The awards race went into overdrive this week with the first announcements of winners on Dec. 1 and 2. The New York Film Critics Circle saluted “Boyhood” as best picture; “Birdman” won at the Gotham Awards; “A Most Violent Year” got the nod from the National Board of Review. (Each organization also honored their favorite film in other categories as well.)
The results are all over the map, but the prizes so far reveal a few conclusions about the still-young Oscar race.
1) These awards are useful: At this time of year, attention from a voting org is like a neon arrow for Oscar voters saying, “See this film before you cast your ballot.” They’re also helpful to strategists, who get an idea of how people outside the studio are sizing up the various contenders. Aside from the buzzed-about films, the awards boost the profile of some underdogs, such as “A Most Violent Year” (a big surprise with triple NBR wins), “American Sniper,” “Fury,” “The Immigrant,” “Nightcrawler,” “Rosewater,” and “Mr. Turner.”
2) They spread the wealth: The three announcements had little overlap in their honorees. Aside from the titles mentioned above, they covered their bases by citing films frequently mentioned in awards chatter: “Foxcatcher,” “Gone Girl,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “The Lego Movie,” “Selma,” “Unbroken” and “Whiplash.” Naming such a range confirms what everyone’s been saying: It’s a wide-open year.
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3) But there is one front-runner: The closest thing to a consensus this week is Julianne Moore, who was cited by two orgs as best actress for “Still Alice.” She’s got the industry sentiment, and she delivers the goods.
4) Skepticism is a must: For the record, the groups last year voted for “American Hustle” (NYFCC); “Inside Llewyn Davis” (Gothams); and “Her” (NBR). So they’re hardly reliable Oscar predictors, though they HAVE matched the Academy in some years. And with many awards to come, it’s good to remember that “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Social Network” and “Zero Dark Thirty” scored big-time in the early awards, though none ended up with the best-picture Oscar.
5) There’s still time for surprises: Mostly ignored so far are “Interstellar,” “Into the Woods,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Big Eyes,” “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Wild.” And some heavy-hitters have received modest attention so far, such as “Unbroken.” But that film is a good reminder of the goofiness of awards buzz. As soon as “Unbroken” was greenlit, its awards potential was mentioned, based on the material and Angelina Jolie as director. It’s been on a roller-coaster ride of expectations and backlash ever since, though only a few have seen it. But the 6,000 voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have their own tastes. They gave best-picture nominations to a lot of films that had been low on the radar of earlier awards, ranging from “The Blind Side” to “True Grit” to “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.”
Next out of the gate are the L.A. Film Critics unveiling Dec. 7, the AFI Awards Dec. 8, SAG nominations Dec. 10 and Golden Globes noms Dec. 11. Oscar nominations come out Jan. 15. And THAT is when the season will really start to take shape.