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Putting the New York and NBR in Contrast Before Los Angeles Critics Announce

Probably the biggest mistakes I saw being made yesterday, whether on a blog or on Twitter, were observers who read too much into the National Board of Review’s choices and omissions. The National Board of Review are a great group to push through either obscure and/or borderline contenders. Because they’ve been around so long they have an air of importance about them but no one really knows who they are and, since a lot of students vote on the award, it skews younger. This is, perhaps, why they have a pretty good track record pushing through nominees but not so much when it comes to matching the Academy’s tastes.

The New York Film Critics, on the other hand, skew older. To become a critic writing in New York one assumes you have some credentials under your belt. You are ostensibly a published writer and you’ve likely finished college and long since been there, done that. That makes the New York critics’ tastes, to my mind, somewhat more akin to Oscar voters. The Los Angeles critics are a more rowdy, rebellious bunch. To date, they haven’t ever awarded the Coen brothers Best Picture. One of their members, Glenn Whipp, pointed this out to me the other day. It almost invalidates them completely, doesn’t it?

Either which way, with regard to the National Board of Review, it can help but it can’t hurt. The New York Film critics establish a pattern for what will wind up being a general consensus, I gather. It’s rare for a film to win both the NBR and the NYFCC and not win Best Picture but it happens. Let’s save that catastrophe for another conversation and go on to look at the NBR’s winning/nominations record.

Best Picture: Since the year 2000, only 2 of their winners have gone on to win the Oscar. But since 2000, all but one of their winners have at least been nominated.

Best Actor
: Since 2000, four of their winners have gone on to win the Oscar, nearly all have been nominated. This puts Bradley Cooper in a good place to push through and take a spot. Question is, whom does he bump?

Best Actress:
Since 2000, only 3 have gone on to win Best Actress, though most have been nominated, except the last two Tilda Swinton and Lesley Manville. Jessica Chastain stars in what will be a Best Picture nominee, which improves her chance significantly.

Best Supporting Actor:
Since 2000, only 3 have gone on to win, though most have been nominated. The past two winners have gone on to win the Oscar, which puts Leonardo DiCaprio in a great spot to not only be nominated but to win.

Best Supporting Actress:
It is a toss-up whether a nomination here can result in an Oscar nomination. It is probably one of the best things that could happen to Ann Dowd, a character actress who has been kicking around town forever and gives a complex, brilliant performance in Compliance. But last year’s winner wasn’t nominated, and only one since 2000 has gone on to win the Oscar. It can help getting a nomination, however. It certainly can’t hurt.

Best Director: 3
times since 2000 has the director winner matched, and only once did that film also win Best Picture: The Departed. The other times it signaled a split afoot: Soderbergh for Traffic (Gladiator won), Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain (Crash won). In none of those instances did that director’s film win the NBR for Best Picture.

Screenplay: Once since they started giving out the prize (2003) has the screenplay winner gone on to win the Oscar – Diablo Cody for Juno.

Ensemble: The Help is the only film that won this category and went on to be nominated for Best Picture. In all other instances, the film that won Ensemble at the NBR was either been shut out of the nominations for Best Picture or won Best Picture. In most of the cases except one the film also won another significant prize, like Best Director (The Departed) or Best Picture (No Country for Old Men). The one film that won ensemble at the NBR and nothing else that went on to win Best Picture? Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Note: most of these awards prior to 2009 went up against the five picture rule at the Academy. Now that they have stretched it to more than five, it’s too early to see a pattern in this category, I’d say.

The New York Film Critics  

Best Picture: Since 2000, only three that won the NYFCC went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. Nine were either nominated or won, only four weren’t. With more than five Best Picture nominees these stats might look different.
Best Actor: Since 2000, four have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Actor and nearly all were nominated.
Best Actress: Three have gone on to win Best Actress since 2000, all but two were nominated. Rachel Weisz has a very good chance to push through to a nomination but she’ll have to bump someone else.
Best Supporting Actor: 3 have won and many have gone on to be nominated but not last year.
Best Supporting Actress: Five have gone to win since 2000, and most were nominated. Sally Field has a nod locked and loaded. The only question is whether she’ll win a rare third Oscar.
Best Director: Since 2000, seven of the NYFCC’s Best Directors have gone on to win the Oscar, and that includes those who won in a split vote scenario: Soderbergh, Lee. That’s a fairly hefty stat. One could do worse than predict Bigelow to win Best Director even if Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t win Best Picture. Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, Ron Howard with A Beautiful Mind, Chicago and Roman Polanski, Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire are the films and directors that won without winning either at the NYFCC.

The conclusion: It is easy to see how much more influential the New York Film critics are, particularly since Oscar moved back its voting by a month.  After that, along with the explosion of critics awards, critics and bloggers, things have changed. One has to assume that Kathryn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty has the best chance to win simply based on the New York Film Critics. Any other option will likely be either a weepy/feelgood or else something too big to ignore.  That takes us back still to our top films:  Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi.