All that ''making a list, checking it twice'' business is especially apt these days: The flurry of critics' awards has begun, and the Oscar hype is reaching deafening proportions. In the week leading up to the Golden Globe nominations on Dec. 14, no fewer than eight organizations from the powerhouse (New York, Los Angeles, and Broadcast Film critics; American Film Institute) to the fringe (Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York online critics) to the downright mysterious (National Board of Review) released their rundowns of winners or nominees. In 2005, these eight voting bodies collectively predicted the five Best Picture nominees with eerie spot-on accuracy. While there's no such consensus this year, the early crop of results did shake up the Academy Awards picture in a big way. Here's how:
In a turn of events reminiscent of Million Dollar Baby's sudden rush to the forefront of the Oscar race two years ago, Clint Eastwood has another last-minute contender on his hands with his Japanese-language WWII drama, Letters From Iwo Jima. The follow-up to Flags of Our Fathers took best-picture honors from the L.A. critics and the National Board of Review (NBR) and was one of only three films to be named to the NBR, American Film Institute (AFI), and Broadcast Film Critics top 10 lists. The other two to make all three tallies? Babel and Little Miss Sunshine, providing valuable boosts to both. The New York and D.C. critics, meanwhile, reached all the way back to April in choosing their best picture: the star-free real-time 9/11 drama United 93, which also landed on the AFI and Broadcast top 10s and must now be considered a serious Oscar candidate.
While the best-picture prizes were spread out among multiple films, the best-actor and -actress results were unanimous, with The Last King of Scotland's Forest Whitaker and The Queen's Helen Mirren taking honors from all six groups that named outright winners in their categories. Meanwhile, The Departed's Martin Scorsese picked up four of the six best-director prizes, adding to speculation that he might finally score his first-ever Oscar statuette. Multiple winners in the supporting categories included Dreamgirls' Jennifer Hudson, For Your Consideration's Catherine O'Hara, Blood Diamond's Djimon Hounsou, and The Queen's Michael Sheen, vaulting them to the top of their individual races.
Those all-important 10-best lists were also notable for what they left off. The NBR omitted presumed front-runner Dreamgirls, while the AFI overlooked The Departed. And both groups ignored The Queen, one of the best-reviewed films of the year. Still, all three earned places on the Broadcast Film Critics' rundown, which has evolved into one of the most reliable Oscar barometers, having successfully forecast all five Best Picture nominees for four years running. And although Leonardo DiCaprio became the first performer ever to earn two best-actor nods in the same year from the Broadcast Film Critics with The Departed and Blood Diamond, that isn't necessarily a great thing. Academy rules dictate that an actor can receive only a single nod per category, so DiCaprio may need to back one horse to avoid the kind of vote splitting that would be fatal to his chances.
The news wasn't at all good for the two oft-confused Good movies: Robert De Niro's CIA tale The Good Shepherd and Steven Soderbergh's noir homage The Good German. Both films were nowhere to be found on any of the eight critics' best-picture lists. Ditto the ensemble drama Bobby, the apartheid thriller Catch a Fire, and Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, which has clearly taken a backseat to United 93 with voters looking to honor a 9/11 movie. Academy favorite Annette Bening also received no love for her fierce turn in Running With Scissors (lukewarm reviews for the film are to blame), while perhaps the most surprising omission from the Broadcast Film Critics' nominees for best supporting actor was Babel's Brad Pitt. At least the star, who's also a credited producer on The Departed, is a lock for a Best Picture nomination.
AND ONE BIG SHOCKER
One of Forest Whitaker's best-actor wins from the L.A. critics was actually a tie...with Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen. Imagine the uproar if he ends up knocking DiCaprio out of contention at the Academy Awards. If nothing else, let's hope the Oscar-telecast producers have the good sense to let him loose at the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 25. Wawaweewa!