Critics’ Awards: An Early Clue to the Oscars?

The nationwide film critics' associations have named their best films and actors of 2010, with 'The Social Network,' Colin Firth, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale taking an early lead for the Academy Awards

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Merrick Morton / Columbia

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, 9; Melissa Leo, The Fighter, 7; Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom, 4; Amy Adams, The Fighter, 2; Kimberly Elise, For Colored Girls, 1; Mila Kunis, Black Swan, 1; Juliette Lewis, Conviction, 1; Lesley Manville, Another Year, 1; Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer, 1

Another strong field: Steinfeld, Leo, Adams and Weaver would all be exemplary winners. SAG’s top five are Adams, Kunis, Leo, Steinfeld and Helena Bonham-Carter for The King’s Speech. (She’s good too.) Substitute Weaver for Kunis, and you have a fabulous Oscar quintet. Steinfeld is gaining momentum (and she’s the best thing in True Grit), but it’s ludicrous to put someone playing a movie’s most important character in a supporting category. The 14-year-old should be fighting it out for Best Actress.

BEST SCREENPLAY

(Note that some critics’ groups give one award, while some give two, for original and adapted screenplay)

Original: Inception, 8; The King’s Speech, 4; Black Swan, 1; Four Lions, 1
Adapted: The Social Network, 14
Original or Adapted: The Social Network, 10; Night Catches Us, 1; The Kids Are All Right, 1

The Writers Guild of America nominations are not applicable to Oscar predictions, since the WGA has strict eligibility rules that, this year, excluded The King’s Speech and other Academy inevitables. Aaron Sorkin’s script for The Social Network will win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, with David Seidler’s The King’s Speech a favorite over Christopher Nolan’s Inception for Best Original Screenplay. Chris Morris’ crazy-great script for the Brit-Islamo-terror comedy Four Lions is the longest of long shots.

(See Three Questions for Jesse Eisenberg.)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Mother, 6; A Prophet, 3.5; Biutiful, 3; Carlos, 3; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 3; I Am Love, 3; Micmacs, 1.5; Lebanon, 1; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, 1

Now here we have critics behaving like the ornery creatures they really are: the laurels are spread among nine pictures, most of which premiered at film festivals in 2009, and just one of which you may know. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo earned more at the North American box office ($10.1 million) than all the others combined. As tips to adventurous moviegoers, this list is useful; as indications of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, it is irrelevant. Mother and A Prophet were submitted for the 2010 Academy Awards; both lost. Of the critics’ favorites, only the Cannes prizewinner Uncle Boonmee is among the 65 films proposed by their home countries this time, and it is likely to finish far behind, say, the South African AIDS drama Life, Above All or France’s Of Gods and Men, or the Danish In a Better World or the French-Canadian Incendies. All those films open this year.

BEST DOCUMENTARY / NONFICTION FILM

Exit Through the Gift Shop, 11; Inside Job, 3; Restrepo, 3; The Tillman Story, 3; Waiting for “Superman,” 2; Catfish, 1; Last Train Home, 1; Marwencol, 1

The mysterious British artist Banksy wowed critics’ groups with his (if it is his) documentary (if it is one) about the L.A. graffiti scene. Exit Through the Gift Shop also made the 15-film short list for the Academy doc award. Its chief competitors are probably Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, an exposé of the U.S. government’s collusion in the financial meltdown, and Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman,” which details inequities in the public-school system. The Oscar in this category usually goes to political films, not elaborate pranks.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Toy Story 3, 21; How to Train Your Dragon, 2; The Illusionist, 1

These three films may well be the three that are nominated for an Oscar. If the Pixar threequel doesn’t take the Academy Award in this category, call the cops.

The 27 critics’ groups: Austin, Boston, Central Ohio, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Florida, Houston, Indiana, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Oklahoma, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Southeastern, St. Louis, Toronto, Utah and Washington, D.C., plus the African-American Film Critics, the International Press Academy (voters of the Satellite Awards), the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Online and the (national) Online Film Critics.

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