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‘Spotlight’ Wins Top Critics’ Choice Prize, Next Stop Oscar?

The BFCA has a pretty good Oscar track record (and they never miss an opportunity to remind you).

The Critics’ Choice Awards are no “influencer” when it comes to the Academy Awards. Few things really are, despite the consistent obsession with what this or that “means” to the Oscar race. What they are, however, is a televised awards ceremony in the second phase of the season, and for a few years, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn., which puts on the event, took full advantage of that fact by airing the show on the day of the annual Oscar nominations announcement.

It made for an interesting opportunity, as it was the first red carpet Oscar nominees found themselves walking after getting the good news earlier that morning. It also provided an opportunity to speak to those results in some way, as “Argo” director Ben Affleck did three years ago, mere hours after being passed over for a best director nomination. “I’d like to thank the Academy,” he quipped upon receiving the Critics’ Choice Award for same.

This year the BFCA opted for the weekend, a cool-down period three days after the Oscar nominations announcement. They also folded sister group the Broadcast Television Journalists Assn.’s awards into the same show, making for a film/TV combo matched only by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Golden Globe Awards.

So things were a little bit different this time around. But the results ought to be kept in the same perspective they always have. The BFCA likes to crow about matching (i.e. “predicting”) Oscar nominees and winners, and part of the reason they have such a god track record is the size of the voting body. Somewhere around 300 individuals vote, which represents a broad collective unique in the spectrum; most regional groups feature memberships upwards of 85% smaller than that (which, by the way, is often good news for more esoteric contenders).

Not to play into this Oscar harbinger self-marketing, but 12 of the last 20 best picture Oscar winners were also anointed by the BFCA. So it’s worth paying attention to the fact that “Spotlight” won the top prize this year. But it’s also worth pointing out that the BFCA can fall into critics circuit victory lap territory, as they’ve been among the last groups to hand best picture honors to films like “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Social Network” and “Boyhood” in the past. (Those contenders ultimately fell to “Crash,” “The King’s Speech” and “Birdman,” respectively, at the Oscars.)

The jury is still out as to whether “Spotlight” — which, as we’ve reported, has dominated the critics awards circuit — can translate all of this into an Academy Award for best picture. It faces stiff competition from the likes of “The Big Short” and “The Revenant,” also nominated by the BFCA (though the former had an out in the superfluous best comedy category). But things are looking up.

Elsewhere, Sylvester Stallone — whose road to Oscar began right here — got a chance to course correct after the internet jumped down his throat for neglecting to mention “Creed” director Ryan Coogler on the air. He’s starting to look more and more like a sure thing…but beware that whiff of inevitability. Just ask Eddie Murphy, Mickey Rourke, Lauren Bacall, etc.

Alicia Vikander settled into a good spot herself, scooping up supporting actress honors for “The Danish Girl” after dominating the circuit for her performance in “Ex Machina.” Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) and Brie Larson (“Room”) also kept strong precursor track records alive in the steady march to the Dolby Theater, though neither opted to attend the show.

Oh, and if you blinked you might have missed the announcement of screenplay honors for “The Big Short” and “Spotlight.” It’s just the script. No reason to give it a spot on the actual show or anything. Nah. In any case, the BFCA’s coveted Oscar guessing streak is likely to hold up there, too.

In all likelihood, tonight’s best picture/best director split between “Spotlight” and George Miller (nice move having the actresses of “Mad Max: Fury Road” accept in his stead) will be duplicated in just over a month. It’s the scenario that makes the most sense right now, but “right now” shifts and slides. If you’re really paying attention, you’re keeping an eye on next weekend’s Producers Guild of America Awards. The only other organization to use the preferential ballot the Academy uses for best picture, it has predicted the ultimate Oscar winner each of the last eight years.

On the television side of things, things are still a bit wild west with this group. The Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. is relatively young, but they shined a light on new series like “Mr. Robot” (three awards on the evening) and “Master of None.” And “Fargo” nearly swept its categories, with only Patrick Wilson failing to translate a nomination to a win (in the lead actor in a TV movie or miniseries category). What does all that mean? I actually haven’t the faintest. Though “Most Bingeworthy” is a nifty name for a bauble. “Outlander” won that one.

Check out a full list of winners here.

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