Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 4

As the precursor awards continue unabated through the month of December, I’m going to be providing a weekly update highlighting the films that have won and lost momentum through the precursor awards (this will be in place of my prior weekly article “Oscar Preview”. Today, we look back at the results of the New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, Satellite Awards nominations, Spirit Awards nominations and the Producers Guild of America nominations. This is a healthy spread of award bodies from indie to big budget, and a nice broad spectrum of critics groups.

But, before we get into this week’s winners and losers, let’s take a look at what’s coming up this week:

Week 5

Dec. 27 – Academy Awards Ballots Mailed
Dec. 27 – Phoenix Film Critics Awards
Jan. 1 – National Society of Film Critics (guesstimate)
Jan. 2 – Online Film Critics Society Awards

Big Winners

The Academy has been announcing shortlist contenders for a few years now but when they finally released their eligible list for Original Score, their conversion to transparency was completed (at least as far as they possibly could go without revealing actual vote totals). I’m glad to see more official lists from the Academy. Sometimes it makes it much easier to know where they stand when making your own predictions.
The Artist As the awards season draws on, one film seems to be standing above all others when it comes to consistent attention. Even the London critics recognized the film heavily in its nomination list. This is the only film with strong critical support that has made inroads with nearly every group it’s come across. It is now positioned as a likely winner for this year’s Oscars. It just has to make it through a few more hoops before it can be crowned frontrunner.
Drive. In spite of its dark subject matter, this stylized mob/action/heist film has been consistently present throughout awards season. Even when more critic-friendly films like The Tree of Life are getting consistent attention, this film keeps getting nominated. It’s gotten enough attention now that were it to be left off the Best Picture list with the Academy, not only would I be surprised, but the Academy would likely take flack for being hopelessly milquetoast.
The Help. Getting a huge boost from the Oscar-flavored Phoenix film critics, this film has been slowly amassing a surprising number of awards from critics who don’t tend to favor lighthearted, sentimental films that rose-color the past. If this doesn’t end up with at least two or three acting nominations, I’d be surprised and now it’s a likely Best Picture nominee, could Best Director cement the film as a contender? The DGA doesn’t likely these kinds of films, so if they pick Tate Taylor, we could have a race between The Help and The Artist.
A Separation has received a lot of attention from critics, but the most notable inclusions are not in Foreign Language Film where one would expect to find it, but in Original Screenplay. The Academy doesn’t recognize foreign scripts very often, but if the film gets enough exposure to the writing branch, it could be a surprise nominee for Best Original Screenplay.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. As the early critics prizes trickled out, the once career-nomination-destined Gary Oldman seemed to have faltered. With boosts from a handful of small critics groups in the last couple of weeks, he seems to be having a small resurgence. Whether it’s enough to translate into an Oscar nomination remains to be seen, but the film could also appear in a couple of other categories with Adapted Screenplay being one of the more likely.

Big Losers

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has gotten heavily mixed reviews and the film isn’t making as much headway as it needs. While Stephen Daldry has a perfect record to this point, this film looks like it may be too divisive to earn him his fourth Best Director nomination. If the DGA gives him a nod, then he may well succeed, but prospects are looking dim for him and his film.
Hugo received a number of nominations and awards in recent weeks, but something about the film’s lack of box office clout seems to be clouding forecasts for the film. Usually a film like this would be doing wonders at the box office, but it has barely made an impact. The film may still earn a Best Picture nomination as it is still picking up critic group nominations, but it hasn’t had a very good Christmas so far.
War Horse is opening to mixed reviews calling it heavily sentimental and overly manipulative. Numbers aren’t out yet for Christmas Day when it opened wide but its 6.9 average rating at IMDb suggests it’s not going over as well with audiences as one would expect from Spielberg. These kinds of numbers plus the perfunctory nominations from the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Critics suggest the film is struggling to find an audience with awards voters. Still, if anyone can turn out a nomination, it’s Spielberg whose better reviewed Munich managed to earn a Best Picture nomination in a five-film slate.

Individual Analyses

Phoenix Critics Nominations

The Phoenix Critics are one of the most generic groups out there. Their populist tastes generally reflect Academy voters better than a lot of groups. Looking through this list, I don’t find many names that aren’t Oscar contenders (though, their love for The Help gave Bryce Dallas Howard a no-Oscar-hope nomination). Even their categories that don’t translate to Oscar seem to reflect what an Academy member might select.

London Critics Circle Nominations

London has always been an eclectic group and although they’ve changed their categories around this year to be more in line with what the Oscars have, there’s still no end to the Euro-centric feel of their choices. When your top nominees for the year are Drive, A Separation and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, clearly you’re more interested in your own opinions than in predicting the Oscars, which is just fine with me. The international flair of their selections is amazing and that they don’t seem particularly fond of Martin Scrosese’s Hugo (not a good or bad thing necessarily) suggests they aren’t easily taken in like American critics.

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