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Behind the scenes of the Gotham film critics awards

December 14, 2009 |  1:54 pm

NYFCC logo Our good pal Lou Lumenick, film critic for the New York Post, has written a must-read item detailing the results of various rounds of balloting by the New York Film Critics Circle. As Lou notes, "the NYFCC and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. rarely agree on their top choices" and yet "the New Yorkers almost exactly duplicated the L.A. list." And unlike previous years when compromises seemed to be commonplace, this year only the best documentary award went to a contender ("Time and the City") that was not leading either alone or in a tie on the first ballot.

The first round of voting was a single choice by the 21 members present and eight proxies. Only the animated film prize was awarded with just one ballot as L.A. champ "Fantastic Mr. Fox" won with 14 votes to eight for "Up" and three for "Coraline."

For the second round, both members present and proxies used a weighted ballot with three, two and one points allotted. The winner had to appear on a majority of ballots as well. L.A. victor "The Hurt Locker" took best picture in this round with 42 points, outpolling "Up in the Air" (25 points) -- which was also the runner-up in L.A. -- and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (16 points) combined. Likewise, "Hurt" helmer Kathryn Bigelow -- who also won out West -- was the decisive winner in the second round, racking up 56 points, with Wes Anderson ("Fantastic Mr. Fox") second with 15 points and Quentin Tarantino ("Inglorious Basterds") third with 13 points. [L.A. runner-up Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon") did not figure in this race.]

Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia") won best actress in this second round, with her 31 points outscoring Tilda Swinton (29) and Carey Mulligan (24). [While surprise L.A. winner Yolande Moreau ("Seraphine") did not contend here, Mulligan was runner-up out West.] L.A. champ Mo'Nique ("Precious") won the Gotham supporting actress award on the second ballot, and her 49 points was more than the combined scores of "Up in the Air" players Vera Farmiga (26) and L.A. runner-up Anne Kendrick (21).

George Clooney ("Up in the Air," "Fantastic Mr. Fox") won best actor in the third round where the weighted ballot remained but proxies were dropped. His 38 points edged out L.A. winner Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") at 29 points and "Hurt Locker" star Jeremy Renner with 18 points. [L.A. runner-up Colin Firth ("A Single Man") was not in the mix in any significant way in New York.]

L.A. supporting actor victor Christophe Waltz did not win in New York till the third ballot when, with 36 points, he prevailed over Christian McKay ("Me and Orson Welles") at 25 and L.A. runner-up Peter Capaldi ("In the Loop") with 13 points. 

Likewise, L.A. winning cinematographer Christian Berger ("The White Ribbon") only won over the Gotham critics in the third round when his 30 points bested the work of "Avatar" lenser Mauro Fiore (21 points) and "A Serious Man" shooter Roger Deakins (18 points). [L.A. runner-up Barry Ackroyd ("The Hurt Locker") did not figure in the New York race.]

The screenplay award in New York almost went to L.A. champs Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner ("Up in the Air") on the third ballot, but as the rules precluded any new contenders at that point, there had to be a re-vote and L.A. runners-up Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche ("In the Loop") ended up winning with 29 points to 28 for the "Air" crew while "Inglorious Basterds" writer-director Tarantino came in third with 19 points.

Only the documentary award required a fourth ballot which was a simple majority vote, with "Time and the City" winning with 29 points over "Anvil" (28) and "Tyson" (16). Compare that fourth round with the results of the first ballot of single votes: "Beaches of Agnes" (5), "The Cove" (4) and "Anvil" (3).

Last year "Milk" did not win best picture with the NYFCC till ballot four with 29 points. "Rachel Getting Married" had 25 points while both "Happy-Go-Lucky" and eventual Oscar champ "Slumdog Millionaire" had 20 points. As Gotham critic circle member Mike D'Angelo of Esquire wrote on his Twitter stream that day: "My sense is that 'Milk' wound up as the I-can-live-with-that compromise choice for voters blocking 'Slumdog' and voters blocking 'Rachel.'"

The NYFCC has a history of these compromise decisions. In 1994, "Quiz Show" did not reap any votes during the first voting round but still won the top award after the two camps gave up their fights for "Forrest Gump" and "Pulp Fiction. And "My Left Foot" won best picture in 1989 after the critics couldn’t decide between "Do the Right Thing" and "Enemies, A Love Story." At least "My Left Foot" scored a few scattered points on the first ballot.

Even when the Gothamites and Angelenos agree on a best picture, as they have this year, the National Society of Film Critics usually strikes out on its own when it votes. In 2005, when New York and L.A. picked "Brokeback Mountain," NSFC chose "Capote." The year before, when New York and L.A. went with "Sideways" in early December, NSFC embraced "Million Dollar Baby" a month later.

New York and L.A. critics don't usually select the same film, though. Last year Gotham chose "Milk" while the West went wild for "Wall-E." Two years ago, NYFCC opted for "No Country for Old Men" and LAFCA was pumped for "There Will Be Blood." And in 2006, the top pic in Gotham was "United 93" while L.A. wrote in "Letters from Iwo Jima."

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