Last night, the Gotham Awards pushed momentum toward “Moonlight,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “Manchester By the Sea,” and acting winners Casey Affleck and French star Isabelle Huppert. Next to weigh in: the critics’ groups.
In the review aggregation era, it’s rare for any movie to land a Best Picture nomination without scoring at least 70 on Metacritic; most Oscar winners rank in the 80s and 90s. Critics’ awards can have a huge impact on awards prospects; their spotlights have the power to make movies float to the top of Oscar voters’ screener piles. It’s a fair bet that French star Marion Cotillard has the New York Film Critics Circle to thank for scoring her unexpected Best Actress nomination in 2015 for the Dardennes Bros.’ French-language “Two Days, One Night.”
This week, first up is the National Board of Review, which weighs in today. Tomorrow, November 30, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” screens for the NYFCC, the day before they vote. The Broadcast Film Critics announce their Critics Choice Award nominations December 1, although many members won’t have seen the Scorsese movie. It screens in L.A. the morning of December 4th — the day of the Los Angeles Film Critics vote. The Hollywood Foreign Press has already begun voting on their sprawling Golden Globes nominations, to be announced December 12.
We already know which way they are likely to go. Topping the list of 2016 films with highest Metascores and likely to reap multiple critics’ awards are movies that have achieved consensus: dramas “Moonlight” (99), “Manchester by the Sea” (96), “Jackie” (93), and “La La Land” (91), foreign films “Toni Erdmann” (94) and “Elle” (89), animated “The Red Turtle” (92), and documentaries “The Tower” (92) and “13th” (90).
Critics’ groups also carry the power to champion oddballs. They don’t have to go with the expected frontrunners or even think about future awards potential. They have the power to highlight other, smaller, little-seen movies that could use a boost, to elevate a movie from earlier in the year that might otherwise be forgotten.
This year, they could choose to remember Gotham Award tributee Ethan Hawke’s juicy role as jazz musician addict Chet Baker (“Born to be Blue”) and Carmen Ejogo as his supportive wife; Hawke’s comedy turn as a New York writer in love with two academics played by Greta Gerwig and Julianne Moore (with an accent) in “Maggie’s Plan;” Hailee Steinfeld as a painfully awkward teen in “Edge of Seventeen;” Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell in “The Lobster” (82), Park Chan-Wook’s visual erotic masterwork “The Handmaiden” (84), Viggo Mortensen as a domineering off-the-grid father in “Captain Fantastic;” Tilda Swinton as a silenced rock star (as well as Ralph Fiennes as her uproarious ex-husband) in “A Bigger Splash;” or Sam Neill’s delightful turn as a similarly disconnected bushman in the New Zealand sleeper hit “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”
Then there are the Oscar hopefuls that will have to get along without help from the critics. Oscar campaigners like to remind that great reviews are not essential for an Oscar Best Picture contender — as long as the movie pleases the Oscar crowd. In the aggregation world the lower scores stem from a lack of consensus, a range of reactions to a given movie.
Given the expanded field of nominees since 2009, it’s not impossible to muster enough support to gain a Best Picture nomination, but it’s very hard to win. The notable exception: In 2005, “Crash” (Metascore: 69) controversially won Best Picture against expected winner “Brokeback Mountain.”
Among the movies that have squeaked into contention with an expanded field of nominees is Tate Taylor’s 2011 Southern drama “The Help,” with a 62 Metascore, followed the next year by Tom Hooper’s live-singing musical “Les Miserables” with 63; tellingly, neither landed a Best Director nod.
The Weinstein Company
And don’t forget Harvey Weinstein’s Best Picture nominations’ magic with “The Cider House Rules” (75) and “Chocolat” (64). Tom Hanks-starrer “The Green Mile” (61) also landed a nod. And how did Lawrence Kasdan’s “The Accidental Tourist” sneak in with just 53? Despite that Metascore today, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded it Best Film of 1988.
This year, several Oscar hopefuls are chasing that Best Picture nomination without critics’ help — unless it comes from the Golden Globes. These include Bleecker Street’s hit terrorist thriller “Eye in the Sky,” starring Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman (73) and holocaust-themed true story “Denial” starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall (64); Focus Features’ fantasy fable “A Monster Calls,” from J.A. Bayona (“The Impossible”), starring Felicity Jones and Liam Neeson (76); Mel Gibson’s box office hit “Hacksaw Ridge,” starring Andrew Garfield (71); musical comedy “Florence Foster Jenkins,” starring Oscar perennial Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, which is getting a rerelease on December 2 to bring it back to voters’ minds (71); and another real-life drama from Weinstein Co., the heart-tugging “Lion,” starring Dev Patel as a man adopted by Australian Nicole Kidman who is seeking his roots (64). Harvey is working his Oscar mojo on that one.
Still to come for TWC are qualifying runs for Steve Gaghan’s Matthew McConaughey digging-for-treasure drama “Gold” (wide January 27) and John Lee Hancock’s McDonald’s origin fable “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton (wide January 20), but if TWC expected strong reviews they would have opened the movies earlier in the year. (This is about keeping the movie stars happy.) Sony Pictures’ Classics’ Robert De Niro vehicle and AFI FEST debut “The Comedian” sits at 46. Whoops.
This weekend, two movies from Oscar-winning directors went into wide release. What they needed was careful nurturing, but their studios weren’t willing to sustain the platform runs that build audiences because their reviews weren’t great. Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” (59) and Bob Zemeckis’s “Allied” (60) both limped to over 2,000 theaters, taking their Oscar hopes with them.