Gotham starts spreading the news

New York orgs help little pics become big contenders

NEW YORK — While the Independent Spirit Awards, the Golden Globes and the Oscars take place under the California sun, two of the season’s very early and very influential awards occur during Gotham’s gloomy winter.

On Dec. 6, the National Board of Review becomes the first major org to unveil its annual best-of movie picks. The New York Film Critics Circle announces its list of winners just five days later. Both galas have been known to not only help shape public opinion but also to create momentum in the Oscar race.

“Academy, SAG, WGA, DGA and BAFTA members are all very busy people that only have a finite amount of time in which to see so many movies,” Sony Classics topper Michael Barker explains. “So when films win an award at NBR or NYFCC, they become etched in the minds of Academy and guild members as titles they have to see before they vote.

“That is reason enough for value as far as awards are concerned, because the biggest challenge with Academy Award and guild awards is getting the films seen by enough members to be fully considered.”

The Gotham-based honors have a mixed record as Oscar predictors, however.

They are a particularly good barometer for actresses. In 25 years, 18 of the NYFCC’s actress winners went on to collect an Oscar nom, and seven of those women took the prize. The NBR honors is an even better indicator: In 25 years, 22 winners have received Oscar noms, and eight of them have won.

They’re not quite so reliable a bellwether for best picture honors: In the past 25 years, NBR and NYFCC have agreed with the Academy only eight and five times, respectively, on best picture of the year. In fact, the two orgs rarely even agree with each other, having concurred on the category just five times in a quarter-century.

But the New York orgs sway the Oscar race by bringing attention to pics in the arthouse sector, allowing a “Gods and Monsters,” a “Far From Heaven” or a “Sideways” to gather steam.

“A movie like ‘Titanic,’ for example, doesn’t need critics awards to get the attention of the Academy,” NYFCC chairman Marshall Fine says. “The Academy is always going to be focused on the big-budget studio films. What the NYFCC awards help do is call their attention to smaller films that they might otherwise not be paying attention to.”

In 2004, the orgs recognized two under-the-radar films that went on to garner Oscar noms. “Finding Neverland” was honored as the NBR film of the year while “Sideways,” which won the Oscar for adapted screenplay, took home the NYFCC top prize.

Last year, another small film that was hailed in Gotham, Sony Classics’ “Capote,” also found its way to the major award ballots. Star Philip Seymour Hoffman took home the NBR kudo for best actor while helmer Bennett Miller nabbed the NYCFF first-film prize. According to Barker, those initial two awards helped boost the film to its Oscar nom as top picture.

“The fact that (Hoffman) won so many (accolades) really brought the film to (the) forefront of all Academy, BAFTA and DGA members, which helped the film get nominated by all three orgs,” Barker says. “That was perceived as a long shot before the awards season started.”

Barker is hoping one of his own company’s films, Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver,” gets noticed by both orgs come December.

“It is very important that “Volver” be considered because it is very important for the profile of the film. You don’t have to win everything, but to be noticed is a real plus.”

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