by Eric Beck
Special to Awards Daily
The tensions mount. The ads get more prevalent. You just can’t decide. No, it’s not the presidential election. We decided on that one. It’s the impending Oscar race! Get your opinions ready!
Westerns can’t win! Horror films can’t win! Fantasy films can’t win! Martin Scorsese can’t win! The Critics Awards darlings can’t win!
Remember William Goldman’s words and Awards Daily (nee Oscarwatch’s) mantra: Nobody knows anything.
Four times in the last twenty years we have had a critics darling: The film that critics love, win big with the Awards group, and then get upended by a film that’s a much bigger hit, that comes in and wins the Golden Globes and then cements it with an Oscar. And so they make do with a major, but not as major award (Supporting Actor for GoodFellas, Screenplay for Pulp Fiction, LA Confidential and Sideways). And the myth gets repeated: The Critics Awards darling doesn’t win Best Picture. (and for those of you who say the winner of the Independent Spirit can’t win, please check the awards page on the IMDB for Platoon and quit your inaccurate complaining).
Well, to explode this Critics Awards myth once and for all, I’ve devised a point system involving all the Academy Award categories (I don’t count such things as Best Newcomer, or Best First Screenplay) and made use of the 6 major Critics groups: The New York Film Critics, The LA Film Critics, The National Society of Film Critics, The Boston Society of Film Critics, the Chicago Film Critics and the National Board of Review. All the awards have a weighted point system and the critics groups are weighted. If you really are interested in the calculations, write me. Otherwise, here are the 10 Best Critics Awards Films of All-Time:
10 No Country for Old Men – 915
The film that re-ignited this dumb debate last year by winning New York, Boston, Chicago and the NBR, plus a number of awards for Bardem, and for the Coens, both for directing and writing. A huge critics success. Best Picture at the Oscars. Debate over.
9 Leaving Las Vegas – 952
The clear-cut big winner from the critics, though mainly due to Cage sweeping Best Actor and multiple awards for Shue and Figgis. This was my senior year in college and I wrote an article for our college alternative newspaper using this film to show how stupid the Academy was. And that was before Braveheart actually won.
8 The Piano – 1033
The only two films in the top 30 without a Best Picture win are this and The Queen, mainly because both swept Best Actress. The Piano also won awards for Paquin, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Score and even Foreign Film. But it didn’t win Best Picture from the critics or Oscars and there’s a reason for that.
7 Terms of Endearment – 1057
A perfect example of why this is a myth and not a fact. Terms won Best Picture for New York, LA and the NBR and MacLaine won four awards and Nicholson won all five (the Chicago awards didn’t exist yet). It’s far and away the oldest film on this list and it was a big Oscar winner.
6 Far from Heaven – 1063
The most well rounded critics darling, it won two awards in six different categories, but the only thing it won more than two was in Cinematography.
5 Schindler’s List – 1268
The end of the myth. Schindler’s List is one of only two film to win all 6 critics awards and (unlike the other one, LA Confidential), also went on to win the Golden Globe and the Oscar. The facts of Schindler’s List awards page ends the debate here and now.
4 Pulp Fiction – 1301
One of two films to sweep Best Director (other than LA Confidential), it also swept Screenplay (the NBR didn’t start giving Screenplay until 98) and also won 4 Best Picture awards.
3 GoodFellas – 1415
Unlike Pulp or LA, at least GoodFellas lost the Globe and Oscar to an excellent film. Of course that doesn’t excuse passing over the single best film of the 90’s, but at least like Raging Bull, it’s gotten it’s due on historical lists. It should be noted that the only one of the 6 not to give GoodFellas Picture and Director (the NBR), also gave a Best Picture tie to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction.
2 LA Confidential – 1525
Really the single biggest critics darling, it only ranks behind Sideways because it won only two awards outside of Picture, Director and Screenplay (Cinematography from LA and Supporting Actor from Boston). On the other hand, it swept Picture, Director and Screenplay.
1 Sideways – 1541
The only film to sweep Screenplay since the NBR added it, it also won 4 Best Picture awards, Giamatti won twice, Madsen 4 times, Church 5 times and Payne himself even won an award.
So there we have it. The top 10. And yes, the top 4 all were denied Best Picture at the Globes and Oscars. But big critics films do win big at the Oscars. And a little historical perspective only adds to that.
This list favors later years because there are more awards and more groups. So, to compensate I also calculate percentages (how much of the total points were won by that film). The only film of this group that makes the top group is LA Confidential, whose points accounted for a staggering 43.75% of the total points of 1997. But since 1950, when we started to have enough awards and groups to actually look at the percentages, the three biggest percentage winners: Bridge on the River Kwai (won Picture, Actor and Director from both existing groups, New York and the NBR, and one Supporting Actor award) with 63.08%, A Man for all Seasons (the same as Bridge plus a Screenplay win) with 49.30%, and Tom Jones (which won both Picture and Director awards plus one Actor award) with 48.93%. And of course, all three went on to win Best Picture.
And one list proof so we can drop this debate forever. The critics awards began in 1932 when the National Board of Review first gave out Best Picture (to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang) and Best Foreign Film (to A Nous La Liberte). Since that time, the following films have come in first place in the point system for the critics awards and went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars:
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
Going My Way (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Gentleman’s Agreement (1948)
All About Eve (1950)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Tom Jones (1963)
My Fair Lady (1964)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Annie Hall (1977)
Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Schindler’s List (1993)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Oh, and since the National Board of Review usually comes out first, it’s good to note that 20 times the winner of the NBR has also won the Oscar, including five times from 1989 to 1994 and last year.
Nobody knows anything. Except me. I have this handy database that tells me the facts.
Erik Beck is an occasional writer for AwardsDaily and is obsessed with film awards and made it his goal to see every nominee for the Oscars, the Globes, the six major critics groups, the BAFTA’s, the Satellites, the BFCA’s and the Indie’s. He’s 92.97% finished. He also writes a lot about film on his blog: nighthawknews.wordpress.com.