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Category: Los Angeles Film Critics Association

Mo'Nique's and Christoph Waltz's amazing -- and very rare -- awards sweep

February 10, 2010 |  6:16 pm

Lots of stars almost pulled off a full sweep of the key early awards during derby season, then went on to win the Oscar. But only 15 stars, according to my count, actually accomplished a total romp in modern times. Many others were like Robert De Niro ("Raging Bull"). He won most of the major kudos of 1980 except one. At the National Society of Film Critics, he lost best actor to Peter O'Toole ("The Stunt Man"). Or Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight"), who almost swept the board last year, but also got tripped up by the national society (losing to Eddie Marsden, "Happy-Go-Lucky") plus New York Film Critics Circle (lost to Josh Brolin, "Milk").

Oscars Academy Awards news precursor 2

It sure looks like Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") and Mo'Nique ("Precious") are juggernauts that can't be stopped this year. They both won all four major critics' awards (National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., Broadcast Film Critics Assn.) plus the Golden Globe and Screen Actors' Guild Awards. It's important to note that SAG has only been bestowing awards since 1994, BFCA (Critics' Choice Award) since 1995. After that, four actors claimed all six prizes: Nicolas Cage ("Leaving Las Vegas"), Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen") and Forest Whitaker ("Last King of Scotland"). 

In 1994, Martin Landau ("Ed Wood") and Dianne Wiest ("Bullets Over Broadway") pulled off full sweeps of the precursor prizes that included the SAG Award. Before that, a sweep was defined as snagging laurels from the three leading groups of print journos (New York, L.A. and national society) plus the Golden Globe. Actors who accomplished that: Sally Field ("Norma Rae"), Gene Hackman ("Unforgiven"), Dustin Hoffman and Mery Streep ("Kramer vs. Kramer"), Holly Hunter ("The Piano"), Jack Nicholson ("Terms of Endearment"), Michelle Pfeiffer ("The Fabulous Baker Boys"), Sissy Spacek ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), Mary Steenburgen ("Melvin and Howard"), Meryl Streep ("Sophie's Choice") and Emma Thompson ("Howards End"). All of the stars mentioned above went on to win the Oscar with one exception. Pfeiffer was stopped by Jessica Tandy ("Driving Miss Daisy").

The New York Film Critics Circle began doling out trophies in 1935, the national society in 1966. To give our awards analysis in this blog article some context, I'm beginning our scrutiny at 1976, the year the L.A. critics joined the kudos game.

Of the above-named champs, these also won National Board of Review: Cage, Field, Hunter, Mirren, Nicholson, Pfeiffer, Spacek, Streep, Thompson, Whitaker. I don't consider that to be a crucial part of the definition of a full sweep, however, since it's not an industry award – not bestowed by journalists or industry insiders. NBR is really like a People's Choice Award bestowed by sophisticated New Yorkers. Since we don't count the nationwide People's Choice Award, maybe we shouldn't count NBR either.

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'The Hurt Locker' victory at National Society of Film Critics: Good news for 'Avatar'?

January 3, 2010 |  2:49 pm

Avatar Titanic National Society of Film Critics news

When "The Hurt Locker" beat "Avatar" and other rivals for the best picture prize bestowed today by the National Society of Film Critics, it marked the fourth time that the group agreed with the other two prestigious critics' organizations that have been in existence for several decades: the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.

Previously, the groups concurred on "L.A. Confidential" (1997), "Schindler's List" (1993) and "GoodFellas" (1990). That means that the last time the trio lined up, a different film sailed on to win the Oscar over "L.A. Confidential" -- "Titanic." Its director, of course, was James Cameron, who's currently in the derby with "Avatar." Hmmm . . . should producers of "The Hurt Locker" be worried?

The Oscars rubber-stamped "Schindler's List," of course, but the academy preferred "Dances With Wolves" to "GoodFellas" in 1990.

See the full list of NSFC winners here.

Photos: "Avatar" (20th Century Fox), "Titanic" (Paramount)


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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.

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Uh-oh! Have the L.A. critics blasted 'The Hurt Locker's' hope of winning best picture at the Oscars?

December 13, 2009 |  7:46 pm

The Hurt Locker L.A

There weren't many surprises among the awards proclaimed today by the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Most pundits assumed that members would vote either for "The Hurt Locker" or "Up in the Air" as best picture. LAFCA ended up picking "The Hurt Locker," giving "Up in the Air" the runner-up spot.

