Critics of the Hollywood film and TV industry like to joke that the business loves nothing more than to give itself awards. Yet industry pundits will have the last laugh when the Critics Choice Assn. holds its popular 27th annual awards gala. Originally scheduled for Jan. 9, the show has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. A statement from the organization states that they are “in regular communication with L.A. County Public Health officials, and we are currently working diligently to find a new date during the upcoming awards season in which to host our annual gala in-person with everyone’s safety and health remaining our top priority.”
What started as an untelevised event decades ago during which membership awarded their top picks in a multitude of film categories (television awards have only been included since 2011), the evening is now a full-fledged star-studded affair that will be broadcast on both the CW and TBS.
Standing out in a sea of accolade-driven evenings and attracting top talent seems challenging. Joey Berlin, CEO of the association and a longtime executive producer of the awards, says, “The fun factor is vital,” since jitters are an inherent part of any contest.
The 500-plus voting membership of the CCA, comprised of critics in the U.S. and abroad, must prove reach and regularity of their reviews prior to joining. By routinely delivering information to widespread, diverse audiences, the collective critics must be up on the myriad programming that’s churned out on a regular basis.
“We’re in the mainstream,” notes Berlin, “helping to winnow down the field of [work], helping the Academy members know what they have to make sure to see before they vote.”
George Pennacchio, an Emmy-winning ABC 7 entertainment reporter and member of the CCA, has attended the awards since their days as a low-key luncheon. Back then, the organization was called the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. Pennacchio passes on red carpet work duties for the night in favor of sitting at a comfortable table inside as an attendee. Here, he enjoys looking on as the honorees visit together.
“This is the place where people who admire each other can go up and talk about admiring each other’s work,” says Pennacchio of the interactions. “It’s sweet to see two stars that might not know each other talk and [then] hug.”
The Critics Choice Assn. is always looking for ways to recognize excellence. They added the best animated feature category ahead of the Academy, and in more recent years have established separate awards events focusing on productions with specialized niches. The Super Awards, for which nominees will be announced later in 2022, include the categories best action movie, best superhero movie, best horror movie and best science fiction/fantasy movie. The CCA has also established the Documentary Awards and Real TV Awards, along with the Celebration of Black Cinema and Television event.
A newer category at the Critics Choice Awards is the SeeHer distinction, which honors a woman in the industry who uses her platform to promote equality, including by choosing roles that go beyond stereotype. This year’s honoree is Halle Berry, who made her directorial debut with “Bruised” in 2020. Prior selections include Zendaya, Viola Davis and Gal Gadot.
“We like to acknowledge excellence, frankly,” notes Pennacchio of the many accolades the group bestows.
With so much television and film product, it can be hard for audiences to know where to invest their money and time. The critics try to “help people find the good stuff,” says Berlin, adding that the organization strives to spotlight deserving projects that don’t always get as much attention on their own.
Set to air before the Oscars are announced, every stop en route to the big extravaganza only helps heighten the frenzy for projects, cast and crew. Advertisements announcing big wins at the Critics Choice Awards inevitably appear soon after. “There’s a certain cache to it that I think studios like,” says Pennacchio.
Unlike at other major awards shows, these voters are “the people who make their living every day checking out entertainment product, passing judgment on it, and reporting on it,” notes Berlin, “so their collective thumbs up is really meaningful.”
While it’s always gratifying having hard work recognized as an award nominee, the CCA members enjoy the big night as well. Many fly in from around the country.
For an organization that specializes in communication, the CCA’s seating arrangements in particular encourage connection. Two seats for CCA members are reserved at every table with the honorees. “Our people are throwing the party, hosting the party, inviting the guests and we make sure that we are not isolated from them, and they’re not isolated from us,” says Berlin of the unique seating arrangements. “[The evening is about] that kind of mingling on a purely social and celebratory basis.”
In fact, Berlin teases that he knows of multiple couples, celebrity as well as critics and publicists, who have met their significant others at the awards.
Celebration or not, all good things must come to an end While some awards shows have a reputation for running long, Berlin credits executive producer Bob Bain with always coming in on time. Whether it’s adjusting clip packages in the moment or pulling something else from what Berlin calls the “bag of tricks,” remaining on schedule while giving everyone their moment to shine on stage is “vitally important to us.”
Dressing up for an evening out may be par for the course in Hollywood, especially during awards season, but that doesn’t mean the night has to be overly stuffy or formal. Adapting with the times, whether it’s with a bent towards inclusion or acknowledging good work regardless of box office grosses, the CCA strives to put on a memorable event. By the evening’s conclusion, more people will walk away without trophies than with them after all, and having been recognized in any form feels good.” Says Pennacchio, “Whatever you call the award, I just think it’s letting someone who works really hard know.