CRITICS’ AWARDS, OR EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING

The 89th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 26, 75 days from today. 
Critics’ awards, or everything is happening
Over the course of the last two weeks, the most important critics’ awards have been announced. Critics awards are generally influencers rather than predictors of the Academy Awards for three reasons: They are released very early on, they are typically decided by a small group of people and, most importantly, they are decided by critics rather than people in the industry. That’s why we generally care a lot more about the guild awards (especially SAG, DGA and PGA) than critics’ awards (or, God forbid, the Golden Globes) when it comes to Oscar predictions. That’s not to say that we should ignore critics’ awards entirely. They are good indicators of momentum and can bring attention to some films or performances that may otherwise be overlooked. Oscar voters receive dozens or screeners but many only watch a few. Critics’ awards may give them a sense of which movies are even worth spending the time on as Oscars season progresses.The five critics’ awards I’ll be talking about are:
1. National Board of Review (November 29): The NBR awards are chosen, according to the Hollywood Reporter, by 130 unnamed individuals described on the organization’s website as “film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics and students.” While this is a bit sketch, their early awards announcement guarantees coverage for a day “until actual, legitimate groups begin to weigh in.” They gave their top prize to Manchester by the Sea, with other awards going to Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Amy Adams (Arrival), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) and Naomie Harris (Moonlight). They have an OK track record with the Oscars; last year’s winner, Mad Max, scored a nomination, while the year before, A Most Violent Year did not.

2. Critics Choice (December 1 noms, December 11 ceremony):
The Broadcast Film Critics Association’s (BFCA) awards are a mix of the prestigious and commercial. On the one hand, the group of roughly 200-300 members hands out its top prizes to typical awards contenders: In last night’s ceremony, Best Picture went to La La Land, La La Land’s Damien Chazelle was named Best Director and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Viola Davis (Fences) all won acting awards. (Note that Silence was not screened in time for awards consideration.) On the other hand, there seems to be an almost infinite number of categories in which to nominate someone: Gal Gadot got a nomination for Best Actress in an Action Movie for Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeScott Feinberg argues that we should take them seriously at least a bit, especially given that over the past 16 years, the BFCA and the Academy picked the same best picture on 12 occasions: “The Critics’ Choice noms are as likely to impress Oscar voters as any set of noms that precede their own — deservedly or not, they confer a sense of importance and prestige upon a film, albeit slightly less so when there are, say, seven nominees for best director, as there are this year — and therefore could jump-start or stunt a contender’s momentum.”


3. New York Film Critics (December 1):
Founded in 1935, the New York Film Critics Circle has been giving away awards for a long time. With this reputation, they are often more willing to go with artsy choices that others may not replicate. Last year, they gave their Best Picture and Best Director awards to Carol, and they gave Kristen Stewart the award for Best Supporting Actress. This year, La La Land won Best Picture, Best Director went to Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and the acting prizes were given to Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea).
4. Los Angeles Film Critics (December 4): The LAFC is known for sometimes odd choices. According to the Los Angeles Times, “L.A. critics group gives Terry Gilliam’s then-unreleased Brazil best picture, director and screenplay in 1985, prompting Universal studio head Sidney Sheinberg to put Gilliam’s cut of the movie in theaters.” Last year, they gave a boost to Charlotte Rampling for Best Actress and (not enough of) a boost to Michael Shannon for 99 Homes. At this year’s awards, the top honors went to Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and actors Adam Driver (Paterson), Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Lily Gladstone (Certain Women).
5. AFI Top Ten (Dec 8): Around 30 members of the American Film Institute named what they considered the best films of the year. They are often more likely to give commercial or animated films some support; last year’s nominees Inside Out and Star Wars didn’t make it to the Oscars. That gives some people skepticism about the future of Zootopia, as AFI was the only organization to nominate it for the top award.
To recap, there are seven movies that were named by the NBR, BFCA (Critics Choice) and AFI as one of the top ten films of the year: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and Sully. This is a nice list but, like most conclusions drawn from critics’ awards, may or may not mean anything, especially for late-release movies. Last year, five films nabbed a spot on all three lists, and all five (Mad Max, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, Room and Spotlight) went on to get Best Picture nominations; the year before, five films nabbed a spot on all three lists, and only three (Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game) went on to get Best Picture nominations, leaving behind Nightcrawler and Unbroken. Outside of those seven, there are eight other movies that were listed by one of the three organizations: Fences, Hail, Caesar!, Hidden Figures, Lion, Loving, Patriots Day, Silence and Zootopia. Again, it doesn’t necessarily preclude something else from being nominated, but I’d be starting to get a tiny bit nervous if I were hoping for a nomination for Jackie or 20th Century Women or The Birth of a Nation. 
Some winners from the last two weeks are:

  • Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea: The two films joined “hottie-driven musical” La La Land as winners for Best Picture and/or Best Director. These three seem to be the strongest films of the year, at least when it comes to critical support.
  • Casey Affleck: Affleck scored wins at the NBR, NYFCC and Critics Choice as well as second-place at LAFC. He was already a strong contender for Best Actor, but the fact that Denzel Washington (Fences) is nowhere in sight has to make him feel pretty happy right now.
  • Isabelle Huppert: Everyone was pretty locked on the Best Actress contenders (Emma and Natalie and Annette), and few were mentioning French legend Isabelle Huppert. Then she won both the NYFCC and LAFC and scored a Critics Choice nomination. Take her seriously. (See “Isabelle Huppert Is Already Having a Great Fall.”)
  • Mahershala Ali: The supporting actor may be Moonlight’s best chance at a win come Oscar night. Mahershala Ali pulled an Isabelle Huppert with a back-to-back win at the NYFCC and LAFC and added on a Critics Choice win as well.
  • Supporting actresses not named Viola Davis: She’s considered by many to be the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress, but she only scored a nomination at the Critics Choice awards (which she then, to be fair, ended up winning). Maybe it’s slightly less lock-y of a lock, which would be good news for Naomie Harris and Michelle Williams.
The next big event on the awards calendar is the Golden Globes. Later today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will release their nominations for all the major categories, presented by Anna Kendrick, Don Cheadle, Laura Dern. While people always try to pretend it’s a big deal (and while I’ll be analyzing the picks in the next email at least to some degree), I am excited to announce my annual monologue on why the Golden Globes are sort of the worst.
 
Why the Golden Globes are sort of the worst
 
The Golden Globes have a lot going for them. They are old, having been established in 1944. They are widely viewed, with 18.5 million viewers in last year’s ceremony (compared to 34 million for the Academy Awards). And they attract a lot of celebrities as nominees, red carpet walkers and hosts. (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening monologues are the stuff of legend.) The Golden Globes aspire to be the more informal, boozier version of the Oscars, and that’s fine, but it’s worth explaining that the awards, and the organization that hands them out, is bogus.

The HFPA is composed of around 90 members who need to meet three major membership requirements: They need to work for a foreign publication but be based in Southern California, they need to publish at least four articles per year and they have to pay $500 as an initiation fee. While some are legitimate journalists, many are not. In 2015, Vulture published a list of every known member of the HFPA and a short resume, but what’s probably more fun is the article “Meet The Total Randos Who Decide The Golden Globes.” Highlights include:

  • Alexander Nevsky (Russia): “The renowned bodybuilder, born Sasha Kuritsyn, was crowned Mr. Universe in 2012. As an actor, he’s best known for appearing in the action films Treasure Raiders and Moscow Heat.”
  • Gilda Baum-Lappe (Mexico): “Baum-Lappe regularly tweets about films she’s watched and celebrity news, but over the course of the last year, she’s made no reference to any work of her own. As far as HFPA members go, she is not the exception. She is the rule.”
  • Noël de Souza (India): “De Souza played Mahatma Gandhi on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. You might also recognize him as “Old Indian Man” from Wedding Crashers.”

When you have a small group of self-important nobodies decide on awards, you get criticism if your choices are a bit odd. And they often are. The critically panned movie Burlesque (36% on Rotten Tomatoes) was nominated for Best Picture in 2010, which doesn’t make sense unless you hear that Sony, the studio behind the movie, “flew Golden Globes judges to Las Vegas for an all-expenses-paid trip which included luxury hotel accommodation, free meals and a private concert performed by the film’s star, Cher.” The Tourist (20% on Rotten Tomatoes) was nominated for Best Picture the same year, which doesn’t make sense unless you realize that the group wanted the stars of the movie, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, to come to their party.It’s true that they’ve been improving. Fewer ridiculous movies are making the cut, and many people congratulated the Golden Globes last year on their wholly unremarkable choices. But when you have such a preposterous organization in charge of one of the best-regarded awards season events, everything should be taken with a large helping of salt.

But Mason, what about the Gotham, Indie Spirit or Satellite awards?
There are more than five critics’ awards that are announced every year; three higher-profile ones that I’m ignoring are the Gotham, Indie Spirit or Satellite awards.
The Gotham awards consider themselves to be the first awards show of the Oscar season. They were founded in 1991 to honors movies made in the Northeast but eventually started honoring movies made everywhere. This year, Moonlight was the bigger winner, winning best feature, best screenplay, a special ensemble prize and the audience award. One could argue that the last two Gotham awards winners, Birdman and Spotlight, ended up winning Best Picture. But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
The Indie Spirit awards are released by Film Independent, and this year,  Moonlight and American Honey scored the most nominations. While they are admirable in bringing attention to lower-budget movies, it’s always a little wonky who ultimately gets nominated and what gets judged as independent. Ultimately, their worth for judging the Oscars is nil. (For more information, read “Spirit Awards: Nominations Don’t Predict Oscars So Everyone Should Relax.”)
The Satellite awards are handed out by the International Press Academy. They nominated 12 movies for Best Picture and eight individuals for Best Actor and Best Actress. They did not do a good job narrowing down their list and instead just nominated everyone, and for that, I’m not going to talk about them anymore. Also, they made headlines a couple years back when they nominated The Wolf of Wall Street for a ton of awards without necessarily seeing the movie first.
 