That's a bad omen for the hopes of "The Hurt Locker" to win the top Oscar considering LAFCA hasn't agreed with academy voters on best picture since "Schindler's List" (1993). Last year, neither the film chosen as the year's best ("Wall-E") nor runner-up ("The Dark Knight") were nominated for best picture. However, usually the top LAFCA choices are also leading academy contenders.

Surely, LAFCA's choice for best actor (Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart") and runner-up (Colin Firth, "A Single Man") will be Oscar nominees in February, but it's doubtful that the women's lineup will agree. LAFCA chose Yolande Moreau ("Seraphine") as best actress. She's got as much chance of nabbing an Oscar nom as Vera Farmiga did in 2005 when LAFCA gave her its best-actress trophy for "Down to the Bone" before the academy opted to ignore her. See the full list of LAFCA winners here.



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Photo: Summit Entertainment 

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Gold Derby nuggets: Mo'Nique reveals 'Precious' moment | Ricky Gervais toasts Golden Globes | Marvin Hamlisch scores again

December 9, 2009 |  8:00 pm

Monique Precious Oscars • Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss delivers a top 10 movie list -- animated films "The Princess and the Frog," "Up" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" top the chart -- as well as a roster of the top 10 performances which is led off by "Precious" supporting player Mo'Nique. TIME

Pete Hammond wonders whether Mo'Nique can win the Oscar without playing the game. Writes Pete, "with a five-night-a-week talk show that tapes in Atlanta, some things just aren't gonna happen. Believe me, her presence is felt at every Q&A director Lee Daniels and the other cast members do. I happened to moderate one with Daniels, Gabourey Sidibe and Paula Patton last night at the Crest Westwood for SAG, and even though Mo'Nique was not in the house, those voting members in the audience were very much aware of her work through the pointed nature of the questions asked by SAG members who had just viewed the movie and the answers given by the panel lauding her performance. Does absence make the heart grow fonder for Mo'Nique or give her potential competitors an opening?" NOTES ON A SEASON

• Mo'Nique did sit down for a revealing roundtable discussion with five other awards hopefuls -- Emily Blunt ("Young Victoria"), Patricia Clarkson ("Whatever Works"), Vera Farmiga ("Up in the Air"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Robin Wright ("The Private Lives of Pippa Lee"). During the frank conversation, she revealed how she handled the request by Daniels to film a very intimate moment for her character. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

• Both of the New Yorker film critics -- David Denby and Anthony Lane -- include "Up" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" in their top films of the year. The only other movies they agree on are "Up in the Air" and "The White Ribbon." NEW YORKER

• The seventh annual edition of the Emmy Awards for Business and Financial Reporting were handed out on Monday afternoon at Fordham University in Gotham. CBS won four of the eight competitive races, and lifetime achievement awards went to Paul Kangas, anchor of "Nightly Business Report" on PBS, and Linda O'Bryon of Northern California Public Broadcasting. NATAS

Golden_globesAnn Oldenburg has more of the bon mots delivered by Ricky Gervais during a recent conference call promoting his upcoming gig as host of the Golden Globes. "Gervais said more than once that he plans to have a cocktail or two while on the job. 'Over the three hours, I imagine my tie's going to come off and I'll get drunker and drunker. I don't know what the last hour's going to be like, but the first hour will be watchable.'" For Gervais, " 'This is the only' award show he can see doing. 'In all honesty. No one wants to see me mucking around at the Oscars. They're there to see if they've won the most important award of their life.' And the Emmys? 'I couldn't do the rehearsals. This is perfect. They said I could turn up and say what I wanted and get drunk. What's also nice is I've only been in this business about 10 years -- because I'm a very lazy person -- and I've achieved enough. I only do things that could possibly end my career. Cheers!' " USA TODAY

Mavis Spencer -- daughter of Golden Globe winning actress Alfre Woodard ("Miss Evers' Boys") and producer Roderick Spencer -- will be handing the hardware to the presenters at this year's Golden Globes. The gig always goes to the son or daughter of some famous Hollywood folk -- last year Rumer Willis (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) was Miss Golden Globes. GOLDEN GLOBES

Paul Gaita reports that Emmy and Tony winner Kristen Chenoweth will be hosting the 15th annual edition of the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. kudos Jan. 15 from the Hollywood Palladium. The newly named Critics Choice Movie Awards boast additional categories and will air on VH1. THE CIRCUIT

