Awards Season Focus: The Actor & The Actress

Look at the slate of movies and actors that film critics groups honored in 2011 and there’s likely to be plenty of overlap to what may be the Academy’s list when Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 24.

“The Artist” and “The Descendants” lead critics’ best picture honors. George Clooney and “Shame’s” Michael Fassbender have received the most kudos for lead actor, while Michelle Williams (“My Week With Marilyn”) and Viola Davis (“The Help”) reign over on the actress side. “Artist” helmer Michel Hazanavicius ranks first among directors.

And while the critics’ choices closely match what most prognosticators say will possibly receive Oscar noms, their picks aren’t exactly in line with the tastes of the moviegoing public.

“You can search far and wide for a major studio mainstream movie in these awards,” says film critic Leonard Maltin, adding that “The Help’s” Davis and supporting actress Octavia Spencer rank as notable exceptions. “The public made ‘The Help’ a hit and it was a film sustained not by reviews, but by word-of-mouth. And, even if you didn’t care for the movie, Viola Davis is such a clear-cut standout, she’d be hard to ignore.”

Who has been ignored? For starters, a trio of high-profile, holiday releases — “War Horse,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” — came up mostly empty, save for a lone shout-out from the St. Louis Film Critics for “Dragon Tattoo” actress Rooney Mara and an “Extremely Loud” nom from the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. The pics’ late-in-the-game arrival undoubtedly played a part in their exclusion since, for some groups, screenings came after they voted.

Time magazine critic Mary Pols also notes that awards-season hype can work against those films for some critics.

“You have to separate the movie from the marketing, but there’s always a backlash against films that seem to be engineered as Oscar bait,” Pols says. “It doesn’t help when a movie like ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ feels manipulative at its core.”

On the other end of the spectrum, critics groups have mostly given the cold shoulder to the daring cinema that tops year-end polls for Film Comment and the Village Voice. Yes, several groups honored Terrence Malick’s impressionistic mystery-sifter “The Tree of Life.” But movies such as “Melancholia,” “Meek’s Cutoff” and “A Dangerous Method,” along world cinema favorites such as “Certified Copy” and “Mysteries of Lisbon” have been ignored. That includes, for the latter two titles, the foreign language category.

“It does seem like critics winnow down their choices to the same handful of contenders,” Maltin says, “possibly because not enough members of some groups have seen the other movies.”

Those contenders, which, taking in the top winners among critics groups, include lead actors such as Brad Pitt (“Moneyball” and “The Tree of Life”), Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”) and Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) as well as supporting actors Albert Brooks (“Drive”), Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”), Spencer and Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”), all have the strong possibility to cross over with the Academy.

“The Artist” and “The Descendants” were the two films that showed up most often in both the picture and acting categories among the critics. The love for “The Descendants” isn’t surprising, given that writer-director Alexander Payne’s movies have often found favor with critics in the past and that this may be his most accessible pic.

“The script resonates with extremely relatable issues like dying and leaving behind a legacy,” says Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire, adding that another critics favorite, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” tackles similar themes.

“The Artist,” meanwhile, taps into critics’ love for classic cinema, scoring with so many different groups (New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., among them) that a bit of a backlash has ensued against the silent film.

“It’s a movie about movies, so, yes, you figure critics will love it,” Time’s Pols says. “But for me, it was as much about the terrible effects stubbornness and hubris can have on your life. It’s a silent movie, but it’s not just a gimmick movie.”

A peek at three other categories shows alignment with predicted Academy choices, too. “Rango” tops animation by a mile. “Project Nim” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” are first among docs. And the Iranian drama, “A Separation,” leads foreign language contenders.

CRITICS AWARDS TALLY:

LEAD ACTOR

George Clooney, “The Descendants”
• Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics;
• St. Louis Film Critics;
• Southeastern Film Critics;
• Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Assn.

Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
• Las Vegas Film Critics Society

Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
• Detroit Film Critics;
• Houston Film Critics Society;
• Los Angeles Film Critics (for multiple roles);
• Online Film Critics Society

Paul Giamatti, “Win Win”
• Indiana Film Critics

Woody Harrelson, “Rampart”
• African-American Film Critics

Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
• San Francisco Film Critics Circle

Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
• Boston Society of Film Critics;
• New York Film Critics Circle (co-recognized with his perf in “The Tree of Life”)

Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”
• Austin Film Critics;
• Chicago Film Critics;
• New York Film Critics Online;
• San Diego Film Critics; Toronto Film Critics

LEAD ACTRESS

Viola Davis, “The Help”
• African-American Film Critics
• Indiana Film Critics (as supporting actress)

Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
• St. Louis Film Critics

Brit Marling, “Another Earth”
• San Diego Film Critics

Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
• Indiana Film Critics

Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
• New York Film Critics Circle;
• New York Film Critics Online;
• Southeastern Film Critics

Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
• Austin Film Critics;
• Houston Film Critics Society;
• Online Film Critics Society;
• San Francisco Film Critics Circle

Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”
• Boston Society of Film Critics;
• Chicago Film Critics;
• Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics;
• Detroit Film Critics;
• Las Vegas Film Critics Society;
• Toronto Film Critics;
• Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Assn.

Yun Jung-hee, “Poetry”
• Los Angeles Film Critics

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Albert Brooks, “Drive”
• African-American Film Critics
• Austin Film Critics
• Boston Society of Film Critics
• Chicago Film Critics
• Houston Film Critics Society
• Las Vegas Film Critics Society
• New York Film Critics Circle
• New York Film Critics Online
• St. Louis Film Critics;
• San Francisco Film Critics Circle
• Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Assn.

nt color=”#b11117″>Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
• San Diego Film Critics

Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
• Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics;
• Detroit Film Critics;
• Indiana Film Critics
• Los Angeles Film Critics
• Online Film Critics Society
• Southeastern Film Critics
• Toronto Film Critics

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
• St. Louis Film Critics

Jessica Chastain
• Austin Film Critics (for “Take Shelter”)
• Chicago Film Critics (for “The Tree of Life”)
• New York Film Critics Circle (co-recognized with perfs in “Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life”)
• Los Angeles Film Critics (for multiple performances)
• Online Film Critics Society (for “The Tree of Life”)
• Toronto Film Critics (for “Take Shelter”)

Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
• Boston Society of Film Critics
• Las Vegas Film Critics Society
• New York Film Critics Online

Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
• Southeastern Film Critics

Carey Mulligan, “Shame”
• Detroit Film Critics

Vanessa Redgrave, “Coriolanus”
• San Francisco Film Critics Circle

Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
• African-American Film Critics
• Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Assn.

Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”
• Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics
• Houston Film Critics Society
• San Diego Film Critics

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