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.