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Critics stick with ‘The Artist’

Though acclaim and kudos rarely align, this year's more black and white

Critical acclaim has never been the most reliable bellwether for Oscar glory, but the flurry of end-of-year choices by critics groups offers some insight into the films that have awards momentum.

With nearly 20 groups having already announced — and at least a dozen left to come — one thing has become abundantly clear: Critics like “The Artist.” A lot.

The Boston, Indiana, Las Vegas, New York and San Diego orgs have been charmed enough by the black-and-white pic to give it top honors. In fact, with a total of seven so far, Michel Haznavicius’ “The Artist” has earned more best-picture nods from critics groups than other Oscar contenders like “The Descendants” (four: Houston, Los Angeles, Florida and Southeastern), “The Tree of Life” (four: African-American Film Critics, San Francisco, Toronto and Chicago) and “Hugo” (one: the National Board of Review).

A lack of recognition for “The Help,” which is still considered a very viable contender for Oscar, points to the disconnect between critics and Academy voters. The film is a virtual lock for a best picture Oscar nom and continues to collect kudos for Viola Davis, yet this broad-based drama that earned almost $170 million at the box office is a little too conventional for critics.

Despite the notion that critics are out of touch with the Oscar vote, the groups’ ancillary categories reveal some definite consensus.

For his menacing turn in “Drive,” Albert Brooks has earned 10 best supporting actor nods from critics groups — more than any other thesp in any category. The lack of a SAG nomination has been his only weakness on the way to an Academy Awards berth. Christopher Plummer has earned five critics picks for his role in “Beginners,” plus the SAG nom.

The kudos for lead actor have been much more spread around, with Michael Fassbender (“Shame”), Michael Shannon (“Take Shelter”) and George Clooney (“The Descendants”) earning three apiece and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball,” “Tree of Life”) at two.

Lead actress kudos have gone to Michelle Williams six times for “My Week With Marilyn,” followed closely by Tilda Swinton for “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady,” each at three. Viola Davis has been tapped by two groups for “The Help.”

Supporting actresses Jessica Chastain (for multiple roles) and Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) have been named in four critics announcements. “Bridesmaids” supporting actress Melissa McCarthy continues on the roll she started at the Emmys in September, earning three critics nods so far. “The Help’s” Octavia Spencer has been tapped twice.

And while the cinematography category isn’t usually at the top of handicappers’ lists, one name has dominated for critics: “Tree of Life” d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki has been tapped for his work 11 times.