The 88th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 28, 85 days from today.


Gotham, NBR and NYFCC

Over the last week, three organizations – the Independent Feature Project, National Board of Review and New York Film Critics Circle – released their annual awards. Out of all of the honors handed out to films, actors, writers and more, the only overlap was Inside Out‘s Best Animated Film win at NYFCC and NBR. The race is getting fun. Here’s what you need to know.

The week started out with the 25th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, which were announced on Monday, November 30. Spotlight won Best Feature, Best Screenplay and a Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast. (Its triumph over Carol and sort-of frontrunner status led Sasha Stone to pen an article called “Spotlight Poised to Win Over Critics,” where she wrote, “The one thing you can be certain of is that the frontrunner out of Telluride was Spotlight, and the frontrunner remains Spotlight.”) Paul Dano picked up some heat, winning Best Actor for Love & Mercy (though he is campaigning as supporting actor for the Academy Awards), and Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl overtook Oscar heavyweights Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Brie Larson (Room) for the Best Actress award. Tangerine, a film shot on an iPhone about transsexual prostitutes, picked up the Breakthrough Actor (Mya Taylor) and Audience awards to close out the film honors.

The Gotham awards are given to independent films, defined vaguely as “films made with an economy of means,” and though they are the first awards of the season, they are reportedly decided by up to five people. (Compare that to roughly 7,000 for the Academy Awards.) Over the past five years, the Gotham Best Feature winner has gone on to win Best Picture once (2014’s Birdman), earn a Best Picture nomination twice (2011’s Tree of Life and 2010’s Winter’s Bone) and do neither three times (2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom and 2011’s Beginners, which tied with Tree of Life). So while the ceremony was fun (Robert De Niro bizarrely introduced Helen Mirren for a tribute award, saying, “The queen wasn’t my idea of a royal MILF, that is until I saw Helen Mirren play the queen”), it’s not necessarily the be-all and end-all of Oscar season awards.

Next up was the 87th National Board of Review awards. On Tuesday, the NBR gave its Best Film award to Mad Max: Fury Road, rounding out its top 10 list with Bridge of Spies, Creed, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, The Martian, Room, Sicario, Spotlight and Straight Outta Compton. The organization has always been reasonably populist (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 got a nomination here), and many of the honorees have been making bank at the box office (with the only exceptions being Room and Spotlight, which are in limited release, and The Hateful Eight, which isn’t out yet).

Ridley Scott, Matt Damon and Drew Goddard took home the Best Director, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay awards for their work on The Martian. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Quentin Tarantino won Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Screenplay for The Hateful Eight, a film set to be released on Christmas (with reviews embargoed until December 21). (Worth noting that the other Christmas films, The Revenant and Joy, were not feted by the NBR.) To finish, Brie Larson won Best Actress for Room, Sylvester Stallone won Best Supporting Actor for Creed (a movie steadily gaining momentum after excellent reviews and a $50 million box office take since Thanksgiving), Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation) and Jacob Tremblay (Room) won Breakthrough Performance and The Big Short won Best Ensemble.

There is a reasonable amount of correlation between NBR and the Academy. While the Best Film winner rarely repeats at the Oscars (since 2000, it has happened only twice, for No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire), it often earns at least a Best Picture nomination (since 2000, it has missed out only twice, for Quills and A Most Violent Year). Since 1989, there have only been two times that the eventual Best Picture winner was not on the NBR top 10 – A Beautiful Mind in 2001 and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003 (which won Best Ensemble). Over the past decade, at least 50% of the eventual Best Picture nominees for a given year have been in the top 10. What this means is that the lack of love for Carol, Black Mass, Joy, Brooklyn and The Revenant is not necessarily a good sign for their promoters.

(One last fun fact about the NBR: For the last four years, the winners of Best Supporting Actress Shailene Woodley for The Descendants, Ann Dowd for Compliance, Octavia Spenser for Fruitvale Station and Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year have failed to even earn a nomination at the Oscars. Jennifer Jason Leigh fans hope she will break the curse.)

Finally on Tuesday, the New York Film Critics Circle announced their awards. Unlike Monday’s Gotham awards, they were excellent news for Carol, which won Best Picture, Best Director (Todd Haynes), Best Screenplay (Phyllis Nagy) and Best Cinematography (Edward Lachman). (Haynes became the third director in history to win two NYFCC directing awards, joining Martin Scorsese and Kathryn Bigelow.) Saoirse Ronan won Best Actress for Brooklyn, Michael Keaton won Best Actor for Spotlight (though he is campaigning as supporting actor for the Academy Awards), Kristen Stewart won Best Supporting Actress for Clouds of Sils Maria (earlier this year, Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar, the national French award) and three-time Tony-winner Mark Rylance won Best Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies.

The NYFCC have a good track record with the Oscars; in the last 10 years, 90% of NYFCC Best Picture winners were nominated for the Best Picture at the Oscars. I could go into more, but this AwardsDaily article has all of the stats in a nifty tool, so I’ll let any ambitious readers figure it out for themselves.

To add some increased complexity to this conversation, the International Press Academy’s Satellite Awards nominations were unveiled on Tuesday. AwardsWatch considers them “phony,” and there are a ton of nominees for each award, but I found it interesting to look at the ten Best Picture nominations. Six nominees (The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Room, Sicario and Spotlight) repeated in the NBR top 10 or Best Ensemble and four found no love with NBR (Black Mass, Brooklyn, Carol and The Revenant.) Other nominations can be found here.