 
Spotlight on Jimmy Kimmel
Last week, it was announced that Jimmy Kimmel would be the host of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. This will be Kimmel’s first time hosting, but he’ll join a long tradition of late-night hosts to do so, including and especially Johnny Carson. As the late-night host for ABC, the network hosting the Oscars, many people think it’s surprising that it took so long for Kimmel to be chosen, but given his well-regarded Emmys hosting stint earlier this year, people have generally high expectations.
“I got a very nice call of congratulations this morning from the president of Taiwan,” laughed Kimmel on his show. “Just to be clear, she called me.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the 49-year-old is the first straight white ‎man to preside over the telecast in the last four ceremonies, though Refinery29 points out that it is the 80th time a white man has hosted the show, calling the appointment a “slap in the face.”
 
Best excerpts of the week

  • “If you’ve ever wonder what Jake Gyllenhaal looks like after he’s been crying, then Nocturnal Animals is the movie for you.” (From Vulture’s “This Is the Season of Sad Men at the Movies.”)
  • “Focus Features sent a Thanksgiving care package from Loving, the Virginia-set interracial marriage film, that included bottles of Sweet Pickled Virginia Gourmet Watermelon Rind, Mrs. Bryant’s Blueberry Apple Sauce, as well as her Moroccan Black Bean Soup Mix, plus a giant Snicker Doodle Cookie … Universal sent a stuffed bear with microphone from Sing. In an apparent effort to bring back vinyl, Fox sent a 45 RPM  record of Pharrell Williams songs from the early 60’s period-set Hidden Figures and an LP album from Trolls. Lionsgate also went the vinyl route for a couple of La La Land songs. For A24’s 20th Century Women, set in 1979, we got a 2017 Calendar highlighting significant events in ’79. Captain Fantastic sent a bandanna with the phrases “Power To The People” and “Stick It To The Man” emblazoned on it. Of course, stodgy Academy rules forbid these types of things to be sent to Oscar voters who might be unduly influenced by swag, so studios send the swag to others [in the NBR and NYFCC] in hopes that it will encourage them to vote for their film and thus possibly influence Academy votes down the line.” (From Deadline’s “Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season.”)
 

Other News:

  • Why Moonlight matters: Here is a really interesting piece in The Hollywood Reporter about Moonlight. It ends with the following message: “Moonlight doesn’t preach the sort of anti-racist message that made In the Heat of the Night more palatable to Academy members; nor does it offer the kind of kumbaya sentiment of Driving Miss Daisy or The Color Purple. Instead, like all great art, it challenges our notions of good and bad, of black and white, of the places we’d rather avoid and the people we’d rather not meet. Its story may be sprinkled with drug dealers and addicts. But its message is clear: The world is richer and deeper and more complex than we ever imagined, and even its most troubled characters — just like us — are looking for love.”
  • Eligible for male and female categories: For the first time, the Academy has allowed voters to nominate someone (in this case Kelly Mantle, a former contestant on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ who starred in this year’s Confessions of a Womanizer) for either Best Supporting Actor or Best Supporting Actress.
  • Everyone thinks the Best Original song performances are awkward: “Amy Adams and Taraji P. Henson Remember Their Extremely Awkward Best Original Song Oscars Performances,” by Jackson McHenry.
  • Will La La Land win everything: AwardsDaily examines the maximum number of awards the musical is likely to nab.
  • The biopic you never knew you needed: Adam McKay, known in intellectual circles as the director of The Big Short and in less intellectual circles as the director of basically every Will Ferrell movie, is reportedly planning a drama about Dick Cheney. Unfortunately, the actor who played Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life is no longer living, so there’s some perfect casting gone by the wayside.
  • The Oscar matrix you did not need: The Hollywood Reporter ranks this year’s contenders by how rich people are in them and when the movie is set.
  • Isla Fisher: Apparently, Isla Fisher once used a picture of Amy Adams in her family Christmas card. Interestingly, Amy Adams and Isla Fisher have a combined five Oscar nominations.
  • Lily Tomlin: Tomlin will receive a lifetime achievement honor at the SAG Awards on Jan. 29. The Hollywood Reporter looks into why she is so outstanding.
  • Moana box office: According to Vulture, Moana made $81 million over Thanksgiving weekend, the second-biggest Thanksgiving opening ever, behind Frozen’s $94 million back in 2013. Disney actually holds nine of the top-ten best Thanksgiving openings ever.
  • But what about Donald Trump: Two articles discuss impacts of the election onto the Oscar race. The New York Times also mentions that “a big question burbling around the awards world is whether academy voters will, in the wake of the election, go for lighter, escapist fare, or a meatier film with a message, especially considering last year’s eruption when all of the Oscar acting nominees were white.” Expect Donald Trump to invade your Oscar news too.
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