For the second year in a row, the New York Film critics picked a movie to win that had not yet been officially reviewed or put before the awards machine yet. Last year’s Zero Dark Thirty zoomed right to the top after its NYFCC win, which was quickly followed by the National Board of Review. It started to take the critics awards with a fervor until the shit began to hit the fan. This year, American Hustle could be that movie all over again – it might start to take the critics awards by storm and David O. Russell would be headed straight for a Best Picture win. But now it has to sit out there as the frontrunner, a place no film ever wants to be early in the race. On the other hand, if a consensus begins to build around American Hustle, it might gain enough momentum to push it over the hump and give Russell his long overdue Best Director win, besting Steve McQueen, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, etc.
But because the NYFCC now comes out so early, and because they pick films that yet to run the awards gauntlet — let’s call them awards virgins – there really is no way to determine how all of it will play out. Does it now get the backlash the way other films in its position have? The way Silver Linings Playbook did out of Toronto last year when it suddenly and unexpectedly became the film to beat? Russell seems to be flirting with the edges of a big Oscar win – this might be his year.
The New York Film Critics have become much more mainstream than they ever were. The Los Angeles Film Critics, by contrast, try not to be as influential in the awards race (although all of them probably want to be influential, hell, who doesn’t) but the NYFCC have changed their strategy recently by wanting to be the first booming voice in the awards race. They have accomplished that, and the win for American Hustle puts it squarely in the Best Picture race. Given the history of NYFCC and Oscar, it seems near-impossible for this film not to at least be a major player.
The DGA begins voting today and this boost could really help David O. Russell make the cut, as well as with the SAG voting which starts a week later. Many will make the mistake of saying that because 12 Years a Slave or Gravity did not get many awards (Steve McQueen won Best Director) that somehow is a statement on their quality; it absolutely is not. Make no mistake, the awards race is a popularity contest. It has to do with perception and buzz, both are shape shifters. Time sorts out the rest. Many people in my field have warned that they thought there was no way 12 Years a Slave could win Best Picture. And that might turn out t be true. At the end of the day, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t rave about it or that it is any less important – it just means oh look, shiny object. These voters want to distinguish themselves, to stand out, to be sexy. If they go with the flow that is never going to happen for them. This choice makes that kind of statement.