Behind the scenes of the N.Y. and L.A. critics awards
Last year Jack Mathews, then movie critic for the New York Daily News, wrote a scathing indictment of the Gotham film crix awards. "I dropped out of the New York Film Critics Circle a few years back because I thought its awards voting process was corrupt," he explained. "Many of its winners are compromise candidates that score third or fourth on the first ballot and, after several more politically motivated ballots, come in first. In fact, as many critics vote against movies as vote for them."
Mathews went on to give an example: "Let’s say that Joe Wright’s 'Atonement' is leading after the first ballot, but doesn’t have the majority of votes needed to win outright. On the second ballot, those critics who may have had 'Atonement' second or third will leave it off, depriving it of points in order to strengthen their No. 1 choice. When it gets to a point where a critic doesn’t like either of the leading vote getters, he or she will pick the lesser of two evils, vote for it at No. 1 and leave the other off the ballot. And, of course, various cliques get together and throw their weight behind or in front of movies gaining steam."
That is just what happened this year as "Milk" won best picture on ballot four with 29 points. "Rachel Getting Married" had 25 points while both "Happy-Go-Lucky" and "Slumdog Millionaire" had 20 points. As Gotham critic circle member Mike D'Angelo of Esquire wrote on his Twitter stream: "My sense is that 'Milk' wound up as the I-can-live-with-that compromise choice for voters blocking 'Slumdog' and voters blocking 'Rachel.'"
Explains Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, "The 'blocking' part Mike refers to comes from the NYFCC's notorious voting system, which requires critics to choose three weighted candidates after the first ballot, assigning 3, 2 and 1 points to each. Some members 'block' something they don't particularly want to win by leaving it off their ballot and filling in the second and third slots with something they know can't possibly win." Admits Lou, "I personally made 'Slumdog Millionaire' my first choice for the first three ballots, when it became clear that 'Rachel Getting Married' could take the top prize instead. So I switched my top choice to another movie I loved, 'Milk,' which triumphed on the fourth ballot. Not that I have anything against 'Rachel,' which landed just outside my top 10 list. I just don't want to encourage any filmmakers less talented than Jonathan Demme to make faux-Altman movies. The real thing could be excruciating enough."
Besides best picture, these other races went to four ballots with the Gotham crix: director -- Mike Leigh ("Happy-Go-Lucky"); lead actor -- Sean Penn ("Milk"); screenplay -- Jenny Lumet ("Rachel Getting Married"); and foreign film -- "4 Months, 3 Weeks, Two Days." To read the full report on the voting process CLICK HERE.
L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein reports a similar scenario unfolding with the L.A. film critics on Tuesday. "'Slumdog' sparked the most divisions of any film. Its partisans praised its filmmaking energy and social consciousness. But its scrum of detractors said they wouldn't vote for it under any circumstances, with some critics claiming it was too derivative, coming off like an amped-up Satyajit Ray film. The only slam dunks in the voting were Penelope Cruz, who won best supporting actress for 'Vicki Cristina Barcelona,' and Heath Ledger for 'The Dark Knight.' The voting for best picture was extremely close, with the joke being that whether the vote went for 'Wall-E' or 'The Dark Knight,' that it was still a thumbs-up for an animated film, since 'Dark Knight' is loaded with computer animation effects."
By the way, these oh-so-serious film critics often resort to childish antics during voting. At the Gotham crix confab this year, some wag got a laugh nominating Will Smith for his performance in "Seven Pounds." Last year, blow-up sex doll Bianca of "Lars and the Real Girl" was nominated for best supporting actress, while "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" got a nod for best picture as did its supporting star Paul Rudd, who was also cited for his role in "Knocked Up." And back in 2001, the big joke was nominating Tom Cruise as best actress for "Vanilla Sky."
Photos: Focus Features, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight