Oscars mired

This year's kudos craziness seems especially confusing

The year-end glut of kudos is supposed to narrow the field for Oscar. This year, every new prize seems to confuse the issue further.

  • “Far From Heaven” has been named the year’s best film by several critics groups, but it failed to nab a best-pic nom from the Golden Globes.

  • Most major critics lists have tapped “Y tu mama tambien” or “Talk to Her” as the year’s top foreign-language films. However, it’s definite that neither pic will be nominated for an Oscar in that category.

  • “Chicago” would seem to be an Oscar front-runner, since it led the nominations at the Golden Globes; but no major critics group has chosen the pic, director or thesps as the year’s best.

Those are just a few examples of the confusion this season. Every year seems to raise question marks, but the kudos craziness seems more intense this year. Every new announcement seems to further confound kudos watchers.

Of course, any award is important, a recognition of good work and a signal to movie audiences that they should check out a given film. But in the world of kudos, one prize stands head and shoulders above the others: the Oscar. And there’s one Oscar that really, really matters: best pic.

If anyone was hoping nominations for the 60th annual Golden Globes, unveiled Dec. 19, would help clarify the Oscar race, they were in for a disappointment. The Globe noms only underlined two facts: There are a lot of worthwhile films this year, and there is no clear front-runner for Oscar.

Aside from the Globes’ Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., several critics and other film organizations announced winners and nominees for best pic in the week starting Dec. 14; in that seven-day period, 16 films were saluted.

The HFPA cites 10 pics: five nominees in the best drama pic category, five in the race for comedy/musical pic. As usual, some of those films popped up on critics’ lists. But many crix kudos added other titles into the mix.

On Dec. 14, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. tapped “About Schmidt” its best pic; two days later, the New York Film Critics Circle chose “Far From Heaven.” Last week, Gotham’s online crix clicked on “Chicago”; Boston and San Francisco critics opted for “The Pianist”; Toronto Film Critics Assn. picked “Adaptation.” And, earlier in the month, the National Board of Review kicked off the kudos season by selecting “The Hours.”

Aside from the New York group, crix from San Diego and the newly formed Seattle Film Critics Assn. went with “Far From Heaven.”

One interesting factoid about the Globe nominations: Of the 10 best pic noms, in both categories, exactly half had not even bowed by the time the nominees were announced: “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York,” The Hours,” “Nicholas Nickleby” and “The Pianist.”

Another three (“About Schmidt,” “Adaptation” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) had opened in December.

Only “About a Boy” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came from the first 11 months of the year.

Especially in a year like this, when so many heavyweight pics bowed in the fourth quarter, awards are useful for Oscar voters: It’s a way of saying, “You better see this pic before you choose.” However, the wide variety of choices doesn’t exactly narrow the field.

“Y tu mama” and “Talk to Her” are eligible in all categories (writing, directing, acting, art direction, etc.) — except foreign-language film. “Mama” opened in Mexico in 2001, but was not that country’s foreign-language submission last year. “Talk” bowed in Spain in 2002, but the country opted instead for “Los lunes al sol” as its selection.

Mexico’s entry this year is “The Crime of Father Amaro” (“El crimen del Padre Amaro”).

“Even though it’s always the case to a certain extent, this year more than ever it seems like there are a lot of very strong films coming out in the last month of the year,” N.Y. Film Crix Circle prez Marshall Fine told Daily Variety.

“There’s so much competition for people’s attention, it’s inevitable that some very good work is going to be passed over. I’m worried that some of these films won’t be given the time they need to gain an audience.”

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