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New York film critics throw a curveball into the award race

The often idiosyncratic group says it'll announce its picks two weeks earlier than the traditional leadoff group's.

October 24, 2011|By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times
  • The New York Film Critics Circles best picture picks rarely match the academys. Last year, it chose The Social Network, with Jess Eisenberg, over the academy's favorite, The Kings Speech.
The New York Film Critics Circles best picture picks rarely match the academys.… (Sony Pictures )

First came the political primaries. Now the Oscar race seems to be caught up in the leader-of-the-pack syndrome.

The New York Film Critics Circle last week pulled a Florida, inching the date for its annual award selection for best films of the year to the front of the critics heap, in similar fashion to the Sunshine State's move to shift its Republican primary ahead of the rest.

The critics group's move to announce its awards Nov. 28 — two weeks earlier than usual, ahead of the National Board of Review, whose announcement traditionally has been the kickoff to the season of accolades — was met by harsh criticism from many online bloggers and awards consultants. They derided the group for eschewing tradition by preempting the national board, a rather secretive society of filmgoers and academics whose primary mission appears to be its annual film awards. They also raised concerned about the logistics of getting films ready to screen for the critics' earlier date.

But the head of the New York Film Critics Circle defended the move, saying it will help the group more effectively affect the Oscar race.

"It removes a lot of the distractions of being in the middle of [what] happens with all these groups voting and who's following who," said Chairman John Anderson. "There is a sentiment, I think — though people would probably deny it — that you don't want to look like you're following another group so you could vote for things that you wouldn't ordinarily vote for."

The 33-person group is known for its contrarian choices; its pick for best film rarely matches the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' choice. (Last year the NYFCC, along with most other critics groups, chose "The Social Network" as its top film of the year, while the academy went with "The King's Speech.") Over the years the East Coast critics group has made some surprising choices, picking "Sideways" for its best picture over Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" and selecting Cameron Diaz as best actress in 1998 for "There's Something About Mary."

Critics groups have generally had a nominal effect on the Oscar race. They are often seen as influencers, but because none of their voters is a member of any of the guilds that make up the academy membership, they have no control over how the academy votes.

At this point, it doesn't appear that the NYFCC move will prompt others to shift their dates.

"To me it's somewhat surprising that they would give up those two weeks in December, which are really important for last-minute viewing," says Brent Simon, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., which will unveil its choices on Dec. 10 or 11. "[Their move] won't have an impact on us."

The biggest concern surrounding the date shift appears to be the logistics surrounding the studios' ability to get films set to open in December, like Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and Stephen Daldry's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," in front of the critics in time for their vote. Anderson isn't concerned and says he would be willing to gather his members together for specifically set screenings if that is required to make the expedited date.

It appears that this year those movies looking for consideration will not be affected by the NYFCC's early date. But that's not always the case, with some filmmakers scrambling to finish their films by the end of the year in time for consideration.

nicole.sperling@latimes.com

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