silence of the Lambs+ Silence of the Lambs
1990 Dances With Wolves+ Goodfellas* Goodfellas* Dances With Wolves
1989 Driving Miss Daisy+ Do the Right Thing My Left Foot* Driving Miss Daisy
1988 Mississippi Burning* Little Dorrit The Accidental Tourist* Rain Man
1987 Empire of the Sun Hope and Glory* Broadcast News* The Last Emperor
1986 A Room with a View* Hannah and Her Sisters* Hannah and Her Sisters* Platoon
1985 The Color Purple* Brazil Prizzi’s Honor* Out of Africa
1984 A Passage to India* Amadeus+ Passage to India* Amadeus
1983 Betrayal Terms of Endearment+ Terms of Endearment+ Terms of Endearment
1982 Gandhi+ E.T.* Gandhi+ Gandhi
1981 Chariots of Fire+ Atlantic City* Reds* Chariots of Fire
1980 Ordinary People+ Raging Bull* Ordinary People+ Ordinary People
1979 Manhattan Kramer Vs. Kramer+ Kramer Vs. Kramer+ Kramer Vs. Kramer
1978 Days of Heaven Coming Home* The Deer Hunter+ The Deer Hunter
1977 The Turning Point* Star Wars* Annie Hall+ Annie Hall
1976 All the President’s Men Network* All the President’s Men* Rocky
1975 Nashville/Barry Lyndon* Dog Day Afternoon* Nashville* One Flew Over/Cukoo’s Nest
1974 The Conversation Armacord Godfather II
1973 The Sting+ La Nuit Américaine The Sting
1972 Cabaret* Viskningar och rop The Godfather
1971 MacBeth A Clockwork Orange* The French Connection
1970 Patton+ Five Easy Pieces* Patton
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Z* Midnight Cowboy
1968 The Shoes of the Fisherman Lion in Winter* Oliver
1967 Far from the Madding Crowd In the Heat of the Night+ In the Heat of the Night
1966 A Man for All Seasons+ A Man for All Seasons* A Man for all Seasons
1965 The Eleanor Roosevelt Story Darling* the Sound of Music
1964 Becket My Fair Lady+ My Fair Lady
1963 Tom Jones+ Tom Jones+ Tom Jones
1962 The Longest Day none Lawrence of Arabia
1961 Question 7 West Side Story+ West Side Story
1960 Sons and Lovers The Apartment+ Billy Wilder, The Apartment
1959 The Nun’s Story Ben Hur+ Ben Hur
1958 The Old Man and the Sea THe Defiant Ones* Gigi
1957 Bridge on the River Kwai + Bridge on the River Kwai+ Bridge on the River Kwai
1956 Around the World in 80 Days+ Around the World in 80 Days+ Around/World in 80 Days
1955 Marty+ Marty+ Marty
1954 On the Waterfront+ On the Waterfront+ On the Waterfront
1953 Julius Cesar From Here to Eternity+ From Here to Eternity
1952 The Quiet Man* High Noon* The Greatest Show on Earth
1951 A Place in the Sun* Streetcar Named Desire* An American in Paris
1950 Sunset Boulevard* All About Eve+ All About Eve

As you can see it almost never happens that the three line up at all. But it almost always happens that the film that wins the NYFCC almost always is, at the very least, nominated for Best Picture. What happened last year with the Social Network has never happened. No film has ever won all of the awards it won, even if you count only the major critics awards and forget all of the others — longtime awards bodies like the NYFCC and the Globes hardly ever match. But they did last year, unanimously. The closest like kind is LA Confidential, which won all three of these but lost the Globes and lost the Oscar. The Social Network won the Globes, famously.

But back to the NYFCC – theirs is, no matter how you slice it, a powerful voice.   They reflect the tastes of a group of very smart and independent minded critics.  It is, much of the time, different from what the industry believes is “best.”  Either way, we’re still talking about voting on films.  Either way, we’re still talking about winners.   We’re still talking about voting.  It’s a contest.  It’s a game.   It is nothing more or less than that.

However, the one thing the film awards race does do is promote films, actors and filmmakers.  Money is made, careers are boosted, celebrities are born.  What we do is silly.  It isn’t Occupy Wall Street or brain cancer research or anything of the kind.  It is deciding what a group of people will think is the best of the year.  But “best” can change.  It usually does.

Why people are interested in the race, beyond what it will do for their careers, is that we all have those we are championing.

Early guesses at to what the NYFCC will choose? It’s so hard to say right now, isn’t it? Usually, by now, we have an idea, but with so many films left to see … it’s almost impossible. I’m going to bet it’s something NOT Oscar-bound, though. I’m going to bet it’s something less along the lines of The Social Network and more along the lines of Tree of Life, or something much more obscure than that. Just a hunch. We’ll see if I’m right.