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State of the Race: Here Come the LAFCA and the NYFCC

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At the end of this week, several key moments in the Oscar race will lift off: The Los Angeles Film Critics and Online Film Critics (Sunday), the New York Film Critics (Monday), the Golden Globe nominations (Tuesday) and the SAG nominations (Thursday). I dare say this will be the tightest week of the whole season, with highs and lows throughout.   It is all coming down to this. The big hitters like the WGA and the DGA we can backburner for the moment, as what happens next week will determine those nominations. But hey, no pressure.

I don’t think we know what the critics’ darling is yet, but it will probably be either Hurt Locker, Up in the Air or Precious. We will certainly know soon. Here is an interesting thought. The DGA, PGA and SAG winners are all announced by the end of January. That leaves all of February to hem and haw about the Oscars themselves, right after those nominations are announced early Feb. A whole month. In between you’ll have the BAFTAs, in their usually crucial and pivotal spot on Feb. 21, while the final Oscar polls close on March 2nd. At last the Oscars arrive March 7, 2010. Three months from now. Hey, I can stand it if you can.

Last year, it was fairly clear that Slumdog would be winning everything. But that didn’t stop the LAFCA from giving Wall-E their top prize, nor did it stop the NYFCC from giving its top prize to Milk, a Best Pic nominee, and No Country for Old Men the year before, a Best Pic winner, United 93 the year before that, a film that did not go on to be nominated for Best Pic. The LAFCA gave There Will Be Blood the year before last, in direct contrast with the NYFCC’s choice of No Country, and before that it was Letters from Iwo Jima, Brokeback the year before that, and Sideways. The year before Sideways, they gave it to American Splendor, which did not go on to get a Best Pic nod.

In the short run, at least, the LAFCA seems a bit more keen to the Best Pic race, although they are pretty much neck in neck, with the NYFCC having a slightly better record for predicting winners than nominees. NYFCC got No Country and Return of the King matching with Oscar.

They both chose Brokeback Mountain and Sideways.

I guess my point here is that, for the first time in a while, we have a pretty big gap between the big precurser awards and the true Oscar throwdown. This is how the Oscar race went when I first started my website back in 1999, or thereabouts. Bigger lag time means potential changes and hat tricks. It probably means less of the same winners over and over again.

This is why it was probably a good choice to delay the openings of some of the films – that makes them somewhat fresher when it comes time to vote for the big prizes.

What do we think will be the NYFCC and the LAFCA’s general direction? Not quite ready to do an official predictions list (in the coming days) but I’d be curious what you savvy readers think. I still think we’re looking at a range of three films – Hurt Locker, Up in the Air and Precious. But might the critics surprise us with their choices?

As far as actors go, Carey Mulligan and either George Clooney or Jeff Bridges will probably emerge as the critics’ favorites. I’m wondering if there are any films that could sneak in here and do very well with the critics and thus, break through. Some of them do well and never break through, like United 93 and American Splendor. But you never know.

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