Populist, elitist sensibilities join together

MSN Movies columnist James Rocchi chose essentially the same films and performances when voting this year for both the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards. But the vibe when filling out the ballots was decidedly different.Tip sheet
What: BFCA Critics’ Choice Movie Awards
When: Tonight
Where: Hollywood Palladium
Web: bfca.org

“In one case I felt like a monocle-clad elitist, and the other a knuckle-dragging troglodyte,” Rocchi says.

Given that the more populist membership of the BFCA didn’t nominate LAFCA lead actress winner Yolande Moreau, doing the guesswork on which ballot got Rocchi’s knuckles dirty isn’t too hard. But Rocchi’s comment also illustrates how the BFCA’s 199 members have become an increasingly diverse lot in recent years, reflecting a greater influx of online critics.

“It’s a mix that isn’t like other groups,” says Ray Pride, film editor of Chicago arts paper Newcity and a columnist for website Movie City News. “People with more of a poppy sensibility are voting alongside reviewers with more eclectic tastes.”

Adds KTLA-TV entertainment anchor Sam Rubin: “In general, the Web writers may be a little younger and a little hipper than the overall body of established television critics, and that helps keep the BFCA vital and connected.”

The bulk of the BFCA membership remains television reporters like Rubin and their radio counterparts. To qualify for membership, broadcast film critics must regularly provide a large television, radio or Internet audience with reviews, not just reportage. Quantifying that audience is one of the things the BFCA checks on during its quarterly review of its membership.

“More and more, online people are getting a sizable audience,” BFCA prexy Joey Berlin says. “For all the talk about movie critics being an endangered species, we’re seeing plenty of new applicants. They’re just coming from different places.”

That can make for a pretty wild membership mix. In what other group might you have the Onion A.V. Club critic Nathan Rabin and online curmudgeon Jeffrey Wells mixing it up with blurbmeisters like Good Day Sacramento’s Mark S. Allen (who infamously said “Soul Men” was “perhaps the best buddy picture ever!”) and Ted Baehr, editor of Movieguide, a publication that judges movies more for their moral content than artistic merits?

“It is high and low, if you will,” Pride allows. “Still, I think the (BFCA) awards do wind up surfing the zeitgeist like any other group with a large membership. The sheer numbers do flatten into consensus, and with this year’s lovefests for ‘Up,’ ‘Up in the Air’ and ‘The Hurt Locker,’ I’d be surprised if the BFCA proved any different.”

Serving that kind of wide-ranging membership doesn’t pose any particular challenges, Berlin says. The BFCA’s officers help its members — broadcast or Web-based — in several respects, such as arranging screenings with studios and serving as a go-between in conflicts between studios and critics. (Embargo beefs top the list.)

“Our members are professional movie watchers,” Berlin says. “Whatever our outlet, we believe we offer a valuable perspective on quality.”

Adds Rocchi: “There’s a common love and enthusiasm for film. That’s the unifying factor.”

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