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Your Oscar Frontrunners Are ‘Manchester,’ ‘Moonlight’ and ‘La La Land’: Critics’ Groups Weigh In

The critics have spoken, as three films rise to the top of awards contention.

"Moonlight" - Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Wright, director Barry Jenkins

Andre Holland, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Tarell McCraney, Naomie Harris, Trevante Wright, director Barry Jenkins

Daniel Bergeron

After the first week of critics’ groups announcing their picks, we have a trifecta of Oscar frontrunners: Amazon/Roadside’s “Manchester by the Sea,” A24’s “Moonlight,” and Lionsgate’s “La La Land.” These are the same films that triumphed on the fall film festival circuit, benefitting from the slow and steady drumbeat of media attention as well as relentless awards campaigning.

Among those that found no love from critics were the late arrivals: Ben Affleck’s “Live By Night,” Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” Weinstein Co.’s “The Founder” and “Gold,” and Peter Berg’s “Patriots Day” were shutouts. Snubs met veteran Oscar winners Robert Zemeckis, Ang Lee, Warren Beatty, and Oliver Stone, while Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” and Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” are still in play.

READ MORE: Gotham Awards 2016: Kenneth Lonergan, Isabelle Huppert, Ezra Edelman and More on Why Independent Film Is Healthy

“Moonlight” topped the Gotham Awards with four wins including Best Feature, and scored three more from the New York Film Critics Circle, including Best Director Barry Jenkins, Best Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali and Best Cinematography James Laxton, as well as 10 nominations from the Critics Choice Awards.

Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams

Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kenneth Lonergan

Photo by James Shaw/REX/Shutterstock

After the National Board of Review anointed New England tragedy “Manchester By The Sea” their Best Film and Gotham-winner Casey Affleck Best Actor, the more prestigious NYFCC followed with three awards: Affleck, Best Screenplay Kenneth Lonergan, and Best Supporting Actress Michelle Williams. The film went on to earn eight Critics Choice nominations.

On the same day that Damien Chazelle’s retro musical romance “La La Land” led the Critics Choice Awards with 12 nominations (voted on by some 250 television, radio and online critics, including me), the NYFCC voted one award to “La La Land” — Best Film of the Year.


“La La Land”

All that said, it’s wise to remember that New York’s winners don’t often align with the Oscar Best Picture. The last one to do so was 2011’s “The Artist.” On the other hand, among critics’ groups the Critics Choice Award winners are the most predictive because they are 250-strong, national, and tend to be more mainstream in their taste. Last year, they matched Oscar winners Brie Larson, Leonardo DiCaprio, “Inside Out,” “Son of Saul,” and Best Picture “Spotlight.” Like the NYFCC, they went with Oscar also-rans “Boyhood” and “The Social Network,” but did preview Oscar-winners “12 Years a Slave” and “Argo.”

Among the actors, continuing to gain ground are Gotham, National Board of Review and NYFCC winner Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”) and Gotham and NYFCC winner Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”), who both found Critics Choice nominations.

READ MORE: Gotham Awards 2016: Complete Winners ListAmong the thankfully wide range of awards contenders made by and/or starring people of color this year, “Moonlight,” with a 99 Metascore, is the critics’ favorite. Also showing strength with six Critics Choice nominations each including Best Picture and acting nods were “Lion” (Weinstein Co.), starring Supporting Actor Dev Patel, and August Wilson’s theater adaptation “Fences” (Paramount), starring popular Best Actor and Director Denzel Washington and the equally beloved Supporting Actress Viola Davis, a frontrunner in her category going up against Williams’ smaller role in “Manchester by the Sea.”

Jeff Nichols, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton at 'Loving' premiere.

Jeff Nichols, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton at “Loving” premiere

Photo by James Gourley/REX/Shutterstock

Still in the hunt is biracial romance “Loving” (Focus Features) with nods for Picture, Director and Screenplay (Jeff Nichols) as well as stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. Another contender that may still factor in the Oscar race is biopic “Hidden Figures,” starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Jonelle Monae, and Kevin Costner (Fox), which scored Critics Choice Screenplay and Ensemble nods.

Also doing well with the Broadcast Film Critics was another film of scale, brainy sci-fi drama “Arrival” (Paramount) with 10 nominations, including Gotham tributee and National Board of Review winner Amy Adams, Screenplay Eric Heisserer and Director Denis Villeneuve. Scoring a surprise seven nominations was commercial hit “Hacksaw Ridge,” including Best Picture, Director Mel Gibson and Actor Andrew Garfield. While this adds some wind to the well-wrought World War II actioner’s sails, the Academy may not be ready to be as forgiving.

Taylor Sheridan and Jeff Bridges on set of "Hell or High Water"

Taylor Sheridan and Jeff Bridges on the set of “Hell or High Water”

CBS Films

Getting an awards boost with six nominations each were modern western “Hell or High Water,” which scored for David Mackenzie as Best Director and Taylor Sheridan for Best Screenplay along with Supporting Actors Jeff Bridges and Indie Spirit nominee Ben Foster, and “Jackie,” which landed Natalie Portman and several tech categories but no director or screenplay mentions, and Marvel tech and VFX contender “Doctor Strange.”

Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” snagged Picture and Best Actor Tom Hanks, but no director slot. “Nocturnal Animals” (Focus Features) nabbed an original screenplay mention for director Tom Ford, along with Supporting scene-stealer Michael Shannon.

On the documentary side, Ezra Edelman’s “OJ: Made in America” continues its award surge on the road to Oscar, with wins from Gotham and NYFCC; animated features “Kubo and the Two Strings (NBR) and “Zootopia” (NYFCC) advance in the race, and German foreign entry “Toni Erdmann” picked up not only a crucial NYFCC win and a Critics Choice nomination, but the Best Movie of the Year in Sight & Sound’s critics’ poll, along with Verhoeven’s “Elle” and “Neruda,” from snubbed “Jackie” director Pablo Larrain. Consider it a consolation prize.

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