December 3, 2012

CRITICS AWARDS: “Zero Dark” Fires the First Shot


Year-end awards from critics groups have two purposes in the big-picture (which is to say the Oscar) context.  In the aggregate, if enough of the groups are in agreement to form a consensus, they can make an accolade seem like an established fact–sort of a “how could you dare to ignore this?” message.  (Although as The Social Network can testify, that’s still no guarantee of Oscar success.)  And individual awards can showcase less-prominent talent in the hope of gathering support for at least a nomination, lest that person otherwise get no recognition at all.

The New York Film Critics Circle, which has lately decided that it has to be the first group out with its awards (although at least this year they waited until they’d seen all the year’s movies before voting), seemed to do a little of both this year.

The marquee awards of Best Picture and Best Director went to Kathryn Bigelow’s ZERO DARK THIRTY, which doesn’t open until December 19 and is already riding a wave of excellent early reviews and enthusiastic tweets.  Also showing strength was LINCOLN, which won major awards for Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Supporting Actress Sally Field and Best Screenplay by Tony Kushner.  If those choices are echoed by other groups, they could gain (or strengthen, in the case of Day-Lewis) frontrunner status.

The “please don’t forget this one” award was Best Actress for Rachel Weisz in THE DEEP BLUE SEA, an excellent performance in a turgid art film that was barely seen outside the film festival circuit.  Also benefiting from some attention was Matthew McConaughey, awarded as Best Supporting Actor for his roles in both MAGIC MIKE and BERNIE.  McConaughey had a great year (the group didn’t even cite his work in KILLER JOE and THE PAPERBOY), and this could be his time, if he can gather some momentum.

The day’s big losers:  LES MISERABLES (although the Oscar path for that film is likely through popular success and Guild awards, rather than the critics), ARGO and especially SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which badly needs a surge of critical support, and couldn’t even win what was supposed to be its signature award for Jennifer Lawrence.

Other awards were Best Foreign Film to the festival-praised AMOUR, Best Documentary to THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, Best First Film to the documentary HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, and the surprising choice of Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE for Best Animated FIlm.

Next up is the National Board of Review on Wednesday, followed by the Los Angeles Film Critics next weekend and a slew of others (including the Golden Globe nominations) next week.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."