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Awards Galore

Oscar has lots of cousins. Some are clearly related. Others clearly aren't.

December 19, 2007|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

THE sprawling behemoth that is award season -- the months-long crawl of ceremonial dinners, post-screening Q&As and meet-and-greet receptions -- could be thought of in two ways. The process could be used to narrow down a wide range of contenders to a select few, or it could be used to broaden the acknowledgments to include a more diverse range of possibilities. This being Hollywood, it's usually winner take all.

Some groups flout their abilities to align with Oscar, while others steadfastly choose to go their own way. And while some sideline gurus would haul out statistics to make an actuary's eyes water, attempting to find the science in award madness, others take a more vibe-oriented, holistic approach to working the season. "I don't think there are 'precursors' " to the Oscars, said Tom Ortenberg, president of theatrical films at Lionsgate. "The various awards committees, be they guilds, critics groups, the Globes or whatever, that lead up to the Oscars, they are all pieces of the puzzle. I don't think that any awards committee serves as a predictor for any other awards committee. And while the Oscars are, of course, the great prize, it's wonderful to get recognition for your film from all kinds of groups."

The groups following on the next three pages are but a few of the stops along the way, with some indication of why (or whether) they matter in the march to Oscar.

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Los Angeles Film Critics Assn./New York Film Critics Circle/National Society of Film Critics

Getting a roomful of film critics to agree on anything is a tall order; getting three separate film critics organizations in sync is next to impossible. Sometimes less predictors than momentum builders, the critics groups can also help get outsiders back into the race. Of course, those crazy critics do like to go their own way -- such as when LAFCA gave the actress nod to little-known Vera Farmiga for the even littler-known "Down to the Bone" -- and so sometimes their awards can mean less in the bigger awards picture than some like to think. Last year, the critics groups went for Helen Mirren as "The Queen" and Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland" in a big way, rolling out the carpet on the way to Oscar glory. This year the NYFCC and LAFCA agree on Daniel Day-Lewis for lead actor and Amy Ryan for supporting actress, though they are a continent apart on film and director with the East Coast group giving the high sign to "No Country for Old Men" and its directors, Ethan and Joel Coen, and the West Coast opting for "There Will Be Blood" and its director, Paul Thomas Anderson.

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The Golden Globes

The Globes rose to prominence in part as a predictor of Oscar glories to come. Over the years, they have become somewhat more their own thing, although it can still often seem as if actors picking up an award here -- such as recent winners Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx, Reese Witherspoon and Hilary Swank -- are basically doing a run-through of their Oscar acceptance speeches. While some Hollywood insiders feel that the predictive powers of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. members who decide on the Globes are no longer fully in sync with academy voters, for mainstream audiences it is still the No. 1 stop on the way to Oscar. "There is no competition in terms of audience awareness," said one award consultant of the Globes' dominance as a precursor to the Oscars. This year's nominees -- including an unusual seven films in the best drama category -- was somehow both fairly predictable and kind of oddball, less a genuine read of the season and more a transparent attempt to spread the wealth and maximize star power on the red carpet.

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Regional Critics Groups

Once the critics groups from Phoenix, St. Louis, Boston and points elsewhere begin chiming in, it really starts to seem like an avalanche of accolades. When they all start to hand out awards to the same films, it definitely brings the picture into focus. The drumbeat for "The Departed" last year got pretty loud once the film picked up a raft of regional critics prizes. So far this year there seems to be strong early support for "No Country for Old Men."

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Other guilds

While it may seem this is getting into territory for serious and experienced award wonks only, as one award consultant explained, "At the end of the day, the guilds have the biggest crossover with Oscar voters." So while the editors, costume designers, art directors, cinematographers and audio societies may not immediately grab audience attention, for rabid Oscar-ologists they are essential signposts to what's going to happen down the road.

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All those prizes

DGA/PGA

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