The first two major awards announcements came down the wire last week. OK, one major awards announcement and a celebrity party list. Fine, a celebrity party list and a group so desperate to be first that they completely ignored at least one film expected to make some waves in the Oscar race. The National Board of Review has traditionally been the first out of the gate, although no one ever took them seriously beyond "oh, they chose that film, wonder who else will." This year the New York Film Critics Circle (under some strong vocal dissention within the group) decided to move up their awards by a good week-and-a-half to get the ball rolling on Stage Two of awards season - when the critics chime in and maybe, just maybe, the guilds and Academy follow suit.
The NYFCC decided to stake their claim with Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, a non-musical Singin' In The Rain-like tribute to the end of the silent movie era. The film picked up awards for Best Picture and Director, marking the sixth time in the last ten years they have honored the director of their top pick - and their third year in a row. They also held up speculation that Moneyball is going to be heavily in the running for Best Actor (Brad Pitt) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin), though their writing category makes no distinction between originality and adaptation. The great Albert Brooks was honored for his against-type turn as the heavy in Drive while his Defending Your Life co-star was named Best Actress for The Iron Lady. Finally, in the grand tradition of awarding the actor/actress with the most roles in a calendar year, it should come as no surprise that Jessica Chastain was named Best Supporting Actress for The Tree of Life, The Help and Take Shelter, but apparently not for The Debt, Coriolanus or Texas Killing Fields.
Way to take a stand there, New York. Good thing you were out in front of this whole awards thing so upstart ingénues like Meryl Streep will be remembered come awards time over such Oscar mainstays like Elizabeth Olsen and Kirsten Dunst. Sarcasm notwithstanding, we can still assume that these are honest picks fought over at their annual non-secret ballot meeting. We can save the chicken-and-egg discussion for later on whether they set the trend or were making predictions BFCA-style to boost their worth. For now we shall just look at the numbers.
None of New York's picks in the Top Eight categories have done better than 50% in matching up with the eventual Oscar winners. But there is a good enough record in seeing their choices pick up nominations. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) is the only Best Actor choice to not receive a nod since 2001. Director, Actress, Supporting Actress and Screenplay are all sitting fine with a 80% record. Picture is only 70% in that time, though 7-of-their-last-8 have been in the running. Supporting Actor is only at 60% over the past decade, but is 100% in the last five years.
The National Board of Review's numbers are a bit more skewed, but are really the only reason to even give the star shaggers a second look. 40% of their choice for Best Actor since 2001 have gone on to be victorious and the numbers trail down from there. Their Director category for instance has only seen 4-of-10 in that time even get nominated. Including their choice for 2011, NBR has now gone with Martin Scorsese (Hugo, The Departed) and David Fincher (The Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) twice each in six years. Wonder if THEY saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in time for voting? At least Sony could have taken comfort in no one from the NBR breaking embargo since you have to write reviews to do that.
Moving on to the rest of NBR's picks, they are sure to brag about their recent flawless history in the Best Picture and Supporting Actor categories. Respectively, not since Quills (2000) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (1999) has their choice failed to grab an Oscar nod. This boasts well for an already favored Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and the less-favored Hugo. Washington D.C. critics corresponded the Scorsese choice for Director, giving him the early lead in the polls. The gang in D.C. also agreed with NBR's choices in the Screenplay race with 50/50 and The Descendants, which can only help boost Will Eisner's chances. Alexander Payne's film is already a dead lock amongst adaptations. NBR is 6-of-9 and 6-of-8 in each of the writing categories but, funny enough, only 50-50 with their last six choices as Stranger Than Fiction, Gran Torino and Buried did not have the distance.
The Descendants also figured into NBR's 70% categories with choices for Actor (George Clooney) and Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley), both of whom shall likely remain in the conversation well into January. Since its premiere at Telluride, no one is betting against Clooney for his fourth nomination - and third in four years. The biggest bump perhaps provided by the group this year is in the Actress category, awarding Tilda Swinton for We Need To Talk About Kevin. Their streak here well surpassed even that of Picture and Supporting Actor as you would have to go back to Glenda Jackson in 1981's Stevie to find an actress who won NBR and was not nominated for Oscar. At least until 2010 when they went with the great Lesley Manville (Another Year) and it was not enough to remind critics and subsequent voters that she was a deserving choice to keep that streak alive. For Swinton's sake, let her hope that she is not the beginning of a new NBR streak in that category.
The awards race is still very sketchy right now and will have the opportunity to be shaken up every week from here on out until Jan. 24 when the Academy nominations are announced. Next week alone we will have winners from Los Angeles, nominations from Chicago and more party invites from the Hollywood Foreign Press and Broadcast Film Critics. It is safe to believe that we know a few things at this point and the top three locks will come into focus very quickly. But it is those 4th and 5th slots where the percentages can be the tea leaves we need to make our best guesses.