For the first time in the last few years, there's no clear frontrunner for all awards as critics groups begin handing out their prizes-- unlike last year, when The Artist ran roughshod all over the season, or when The Social Network and The King's Speech duked it out two years ago, there are half a dozen films that could be legitimately considered Oscar frontrunners. Today the New York Film Critics Circle was the first critic's group to give some shape to the race, naming Zero Dark Thirty-- Kathryn Bigelow's masterfully tense drama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden-- their Best Picture of the Year.

They also tapped Bigelow as their Best Director, cutting off what had looked like a sweep for Lincoln, which won Best Screenplay for Tony Kushner, Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis, and Best Supporting Actress for Sally Field. Many of the group's other picks could be considered totally left-field. Rachel Weisz won Best Actress for her work in the little-seen The Deep Blue Sea, and Matthew McConaughey won Best Supporting Actor for his work in both Magic Mike and Bernie. For the first time in the group's history, the Best First Feature prize went to a documentary, David France's How To Survive A Plague-- a prize widely expected to go to Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Along with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, who vote for their awards on Friday, the New York critics are widely considered the most important group of the season, in terms of being able to garner attention for certain contenders. This is a huge boost for Zero Dark Thirty, which has earned rave reviews but won't open until later this month, as well as a strong sign of critical support for Lincoln.

You can see the full list of New York Film Critics Circle award winners here.

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