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Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and Her dominate Best Picture in early critics awards

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The Los Angeles film critics isn’t what it used to be, it must be said. Back in the day, LA print critics were in the group and they voted accordingly. Many of the members now do not write specifically from Los Angeles – they do all of their writing for a broader online community, as does New York. Thus, it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between the two groups – their membership looks mostly the same. The LA Film critics is 45 males to 11 females. There is a similar, though nowhere near as dramatic, breakdown in New York. Let’s face it: film criticism, like the Oscar race and Hollywood overall, is dominated by the straight, white male opinion. And so it goes.

The one thing that makes awards bloggers and pundits look ridiculous is chasing after each and every critic award trying to find the consensus. That will emerge eventually but none of the critics groups we’ve seen so far indicate any sort of consensus. Not by a long shot. These early awards can help but they can’t hurt.

We enter Oscars 2013 knowing this yet having no real way to counter it – the women who make up the women’s journalist awards (the only group to which I am a member) tend to vote with the consensus – thus, we’d really have no idea how these awards would play out if the demographics by gender were equal.

I think it’s an important factor when looking at these awards although at the end of the day, buzz is buzz. 12 Years a Slave took the early lead, being proclaimed the film that will win Best Picture. It’s never a good idea to splooge so soon – it does nothing but beg the critics to chafe against that expectation. And indeed, given the fact that 12 Years a Slave has gotten the best reviews of the year so far of almost any film (Gravity a close second), it would seem likely that it would have dominated the critics awards.

It hasn’t dominated. The New York Film critics went for American Hustle. Today, Los Angeles tied their winner with Her and Gravity. New York Film Critics Online and Boston both went for 12 Years a Slave. The awards for Best Picture are, so far, all over the map, with no clear and strong consensus building. The only thing we really know so far is that 12 Years isn’t as big with critics groups than people presumed it would be.

Gold Derby is proclaiming that Gravity has taken the lead in the Best Picture race. Early predictors of this win include Kris Tapley and Anne Thompson – who have been saying for a long while that 12 Years a Slave won’t win, but Gravity will. Now it seems that others are latching onto this theory as well, which means that Gravity must now be considered the frontrunner, despite the wins by 12 Years a Slave today.

One film that is doing surprisingly well with critics is Spike Jonze Her, a beautifully lyric romantic modern love story. It’s easily one of the best films of the year and made a strong showing at the National Board of Review and with the LA Film Critics. That puts it in the Best Picture race, no doubt about it.

But because there are so many of them and because they are mostly indistinguishable from each other, it’s hard to assess the impact these groups can have. Cate Blanchett has firmed up her spot in the Best Actress race and many critics are fighting hard for recognition for Adele Exarchopoulos. She could burst into the top five but she’ll have to bump one of the astonishing veterans to do so. There was talk on Twitter of her bumping Meryl Streep which would be an embarrassment to all concerned if such a thing should occur. Anyone who has seen August: Osage County knows that no one is better than Meryl Streep this year, male or female. To discount her form the awards is simply say: we know she’s brilliant but we’re allowing for someone new this time. But if we’re talking about “best” you simply can’t ignore Streep.

She has and will always be taken for granted for being THAT GOOD. To my mind, Adele Exarchopoulos was wondrous and brave in Blue is the Warmest Colour but how much of that was acting and how much was the director picking an actress who is unselfconscious, pinning her with his camera then driving her to extremes? I’m not sure it’s acting. But it’s not my call, obviously.

The weird thing about Gravity is that it’s all about Alfonso Cuaron and not about Sandra Bullock. So far, she’s getting none of the acclaim for carrying this film, certainly not to the degree that, say, Chiwetel Ejiofor is getting for 12 Years a Slave, but she’s in for Best Actress. Same goes for Cate Blanchett. That leaves only Emma Thompson and Judi Dench. One guy on Twitter, a hard core advocate for Exarchopoulos, believes Dench and Streep are expendable. Thanks, ladies, for your stellar career of mastering the craft of acting but gosh, you’re just a wee bit what’s the word … not exciting enough of a choice?

Bruce Dern got a nice boost from both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics. This gives him the kind of push he needed to crack the top five. The SAG nominating committee are just about to start voting – so likely the buzz from right now will inform those choices.

Not showing up as much as expected has been Steve McQueen – but again, if most people have already decided how your awards are going to go, chances are, the critics will not follow suit. Remember that for next year.

The next big thing that’s about to happen will be the Golden Globe awards, which will be announced this Thursday, the 12th.