Last week, Sasha covered the looming critics phase of Oscar season. This is the midsection – some would argue the bowels – of the race for an Oscar nomination. The critics’ phase proceeds the festival period and precedes the guilds weighing in, making our film critics the middle child of Mr. and Mrs. Awards Season. It’s typically the chapter I like the least, as we are constantly reminded that the critics are not the Academy. While guild membership overlaps substantially with AMPAS, critics work autonomously, just as Twitter often does. Like Twitter, the critics groups tend to form a hivemind, as one film often gathers steam and becomes their “choice.” Last year that film was Nomadland, which went on to win around 30 Best Picture citations from critics groups. AMPAS followed suit.
Still, there is something to be said about large, independent groups aligning behind the same film. The preferential ballot used by AMPAS for Best Picture requires us to look for broad, non-divisive consensus. In their 26-year history, the Critics’ Choice (the CCA – what we can pretend acts as the culmination of all these individual critics groups) has matched with the Oscar for Best Picture 15 times (15 of the last 22, if you want a higher percentage). Since the Academy expanded their Best Picture nominations to more than five (2009), the CCA nominated 95 films that went on to match with AMPAS (out of 107 total Best Pic nominees – roughly 89%).
So maybe the critics ARE the Academy??
As we head into the critics phase, a discerning eye will be needed to separate the critic’s darling from a potential Academy favorite. While films like Red Rocket, Titane, and Annette will likely show up on many critic’s lists, how will Academy members respond to such challenging and ambitious films? It will be fascinating to see.
Here is how AMPAS compared with the consensus critics’ winner (not CCA, necessarily) in the major categories last year:
Five out of the eight main categories matched up with Oscar. Not a bad percentage, and definitely high enough for us to consider what unanimity is forming.
In 2019, Parasite was the critical darling and went on to be an Academy sweetheart as well. In 2018, the critics rallied behind Roma. While it did not win Picture at the Oscars, Roma still had a strong showing, receiving ten nominations and winning three statues, including Director. Moonlight was another recent favorite of film critics that went on to win Best Picture. So in the last five years, the consensual favorite of film critics across the country won Best Picture three times, and the two that didn’t – Roma and Get Out – won Director and Screenplay, respectively, and were both nominated in the major categories (Picture, Director, Screenplay, and at least one Acting).
So we can say the critics are not the Academy as often as we want. And while this is technically still true, I believe the shift in Academy membership over the past few years has changed the game on us a bit. When considering the results of the last five years, maybe it’s time to give critics’ awards a little more consideration.
I’m not saying they’re the guilds. I’m just saying they might influence the conversation a little more than we like to admit.
It’s time for an updated list of predictions before groups start chiming in. I have expanded my predictions to include Animated, Documentary, and International Features, as well as Original Song and Score, Cinematography, and Film Editing. Have a look and let me know what you think.