Marvin HamlischTodd Martens talks to grand slam awards winner Marvin Hamlisch about his score for "The Informant!" The three-time Oscar champ admitted, "Being about an unconventional character required an unconventional way of going about the score." As Todd writes, "For two weeks, Hamlisch said he composed and threw out multiple takes on the score before settling on the jovial direction the music ultimately took. 'We were playing the ultimate mind game. What we were trying to do was get into the mind of this guy, and given that he's under more pressure, what would he be thinking? It starts out where he has no problems. Slowly and surely the problems start, and he's lying bigger and bigger. The more he escalates, the more we get wilder and wilder -- get me some serotonin quick!' " POP & HISS

Dave McNary reports that the DGA will be feting Roger Goodman, Cleve Landsberg and Maria Jimenez Henley for lifetime career achievement and extraordinary contribution to the guild at the annual awards dinner Jan. 30. "Goodman draws the kudo for news direction, while Landsberg has been tapped for the Frank Capra trophy, given to an assistant director or unit production manager. Henley will receive the Franklin J. Schaffner award, given to an associate director or stage manager." VARIETY

Greg Ellwood previews next week's three movie kudofests -- the L.A. and Gotham film critics awards and the AFI top 10 list. Says Greg, "The big question is: can 'Up in the Air' go for the sweep? Well, yes, but most likely no." He thinks the three films in play with the critics will be "A Serious Man," "A Single Man" and "The Hurt Locker." And Greg thinks, "the AFI top ten will be a strong bellwether by many of who are serious contenders for Oscars' final ten this year (and by not making the list who isn't)." HIT FIX

Photos: Monique in "Precious" (Lionsgate); Golden Globes (NBC); Marvin Hamlisch (Los Angeles Times)

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L.A. Film Critics Assn. refuses our request for an interview — again

January 12, 2009 |  7:13 pm

Just like last year, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. — which bestows its awards at a banquet today — has refused our request to interview its leaders. That leads me to ask: Is it appropriate for journalists to refuse to answer other journalists questioning their procedures?

I inquired about the group's refusal to credential certain journalists to cover its awards show, which is standard operating procedure at equivalent kudofests. Over the past week, for example, was granted press passes to cover the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.'s Critics Choice Awards and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s Golden Globes. I have questions about the validity of a media group closing its doors to media wishing to cover its media awards.


The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. does permit journalists to cover its awards ceremony, but only if they belong to the group or are personal guests of members. That seems quite dubious, frankly, as it could give rise to a sense that this media group wishes only friendly media to cover its activity.

"This is how the L.A. Film Critics choose to organize their dinner, and how they always have organized it," a PR rep for LAFCA replied when I requested an interview. "There is no issue here as far as the organization is concerned and really no need for further discussion."

Last year, LAFCA President Lael Loewenstein talked to me when I had general questions, but shortly afterward, when serious charges against the group were made by past member Jack Mathews, former film critic of the Los Angeles Times, Loewenstein refused to address the matter. Mathews questioned the credentials of some members, noting that LAFCA does not require them to verify that they're still active in film criticism. If members aren't qualified, they shouldn't be permitted to vote, Matthews maintains. 

Historically, that's been a serious problem within other groups of film journalists that bestow awards. They were reluctant to boot out colleague pals who really shouldn't belong anymore. Years ago, when Mathews got really riled up about this issue, he fumed in The Times that LAFCA has membership standards "only slightly higher than the Hertz No. 1 Club."

Back in the 1980s, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's refusal to police its members was one of the chief reasons the Golden Globes were booted off broadcast TV. Afterward, it set up an internal committee to monitor members' press clippings. All members now must reach a quota or they're not permitted to vote on awards. A few years ago the Broadcast Film Critics Association also set up internal monitoring, which resulted in many members no longer being able to vote on the Critics' Choice Awards. Such monitoring isn't necessary at the New York Film Critics Circle, which requires members to have staff jobs as critics. When a member loses their job, they must exit the circle, simple as that. Most members of LAFCA are freelancers, so monitoring should occur.

All of these matters come down to the same thing: LAFCA does not wish to be accountable. It will not be accountable to an awards journalist like me who has questions to pose, and it will not be accountable for the current qualification of members.

LAFCA presents itself as a serious stop on the awards circuit, but if it wants to be considered an equal to other critics' kudos, it needs to understand that transparency is the key to legitimacy for an awards show.