(Other awards interjection: NBR winner Brie Larson and NYFCC winner Saoirse Ronan were tapped to share the Santa Barbara Film Fest Outstanding Performer Award. If I scanned the list of previous winners correctly, each of the last 10 winners has gone on to score an Academy Award nomination that year, which is good news for what look like the two Best Actress frontrunners. Inside Out, which won both the NBR and NYFCC awards, received 14 nominations at the 43rd annual Annie Awards for animation, edging out Anomalisa.)


What does this all mean? (If you are still confused and want a list of all the winners so far, go here.) It’s good news for Carol, Mad Max, Creed, Sicario and The Hateful Eight, which have not always been part of this year’s Oscar conversation. Stewart and Dano, who were contenders but not frontrunners for nominations, are probably celebrating. And The Martian (and especially director Ridley Scott) is building some momentum for the big prizes down the road. It’s bad news for Steve Jobs, Joy, The Revenant, The Danish Girl, Concussion and Anomalisa, which were left off of all three awards announcements. More “obscure” choices, like the actors from 45 Years or I’ll See You in My Dreams, were empty-handed.

But the main winner of the week was the continuation of suspense. Spotlight, Mad Max and Carol each won a Best Picture prize, and so far, there has not been any conclusive critical backing of a single film or performance. The New York Times argued that a lack of frontrunners has led this season to start with a whimper, but I disagree. We are at the most exciting part of the year so far. Anything can happen.

Stay tuned for next week, when AFI and LA film critics announce their winners and SAG and Golden Globes announce nominees.
Spotlight on Sicario
Sicario has had a great week. Despite no attention at the NYFCC awards, the film earned a place on the NBR’s top 10 list as well as the Spotlight Award (for Outstanding Collaborative Vision). (It also made the Satellite Awards top 10 over movies like Steve Jobs and The Danish Girl). It has gotten outstanding reviews (93% on RT, 81% on Metacritic, signifying “universal acclaim”) and made about $80 million internationally. In its cast are Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro, Academy Award nominee Josh Brolin and Academy-will-need-to-nominate-her-one-day Emily Blunt. (Seriously, Blunt has four movie Golden Globe nominations, and while I make fun of the Globes constantly, this is at least one thing that they’ve gotten right.) Its cinematographer is Roger Deakins, the man with 12 Oscar nominations since 1994 but no wins. Its director is Denis Villeneuve, who directed the Academy Awards nominated Incendies and my brother’s favorite film, Prisoners. (Here’s an article about the making of some of the scenes in Sicario’s Juarez.) Despite all this, it has hovered on the edge of most predictions lists, but it seems that it is on the rise. With any luck, it continues to build momentum in the next week.
Other News

  • The long Big Short article to read: Vulture’s article “The Ultimate Feel-Furious Movie About Wall Street” (and the accompanying interviews with the cast and Big Short book author) talks about the making of the movie and why it works. There are a lot of gems, but one that had me laughing was that one of director Adam McKay’s stock characters when he did improv was “Noam Chomsky As a Second-Grade Substitute Teacher.”
  • Fox has too many good movies this year and is now worried: 20th Century Fox, which won Best Picture Oscars for Birdman and 12 Years a Slave in the last two years, has four films in contention this year: The Revenant, The Martian, Joy and Brooklyn. Now Fox is worried about “sibling rivalry.” (“Is Fox taking out equal “for-your-consideration” ads in Variety for each film? Did “Joy,” directed by David O. Russell, get better hors d’oeuvres for its event than “Brooklyn,” directed by the relatively unknown John Crowley? It may sound petty, but teams of producers, agents and publicists are paying meticulous attention, and they will scream bloody murder if they feel slighted.”) Read the New York Times article about it.
  • Saoirse Ronan is adorable: Here’s what the Brooklyn actress told the Hollywood Reporter about her recent NYFCC win: “Thank you so, so much. I only heard a couple of hours ago; I was in the car on the way home and I almost crashed into a bus. But yeah, it’s really an absolute honor, I have to say. I’m back in Dublin and I genuinely did almost crash into a bus.”
  • Why Turkey called in five Lord of the Rings experts in a recent trial: According to GQ, “A Turkish man, Bilgin Ciftci, made a meme comparing the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to the Lord of the Rings series’ tiny CGI creature Gollum. Insulting the President is a crime in Turkey, and so Ciftci is on trial, but it all comes down to this: Is comparing someone to Gollum an insult?” To decide, the court brought in two academics, two behavioral scientists/psychologists and a television/film expert to talk about Gollum. This happened.
  • They looked ugly on purpose: The New York Times interviewed Spotlight costume designer, Wendy Chuck, about “what makes newsroom-chic, and the challenges of making movie stars look like journalists.” According to Chuck, dressing like a journalist involves thinking, “You don’t really care; you’ve got other things to think about that are not clothes … Nobody is going to be able to read much into you.”
  • Sight & Sound: The international film magazine Sight & Sound released its annual top 20 list on November 27. Last year, the list included Best Picture nominees Boyhood, Grand Budapest Hotel, Wolf of Wall Street, Whiplash and Birdman (and Best Foreign Language Film nominees Leviathan and Ida). This year, it seems niche-r; the only movies I’ve really heard of on the list are Carol, Mad Max, 45 Years, Son of Saul, Anomalisa and Inside Out, and of those, only Carol and Inside Out have only seriously been in the Best Picture conversation.
  • Big year for Oscars viewership? At this year’s ceremony, nominees could be large money-making movies like The Martian, Inside Out, Creed and Straight Outta Compton and popular actors like the Oscar-less but meme-able Leonardo DiCaprio. AwardsDaily thinks that this year might be a big one in terms of Academy Awards audience size.

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