It's too early to count votes or to make an out-on-a-limb prediction, but it looks like "A History of Violence" has the early lead for the best picture prize from the New York Film Critics' Circle, which announces winners on Dec. 12. Members are just now seeing other top contenders like "Match Point" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" and they must wait another two weeks before catching up with "Munich" or "The New World." At that point GoldDerby will size up the last leg of the race more closely and probably venture a prediction. But for now, here's the inside track.
"'A History of Violence,' of course!" cried a veteran Oscar campaigner not involved with the film when I recently asked for a guess of what movie might prevail for the top critics' trophy. NYFCC member Thelma Adams of Us Weekly — a two-time past chair of the vicious circle — cited the same film last week when I asked her to surmise what movies might be ahead. She hadn't snooped and made an early vote count. She was just reflecting on the taste of a group of critics — more than 85% male — that skews notoriously gritty and guy-friendly. But "A History of Violence" even appeals strongly to her. "It's my favorite movie of the year so far," Thelma says, "but there's still so much to see!"
Photo: The New York Film Critics' Circle has a history of backing films like "A History of Violence."
(New Line Cinema)
Thelma and other insiders also believe that "Good Night, and Good Luck," "Brokeback Mountain," "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," "Crash," "Walk the Line" and "Match Point" are serious contenders.
A veteran NYFCC watcher who has close personal ties with the circle and an excellent track record predicting their vote results is New York University professor Michael Zam, who says, "Gotta say that I think the front-runner so far is 'A History of Violence.' It's got the reviews, the edge and a cool auteur director (David Cronenberg), even if this was a job for hire and not a project initiated from the ground up. It's also got the best heterosexual sex scene of any film this year."
This last point matters a lot because the overwhelming majority of guys in the circle are, as they say, "hopelessly straight," so much so that they're often accused of being blinded by testosterone. It's widely believed that's the explanation for Cameron Diaz winning best actress for "There's Something About Mary" in 1998. And when the circle shocked award watchers in 2001 by picking "Mulholland Drive" as best picture, I asked one female member how it pulled off that upset. "Oh, gimme a break!" she harrumphed. "Isn't it obvious? It's got a hot lesbian sex scene!"