Photo: LAFCA

Behind the scenes of the N.Y. and L.A. critics awards

December 11, 2008 |  2:46 pm

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."

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'Wall-E,' Sean Penn and Sally Hawkins win Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Awards

December 9, 2008 |  2:52 pm

Instead of following its recent art-house tilt, the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. resorted to its old preference for big popcorn pix when naming the best film of 2008: "Wall-E."

In recent years the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. favored more esoteric fare ("There Will Be Blood," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Brokeback Mountain," "Sideways"). In its early days, however, the Hollywood-based critics weren't so snooty, often opting for "E.T." and "Star Wars." Now the question: Will the lift "Wall-E" gets from the L.A. critics help it to become the second animated feature nominated for best pic at the Oscars? The constant snubs caused the academy to create a special category just for animated features in 1991.

Most of LAFCA best-picture choices get nominated for the equivalent top prize at the Academy Awards — with some notable exceptions ("About Schmidt," "American Splendor" over the last decade). Only one animated film has ever been nominated for the top Oscar: "Beauty and the Beast" (1991).

To underscore LAFCA's hunger for popcorn this year, the runner-up to "Wall-E" for best picture was "The Dark Knight." Read more at LAFCA website. Other top prizes:


Best director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Runner-up: Christopher Nolan, "The Dark Knight"

Best actress: Sally Hawkins, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Runner-up: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"

Best actor: Sean Penn, "Milk"
Runner-up: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"

Best screenplay: Mike Leigh, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
Runner-up: Charlie Kaufman, "Synecdoche, New York"

Best supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "Elegy"
Runner-up: Viola Davis, "Doubt"

Best supporting actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Runner-up: Eddie Marsan, "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Best foreign-language film: "Still Life"
Runner-up: "The Class"

Best documentary: "Man on Wire"
Runner-up: "Waltz With Bashir"

Best animation: "Waltz With Bashir"

Production design: Mark Friedberg, "Synecdoche, New York"
Runner-up: Nathan Crowley, "The Dark Knight"

Music score: A.R. Rahman, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Cinematography: Yu Lik Wai, "Still Life"
Runner-up: Anthony Dod Mantle, "Slumdog Millionaire"

New generation: Steve McQueen, "Hunger

Career Achievement: John Calley

Get ready for the 'Slumdog' sweep!

December 8, 2008 | 10:32 pm

While snooping among the ranks of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. today, it became quite clear that "Slumdog Millionaire" is destined to win best drama picture next Jan. 11. Considering it recently won the National Board of Review and is the current fave of The Envelope's Oscar pundits to bag the top Oscar, it seems poised to sweep most of the annual derby.

But the cliffhanger remains: how thorough the sweep?

Only once in modern film history has one movie won the top prize at every major Hollywood award — "Schindler's List" (1993) — so the odds are stacked against "Slumdog" to do the same. I don't think it can sweep the trifecta of print critics' awards, for example: the New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the National Society of Film Critics. Even when the Gothamites and Angelenos agree on a best pic, the NSFC usually takes its own course. In 2004, when New York and L.A. picked "Sideways" in early December, NSFC embraced "Million Dollar Baby" a month later. In 2005, when New York and L.A. picked "Brokeback Mountain," NSFC chose "Capote."


New York and L.A. don't usually select the same film, though. Last year NYFCC picked "No Country for Old Men" and LAFCA chose "There Will Be Blood." This year I'm betting that they both pick "Slumdog" when the Angelenos vote today and the New Yorkers cast ballots Wednesday. The reason: The movie is not only a winner in every way, it's got snob appeal, being an indie with art-house credentials. Director Danny Boyle has been a critics' darling since "Trainspotting" (1996), but he's never won an award from a major U.S. film critics group. "Slumdog" is just the chance they've been waiting for.

The big difference between the New York and L.A. critics' awards will be in acting races. If the Angelenos pick Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), as I think they will, then the New Yorkers will pick someone else, just to be different, a day later. Rourke's a good bet for LAFCA because the group of 44 members is more than 75% male. Count on them getting caught up in a testosterone rush over "The Wrestler." Wanting to pick something else the next day, the New York group (also overwhelmingly male, but it just added several female members!) will probably opt for a low-budget, critically praised indie about a nerdy abandoned old guy (just like NYFCC members) that was produced in New York: "The Visitor," starring Richard Jenkins.

Beware: If "The Wrestler" sets off a hormonal tsunami, it might end up snatching away one of the best-picture awards from LAFCA or NYFCC. The other one will still go to "Slumdog."

