“Critics don’t vote for Oscars” may be a good mantra to maintain when sizing up the race, but the aggregate opinions of the various regional groups can nevertheless be instructive. Looking back over recent Academy Awards history, the collective critical assessment — with organizations hailing from New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Austin, London, Dublin, and all points in between — has often pointed to a consensus.
For example, “The Hurt Locker,” “Argo,” and “12 Years a Slave” took the lion’s share of critics’ best-picture kudos in unpredictable years, then went on to win the Oscar. This year, it’s a two-horse race.
Excluding the National Board of Review, which is not a critics’ group, “Moonlight” maintains an edge over “La La Land.” Barry Jenkins’ intimate drama has scored 15 prizes for best film, vs. 13 for Damien Chazelle’s musical.
“Manchester by the Sea,” “Hell or High Water,” “I, Daniel Blake,” and “The Lobster” are the only other films to have been named the year’s best by critics.
In the director arena, Chazelle has nosed ahead of Jenkins, 16 to 14, while David Mackenzie (“Hell or High Water”), Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”), Maren Ade (“Toni Erdmann”), and Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) have all received some love as well.
The actor race is fairly boiled down. Only four men have won prizes from the critics: Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Adam Driver (“Paterson”), Dave Johns (“I, Daniel Blake”), and Denzel Washington (“Fences”). But Affleck is way out front with 28 wins, the most dominant player in any category.
The wide-open actress race is reflected in the fact that nine women have scored with critics so far. “Elle” star Isabelle Huppert and “Jackie’s” Natalie Portman are in a dead heat with 10 wins apiece. Emma Stone (“La La Land”) and Ruth Negga (“Loving”) have three apiece, while Amy Adams (“Arrival”), Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”), Sonia Braga (“Aquarius”), Rebecca Hall (“Christine”), and Sandra Hüller (“Toni Erdmann”) have been recognized as well.
In the race for supporting actor, Mahershala Ali of “Moonlight” is nearly as dominant as Affleck is in the lead category. Ali has received 25 prizes, while Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster (“Hell or High Water”), Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”), and John Goodman (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) are all eating his dust.
Viola Davis leads supporting actresses, with 19 wins for her “Fences” performance. Michelle Williams is a distant second with eight wins for “Manchester by the Sea,” while Greta Gerwig (“20th Century Women”), Lily Gladstone (“Certain Women”), and Naomie Harris (“Moonlight”) have gotten attention.
With 14 wins, “Manchester by the Sea” is the stand-out in the screenplay races (some divided into adapted and original, others consolidated). “Arrival” isn’t far behind with 10. Nine other scripts have been recognized, including “Fences,” “Hell or High Water,” “The Lobster,” “Love & Friendship” and “Moonlight.”
“Zootopia” is enjoying a slight lead over “Kubo and the Two Strings” in the animated race, 15 to 14. “O.J.: Made in America” has pulled ahead of “13th” in best documentary, 14 to six. And even though it’s not in contention for Oscar recognition, “The Handmaiden” is way out in front of “Elle” and “Toni Erdmann” in the foreign film race with 18 wins so far.
So that’s the data. If “Moonlight” can maintain its lead over “La La Land,” it’s certainly interesting, in that it shows the film can endure across a wide swath of opinions; these memberships combine for hundreds of voices, after all.
What will be even more instructive, however, is how the various guild and industry groups follow the Screen Actors Guild and American Cinema Editors’ lead throughout the rest of this month. That’s where you get the assessment of working film pros, many of whom are Academy members, and who often view things differently than critics.