December 3, 2013

OSCARLAND: Award Season Begins


The last two days have launched what will be a nearly non-stop parade of movie (and some television) accolades that won’t end until early March, when the final “and the Oscar goes to” is announced at LA’s Dolby Theater.  It’s a struggle that will consume millions of dollars and uncountable hours in campaigning along the way, and it’s worth remembering that there are so many pre-Oscar trophies being handed out, no one set of awards is all that important by itself.  Critics and Guild honors are mostly notable in the aggregate, once they’ve built to a consensus.  (And even then they’re no guarantee of the ultimate prize, as Brokeback Mountain and The Social Network can attest.)  The organizations can also bring names and titles into the conversation that might not have been present before, a worthy deed.  And sometimes a presumptive winner’s absence is more critical than who the actual honoree ends up being.

We began last night with one of the most negligible of all the ceremonies, New York’s Gotham Independent Film Awards, which are decided upon by panels of 5 “experts,” with results that can be as iconoclastic as any that a group of 5 indie-minded thinkers might reach.  In addition, they operate under restrictions as to the permissible budgets for their winners, excluding many more mainstream contenders.  This year the Gothams (all the winners are listed here) served the valuable function of giving the Coen Brothers’ INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS some attention, as well as FRUITVALE STATION (honored for its “Breakthrough” Director and Actor, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan).  More heartening to some of us, it put Brie Larson’s name out there as Best Actress for SHORT TERM 12, one of the year’s most exquisite performances.  Larson has a very hard road ahead of her, with competition from much bigger names and better-funded studios, but at least she’s not being ignored.

Today’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards (all the winners are here) are considerably more prestigious and worth noting.  David O. Russell’s  AMERICAN HUSTLE, which won’t be in theatres for another week, stormed onto the scene with wins for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in the Best Supporting Actress category.  Other major winners were high-profile presumptive Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett for Best Actress (BLUE JASMINE), Robert Redford for Best Actor (ALL IS LOST) and Jared Leto for Best Supporting Actor (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB).  The major surprise of  the NYFCC choices was the near-omission of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, which took only the Best Director award for Steve McQueen.  (Reportedly it was a close second in several other major categories.)  This caused several film pundits on Twitter to suffer online coronaries, nastily blasting the New York critics for picking bland choices and all but accusing them of racism.  Putting aside their cases of the vapors, 12 Years advocates do have something to worry about:  their chosen film is difficult to watch and, although they’d never admit this, dramatically problematic, and with medium box office success so far, it desperately needs critical heat at a very high temperature to be more than an art-movie throwaway in the Oscar race.  Losing a major group like the NYFCC is a very bad way to start, although it’s not at all a stretch to think that this very defeat will lead to the next several critics organizations jumping to honor 12 Years to make up for its purported “snub”.

Next on the calendar is the National Board of Review, a quasi-critical group made up of “enthusiast” members no one has ever heard of.  The real rush begins over the weekend, when the Los Angeles and Boston Film Critics will be among those making their selections.


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."