The Oscar Warrior: The Critics Have Spoken!

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As we’re getting close to the end of the year and people start wrapping up their business, we’re getting a much clearer about what movies regional film critics all across the country and in places like Toronto and London feel are the best movies of the year. MovieCityNews has been kind enough to collect all of these early awards in one easy to use graph, which makes it pretty clear that Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist are well ahead of the pack in terms of critics’ awards. The Artist is getting a lot more Picture and Director nods, while Payne’s film is being honored more for performances by George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, as well as Payne’s screenplay.

The support for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Nicolas Refn’s Drive among critics is not even remotely surprising because they’re very much critical favorites even if neither had huge commercial success. Drive is getting more attention for Albert Brooks’ supporting performance as a tough mob boss. Being a weaker year and both of these proving to be stronger movies could help them when the Academy members start filling out ballots, although both of them may be too strange and esoteric to make many of their #1 choices, which is so critical this year. (Honestly, we’ve spoken to more people who loved Drive than any other movie this year, so we’re still expecting a surprise Best Picture nomination for it.) The baseball drama Moneyball has mostly been getting honored for Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zailian’s screenplay but Brad Pitt has gotten a couple of notices as well.

The movies that haven’t really gotten much support yet include Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, which isn’t really a critics’ film, and both Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo may have screened too late to get any sort of critical support. All three of these movies really could use the boost going into their opening weekends, since many Oscar voters will have a chance to see them over the long Christmas weekend, which could get them some last-minute support in the last few weeks before they turn into nominations. War Horse seems like a given in terms of winning over Oscar voters with its crowdpleasing story and grand scale production, while the other two are far more difficult. Even so, with all three movies being considered Best Picture contenders months ago, they’re proving to be weaker than some of the movies released earlier in the year.

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo hasn’t done huge business at the box office (it’s still under $50 million) and the critics have been rather silent in their support with it making a number of Top 10 lists but only the National Board of Review honoring the overall movie with their top award.

Also, noticeably absent is Tate Taylor’s The Help, which received a little attention for Octavia Spencer and that’s it. Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids also has only been mentioned for Melissa McCarthy’s performance. The thing is that The Help has long been considered a favorite in many categories including picture and one wonders if it just connects with regular people i.e. non-critics, more than film snobs. There’s a good chance that people in the industry could offer more support for both female-driven films due to what they represent in terms of quality films being made by and for women, as well as the acting branch respecting what they pulled off, although only The Help seems likely to get into the Best Picture race.

When it comes to the Animated Feature category, Gore Verbinski’s Rango is well ahead of the pack, and the Iranian drama A Separation is pretty much the same story in the Foreign Language characters, so both of those should definitely be the ones to beat on Oscar night.