Yesterday I was doing interviews for Zero Dark Thirty as the winners of the New York Film Critics Circle were being announced, and everyone was watching closely. Sony publicists and journalists like myself were obviously able to refresh our phones constantly, but even the talent knew exactly the score; when I walked in the room to speak to Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle and told them Kathryn Bigelow had just been named Best Director by the group, Chandler gave a celebratory cheer. Jason Clarke met me at the door of the interview room because he was expecting Bigelow, who had stepped down stairs to say congratulations after they won Best Picture (she went in the room after I did). "We won Best Picture!" he explained to me, as excited as if the Oscar was in their hands. Everyone in that film knows they have a shot at nearly any award, and Monday was the first sign of just how real that shot was.
Today came the second sign, when the National Board of Review also named Zero Dark Thirty Best Picture and Director, with an additional Best Actress pick for Jessica Chastain. It's way too easy to read too much into the NBR's picks, which in the last 10 years have lined up with Oscar's Best Picture exactly twice (for No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire). But anyone willing to write off Zero Dark Thirty as being too clinical or too unemotional for Oscar now has to let that go, with Bigelow very much at the center of another awards hunt-- though this time with a lot of competition nipping at her heels.
Some of that competition remains under embargo or even unseen by some critics-- Les Miserables, despite all the hubbub that surrounded its debut for critics, is still embargoed, as is Django Unchained, which won a very intriguing Best Supporting Actor recognition for Leonardo DiCaprio from the NBR (they've picked that category's eventual Oscar winner for the last two years, but they also gave it to Alec Baldwin for The Cooler). And there are also still a few remaining snakes in the grass to come to theaters, notably Michael Haneke's Amour (which won't exactly be a Christmas season crowd pleaser) and The Impossible, the very stirring and emotional tsunami drama that wants a Best Actress nomination for Naomi Watts. We're getting very close to the end of the year, but the pieces are surprisingly still not in place.
And what's crazy is that there's really not any room for anything else. This has been a wonderful year for Oscar-potential films that stuck their landings, from movies like Lincoln and Life of Pi that remain strong to even The Master or End of Watch, which were a bigger part of the awards equation early on but still have their fans. Critics and Academy voters have a lot to choose from, and I'll be genuinely surprised if Zero Dark Thirty just runs away with the season from here-- I'm sincerely hoping either of my own critics groups, the New York Film Critics Online or the Broadcast Film Critics Association, pick something else for the sake of variety. Even if they don't, though, don't expect the race to be over by the end of this weekend. When the guilds start voting, they could easily pick something entirely different, and we'll have a real race on our hands again.
In the meantime, though, I've updated the charts to reflect the NBR and NYFCC results. By next week we'll have lots more critical voices in the mix, and I'll have seen Django Unchained as the last major awards season release on my list. Exciting times!
Zero Dark Thirty now makes four mortal locks, with plenty of room to add one to six more contenders into the mix. There's a lot of shifting around the bottom of the category, giving up on a few long shots (sorry, The Avengers and Quartet and Rust and Bone) and bumping up Amour (it's likely to make a ton of critic's top 10 lists) while bumping down Flight, which is losing heat because no one can seem to talk about Denzel Washington with Daniel Day-Lewis taking all the attention. The top two categories here could easily make up a Best Picture list of 9, but I still have no sense of how to predict just how many films could make the list.
STILL IN THE RUNNING