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Parsing the NYFCC Vote: ‘Lincoln’ vs. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘Life of Pi’

Parsing the NYFCC Vote: 'Lincoln' vs. 'Zero Dark Thirty' and 'Life of Pi'

The New York FIlm Critics Circle has always insisted on using the ballot method to reach consensus. And this year’s vote was as lengthy and debated as any in recent years, because so many horses were in the race. What the winners reveal is which films boasted the most strength across the entire group, which films represent consensus.

That’s one of the reasons why the NYFCC means something. Because it shows that while there was support for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which almost made Best First Film on the first ballot, or “The Master,” or “Moonrise Kingdom”–see Jim Hoberman’s breakdown of how all the voting went here-–it was “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Lincoln” that finally earned the most votes. Unfortunately, this means the other films didn’t get the boost they sorely needed. Just being in the conversation isn’t the same as winning.

The choice of “The Deep Blue Sea” star Rachel Weisz as best actress not only reveals the strength of her performance but a lack of consensus around any other contender in that category–neither Jessica Chastain nor Jennifer Lawrence summoned up enough support. Even Daniel Day-Lewis had competition from the likes of John Hawkes (“The Sessions”).

It makes me crazy that so many people are instantly jumping on the “Zero Dark Thirty” Oscar frontrunner bandwagon on the basis of three key NYFCC wins. Whether conscious of it or not, the NYFCC already perceives “Lincoln” as a well-financed Steven Spielberg frontrunner, and were acting accordingly to push some love toward an underdog. “Lincoln” is still the consensus title where Oscar voters are concerned–and it’s a winner at the box office too, something “Zero Dark Thirty” has yet to achieve. On the other hand, the “Lincoln” campaigners may be going overboard on packaging. They’re trying to send a “this is an important big movie” message, but where other people deliver screeners, script paperbacks and soundtrack CDs, Disney/DreamWorks also sends a coffee table book around the screener, a bound full-size script book, a gift-wrapped CD and a beribboned scroll printed with the John Williams’ score. (These went to awards groups aside from the Academy.)

The mystery to me is why Ang Lee’s admired “Life of Pi” isn’t getting more love. Is it the spirituality? The mainstream global bestseller it’s based on? The fact that Fox (sans PR champion Bumble Ward) isn’t creating the right kind of noise? The perceived $120-million price tag, which didn’t hurt Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”– to which this could be favorably compared, as the film fares well at the box office and will continue to do so through the holidays. I have heard many people who see the film express how much they adore it. That, combined with recognition from the Academy of how gorgeous and well-executed the film is, should make a difference down the line at Oscar voting time.

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Anne Thompson

David Lean Fan: Zero Dark Thirty and Rachel Weisz are two different things. As I said, Zero Dark Thirty hasn't opened yet, and will likely be a strong contender–with Lincoln and Life of Pi and Les Miserables, mainly. While I always took Weisz seriously as a candidate, she needed a boost for a movie, The Deep Blue Sea, that opened back in March that nobody saw. Everyone would see studio picture Zero Dark Thirty, in any case. And now more actors, particularly, will check out The Deep Blue Sea. Without this win that might not have happened.


Life of Pi is really doing well overseas–its foreign box office has already surpassed the US box office. Whatever its Oscar fate, I think Ang Lee has made another film that will stand the test of time. I still think he's going to make the Best Director cut. He certainly deserves it over Russell. I found Silver Linings Playbook underwhelming compared to some of Russell's other films.

Anne Thompson

1. The critics gave Lincoln three major awards. For the Oscars, Lincoln is a strong contender across multiple categories including picture, adapted script, director, actor, supporting actress, score, production design, editing and cinematography. That's at least nine noms. It has everything: Spielberg, gravitas, scale and scope, a beloved actor playing a beloved president. Inside Hollywood, this movie is respected and admired.

2. That said, I agree they are overplaying their hand with these marketing materials.

3. "Zero Dark Thirty' is a very strong competitor and I adore this movie. It's just not there yet.

4. "Les Miserables" also has a ways to go. But they will both be factors. More than, say, "Django," "Promised Land" or "The Hobbit."

5. I agree that the "Life of Pi" structuring device and pull-out-the-rug ending are problematic for many. I argue there was other way to adapt that book and have it be clear for a wide swath of global audiences. This is a truly unusual movie in that it was made for the whole world.


While it's wonderful that the Lincoln screener is a such a complete package, I honestly think that some members of the Academy will find this ridiculously over the top–only another example of how the film is Oscar bait incarnate–and it will put off voters. Beautiful screener does not a best picture make. Disney/Dreamworks are trying way too hard and it could ruin Spielberg's chances. I would advise against this…let the power of the movie speak for itself.

Also, I'm surprised you seem to be putting down Zero Dark Thirty. I would be absolutely thrilled if it was the Academy's choice, and what an inspired choice that would be in such a stocked year for movies. This film represents an admirable combination of superior technical craftsmanship and strong artistic vision on the part of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal. In fact, I don't care if Bigelow won three years ago…if Zero Dark Thirty is the best directed movie of the five nominees, she should be acknowledged and win again.

I have a feeling that once the Les Miserables train begins, its momentum will be hard to stop…and then all the Oscar writers and bloggers and critics will be complaining and bitching how terrible the direction is and how predictable all the awards are and how the movie is a much lesser achievement than its competition. ZDT is certainly a film that deserves this acclaim and any momentum that swings in its favor.

David Lean Fan

"It makes me crazy that so many people are instantly jumping on the "Zero Dark Thirty" Oscar frontrunner bandwagon on the basis of three key NYFCC wins."

But didn't you use a similar justification to move Rachel Weisz into the top five of your best actress predictions? You cannot eat your cake and have it.


I saw Life of Pi in a packed theater at 11 am on Sunday and the audience was really involved in the movie. I don't t know if Fox's campaign is doing the film justice. I really don't think the narration or the ending are insulting anyone's intelligence. In fact I think some critics have walked away from the film misunderstanding the ending. Whatever. The Academy has ignored films that have gone on to become classics in the past.
I also don't know why everyone is just raving about the young actress in Beasts, while the young actor playing the lead in Pi is also amazing.

Kelly Garrett

One thing that could be hurting Life of Pi, is that, while it is visually stunning and the sequences on the ocean are well executed, I felt the constant narration treated the audience like idiots. I especially felt this to be true at the end when the interviewer actually spelled out which human each animal represented. This was a moment where the viewer's final judgement of the film could have gone either way. My personal judgement veered thumbs down because my intelligence was insulted. While this may not be a problem for Academy members, it may be for critics groups.

The Dude

Lincoln wasn't even in the running for picture/director for NYFCC. It will only win in the acting categories and maybe screenplay. There's just not enough love for the film itself. I hear more people talking excitedly about Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Lincoln is more a film that people appreciate rather than love.

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