In the best actress race, one of the two critics groups will inevitably opt for snooty Kristin Scott Thomas speaking French and looking all morose and depressed all the time in "I've Loved You So Long." Since LAFCA votes first, it'll probably nab her before the New Yorkers do. Gothamites will want to pick someone else, but who? I'm just guessing Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road"), but that's just a wild guess, and anything's possible given the group's odd voting process.

Here are my full predix below. See a full breakdown of other pundits' at

Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Director: Danny Boyle, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, "The Wrestler"
Best Actress: Kristin Scott Thomas, "I've Loved You So Long"
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, "The Dark Knight"
Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

Continue reading »

National Board of Review picks 'Slumdog Millionaire' as best picture

December 4, 2008 |  1:56 pm

If "Slumdog Millionaire" is really the new "Chariots of Fire" — a little indie flick about champion underdogs that wins best picture at the Oscars — then it just hit a kudos jackpot by being named best picture of 2008 by the National Board of Review. In 1981, the National Board of Review was the first and only major U.S. awards group to give its top prize to the small film about runners with big dreams of breaking into the Olympics before it went the distance in the Oscars derby. Now the little movie about a ghetto boy who wins India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has emerged as a top dog in this year's Oscars race.


This is the second year in a row that National Board of Review issued its top 10 list of best films separately from the winner of best picture. This year's entries: "Burn After Reading," "Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Defiance," "Frost/Nixon," "Gran Torino," "Milk," "Wall-E," "The Wrestler." Notable snubs: "Doubt," "Revolutionary Road," "The Reader," "Australia" and — considering the awards love it received in other NBR categories — "Frozen River."

All major movies were seen by National Board of Review members this year with one exception: United Artists did not screen "Valkyrie" before voting but will show it to members before it's released to theaters this month. In past years, NBR's awards came out so early in December that its voters missed seeing such Oscar best picture winners as "Gone with the Wind" (1939), "Rain Man" (1988), "A Beautiful Mind" (2001) and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" (2003).

Other winners of 2008 NBR Awards:

Best director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Best actor: Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Best actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Best supporting actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Best supporting actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Best foreign-language filim: "Mongol"
Best documentary: "Man on Wire"
Best animated feature: "Wall-E"
Best ensemble cast: "Doubt"
Best breakthrough actor: Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Best breakthrough actress: Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Best directorial debut: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Best original screenplay: Nick Schenk, "Gran Torino"
Best adapted screenplay (tie): Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"; Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Spotlight Award: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"; Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
Freedom of Expression: "Trumbo"
William K. Everson Film History Award: Molly Haskell, Andrew Sarris

Top five best foreign-language films, listed alphabetically: "Edge of Heaven," "Let the Right One In," "Roman de Guerre," "A Secret," "Waltz with Bashir"

Top five documentary films, listed alphabetically: "American Teen," "The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)," "Dear Zachary," "Encounters at the End of the World," "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired"

Of the 100 films nominated for best picture at the Oscars over the last two decades, the NBR named 72 of them on their annual lists. The comparison is a bit skewed since National Board of Review picks 10 or 11 films per year instead of five, but it's still worthy of note. Three times in those 20 years all five Oscar nominees made the NBR top list and the winners agreed: 1989 ("Driving Miss Daisy"), 1994 ("Forrest Gump") and 2002 ("Chicago"). The two awards also chose the same best pictures five other times in those two decades: 1990 ("Dances With Wolves"), 1991 ("Silence of the Lambs"), 1993 ("Schindler's List"), 1999 ("American Beauty") and 2007 ("No Country for Old Men").

Comparisons between the awards are most apt only when stacking up results over the past several years since there was a huge changeover in members of the exceptional photoplay committee after a power coup at National Board of Review. Consider how these top NBR awards compare with Oscar results over the past three years:

X = Oscar champ

X - Best picture: "No Country for Old Men"
Best actor: George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"
Best actress: Julie Christie, "Away from Her"

Best picture: "Letters From Iwo Jima"
X - Best actor: Forest Whitaker, "Last King of Scotland"
X - Best actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"

Best picture: "Good Night, and Good Luck"
X - Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"
Best actress: Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica"

The National Board of Review is the New Hampshire primary of kudos season because the group is hellbent to be the first major award of the derby. Its influence has been considerable through the years, dating as far as 1934 when it probably nudged the Oscars to notice its eventual best-picture choice, "It Happened One Night," which came close to being dismissed as a quickly lensed screwball comedy.

In 1955, low-budget, black-and-white indie "Marty" got attention at the Cannes Film Festival, but the board was the first to hail it stateside before it snagged the top Oscar.

Its impact can probably be measured best by three of its best-picture choices: "Patton" (1970), "The Sting" (1973) and "Chariots of Fire" (1981). All were subsequently snubbed by the film critics' groups and the Golden Globes, then resurfaced later at the tail end of the derby.

The National Board of Review was founded in New York in 1909 by a coalition of forces determined to stop the city government from censoring movies. The coalition consisted of movie-makers plus community and family organizations and, in effect, it took over the censoring job themselves. NBR gave its seal of approval to films it liked and assigned viewing-age recommendations: "M" for mature audiences (18 and older), "F" for families (12 and up) and "J" for juvenile (under 12). From the 1920s to the 1940s, many U.S. cities forbid the public showing of films unless they displayed the legend "Passed by the National Board of Review" in their credits.

Over time the Motion Picture Association of America took over the role of officially approving film content and NBR evolved into a film appreciation society. The New York-based group got into the awards game by issuing lists of the year's best films just months after the first Oscar ceremony was held out on America's other coast in 1929.

NBR is not a journalists' group, as commonly believed. It comprises sophisticated New Yorkers, a few of whom are journalists, but others are scholars, lawyers, doctors, students, etc. Of its 122 members, 41 are either film students or people who can be classified as young filmmakers. Last year NBR bestowed 29 student scholarships ranging in sums from $500 to $5,000, totaling $75,000.

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Giddy-up! The 2008 award derby trots ahead!

December 1, 2008 | 10:18 am


Here are key dates of major kudo news coming up on the derby track:

Dec. 2 - Gotham Awards declares winners
Dec. 2 - Indie Spirits announces nominees
Dec. 4 - National Board of Review announces winners
Dec. 9 - Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. winners unveiled
Dec. 9 - Critics Choice announces nominees
Dec. 10 - New York Film Critics Circle declares winners

Illustration by Ty Wilson

New York Film Critics Circle to vote on a Wednesday! NBR stays out front

October 16, 2008 | 10:49 am

For the first time in modern memory, members of the New York Film Critics Circle will vote for their awards on a Wednesday instead of the usual Monday. This year balloting will occur on Dec. 10. Apparently, waiting until the following Monday, Dec. 15, would be too late and moving up to Dec. 8 too early.

Now the next question is: What will the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. do? To stay out in front of the Gothamites, they're going to have to convene on Dec. 7 if they want to stick with powwowing, as usual, on a Sunday. Too early? Last year LAFCA voted on Sunday, Dec. 9. NYFCC on Monday, the 10th. Awards_calendar_3_2 Voting dates in 2006: Dec 10 in L.A., Dec. 11 in N.Y. In both cases, the National Board of Review stayed out in front, as usual. However, in 2005, things got tricky. NBR planned to announce winners on Dec. 7, but missed the date and ended up unveiling its choices on Dec. 12, the exact same day as NYFCC. (LAFCA got out front on the 10th.)

Those snooty members of NYFCC insist they don't care a hoot what NBR does because it's not a critics' organization (call NBR an uppercrust People's Choice Award bestowed by a small group of New York lawyers, teachers, dentists, writers, PR folk), but, in 2005, NYFCC members halted their voting periodically throughout the day to find out if results of NBR were in yet, then read off the NBR winners during their meeting. Being snobs, they didn't want to pick the same stuff NBR did and probably would've changed their vote outcome just to be different, if necessary. But it wasn't. NBR chose "Good Night, and Good Luck" for best picture. NYFCC had no problem copying what their counterpart critics in L.A. picked two days earlier: "Brokeback Mountain."

This year NBR plans to trumpet choices even earlier: Dec. 4. Can members manage to see all major movie contenders in time? Sometimes its dogged insistence upon being first out of the derby gate carries a high price. They missed "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" in 2003 and had to leave it off its award list, which was especially embarrassing because it went on to tie the Oscar record for most wins (11) set by "Ben-Hur" and "Titanic." But that also happened way back in 1939 with "Gone With the Wind." Talk about oversights! This year it's possible they could miss "Gran Torino," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" or "The Reader."

This year the National Board of Review will celebrate its 100th anniversary with its award bash on Jan. 14, 2009, at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York.

Illustration by Ty Wilson



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