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Critics Poll: Why So Few Favorites Winning Critics Groups Awards?

Flight of the Red Balloon Juliette Binoche: No awards for Critics Poll fave?
Flight of the Red Balloon with Juliette Binoche. Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who also co-wrote the screenplay with François Margolin, Flight of the Red Balloon / Le voyage du ballon rouge stars Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, 1996) as the puppeteer mother of a boy (Simon Iteanu) whose college-attending nanny (Fang Song) is working on an homage to Albert Lamorisse’s Best Original Screenplay Oscar-winning 1956 short The Red Balloon / Le Ballon rouge. The year’s best movie according to indieWIRE’s Critics Poll, Flight of the Red Balloon has been all but ignored by U.S.-based critics groups this awards season.

indieWIRE Critics Poll curiosity: Why aren’t critics favorites winning critics groups awards?

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

The most curious thing about indieWIRE‘s 2008 Critics Poll – with 105 American and Canadian participants – is that thus far only six of these critics’ Top Ten films have gone on to win awards (Best Film, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, Best Director, or Best Screenplay) from U.S.- and Canada-based critics’ groups.

  • Disney/Pixar’s Andrew Stanton-directed blockbuster WALL-E (no. 3 on the list) has been the top choice in the Best Animated Feature category and was even voted the Best Film of 2008 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, which, somewhat incongruously, also gave Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (no. 10) their Best Animated Feature prize.
  • Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy (4), starring Michelle Williams and the canine Lucy, was the Toronto Film Critics’ Best Film.
  • Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (5) received Best Director and Best Screenplay honors from, respectively, the New York and the Los Angeles Film Critics.
  • Jia Zhangke’s Still Life (7) was chosen Best Foreign Language Film in Los Angeles.
  • Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche New York (9) was the Oklahoma Film Critics’ Best First Film.

That pretty much covers it.

‘Flight of the Red Balloon’ mysteriously missing

Even stranger, the indieWIRE critics poll’s top film, Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon / Le voyage du ballon rouge – toplining Juliette Binoche, Hippolyte Girardot, and Simon Iteanu – hasn’t won anything so far, while Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale / Un conte de Noël (no. 2), Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park (6), and Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light / Stellet Licht (8) have earned only scattered mentions.

Go figure.

Now, what about critics’ 2008/2009 awards season favorite, the Fox Searchlight-distributed Slumdog Millionaire? Well, scroll down to the no. 28 spot. Danny Boyle, for his part, is listed in seventh place in the Best Director category.

Of course, discrepancies due to different ways of weighing each vote are understandable; besides, the indieWIRE survey surely includes critics that don’t belong to any of the various groups and associations and societies and circles that hand out awards at the end/beginning of each year.

Yet a chasm that wide between this particular Best Film list and the top choices of the various critics groups’ is mind-boggling.

The Oscar effect

One possibility for the discrepancy is that when handing out awards, U.S. and Canadian critics feel that if they select little-known, non-Hollywood (or non-U.S.-studio-distributed) films – six and a half of the Top Ten picks on the indieWIRE list are non-U.S. (Paranoid Park is a France/U.S. co-production) – their choices would be deemed irrelevant.

After all, both people in general and the media, mainstream or otherwise, seem to only care about which groups’ choices will most accurately predict Hollywood’s Academy Awards.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strong contenders for next year’s Best Picture Oscar are found way down the indieWIRE Critics Poll list. Besides Slumdog Millionaire at no. 28, there are Milk (15), The Wrestler (18), The Dark Knight (22), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (34), Gran Torino (51), Frost/Nixon (75), Revolutionary Road (94), Doubt (99).

Better matches in the acting categories

The list featuring the Best Lead Performances of 2008 matches more closely the U.S.- & Canada-based critics’ award winners, perhaps because six of the Top Ten performers starred in English-language productions.

The list includes top choice Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Sean Penn (Milk), Sally Hawkins (for the British-made Happy-Go-Lucky), Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), and Melissa Leo (Frozen River).

Wendy and Lucy star Michelle Williams did win in Toronto and remains a possibility for a Best Actress Oscar nomination, but the inclusion of Asia Argento (Boarding Gate, Mother of Tears, The Last Mistress), Juliette Binoche (Flight of the Red Balloon), and the recently deceased Guillaume Depardieu (The Duchess of Langeais) was, admittedly, a bit surprising.

And finally, the indieWIRE lists include the Critics Poll’s top picks in these other categories:

  • Best Supporting Performance: Critics awards’ fave Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight.
  • Best Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Flight of the Red Balloon.
  • Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York.
  • Best Documentary: Critics awards’ fave Man on Wire.
  • Best First Film: Ballast, dir.: Lance Hammer.
  • Best Undistributed Film: The Headless Woman / La mujer sin cabeza, dir.: Lucrecia Martel.

See also: “Critics’ Best Film Favorite + Heath Ledger Tops & Best Actress Wide Open.”

WALL-E: Critics Poll surprising winner made history at Los Angeles Film Critics awardsWALL-E. A Disney/Pixar release directed and written by Andrew Stanton, LA Weekly / Village Voice Critics Poll winner WALL-E has been not only a worldwide blockbuster but also an indisputable critical favorite. So much so that earlier this month it became the first animated film to take home the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s Best Picture award. Needless to say, WALL-E is the odds-on favorite for the 2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar; it’s also a shoo-in Best Original Screenplay contender and it’s a possibility in the Best Picture category as well.

Animated blockbuster tops ‘LA Weekly/Village Voice’ Critics Poll

First there was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Now comes the LA Weekly / Village Voice Critics Poll naming Disney/Pixar’s blockbuster WALL-E, directed by Andrew Stanton, as 2008’s Best Picture.

Well, perhaps they still make ’em like they used to. At least some of the time.

A total of 80 ballots were cast. The list below has much more in common with the indieWIRE Critics Poll – no less than eight titles in common among their respective Top Ten picks – than with the various lists of critics groups’ award winners.

‘LA Weekly/Village Voice’ Critics Poll

Best Film
1. WALL-E (237 points, 35 mentions).
2. Flight of the Red Balloon (163 points, 26 mentions).
3. Happy-Go-Lucky (159 points, 26 mentions).
4. Still Life (147 points, 23 mentions).
5. A Christmas Tale (146 points, 24 mentions).
6. Waltz with Bashir (140 points, 22 mentions).
7. Milk (123 points, 21 mentions).
8. Wendy and Lucy (122 points, 25 mentions).
9. Let the Right One In (113 points, 20 mentions).
10. Synecdoche, New York (106 points, 18 mentions).

Best First Film
Ballast (20 points/mentions).

Best Documentary
Man on Wire (16 points/mentions).

Best Actress
1. Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky (83 points, 34 mentions).
2. Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy (60 points, 28 mentions).
3. Juliette Binoche, Flight of the Red Balloon (55 points, 26 mentions).

Best Actor
1. Sean Penn, Milk (86 points, 36 mentions).
2. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (74 points, 36 mentions).
3. Benicio Del Toro, Che (25 points, 12 mentions).

Best Supporting Actor
1. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (75 points, 29 mentions).
2. Eddie Marsan, Happy-Go-Lucky (43 points, 19 mentions).
3. Josh Brolin, Milk (30 points, 13 mentions).

Best Supporting Actress
1. Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona (42 points, 21 mentions).
2. Viola Davis, Doubt (35 points, 14 mentions).
3. Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married (30 points, 14 mentions).

Worst Film
The Love Guru (5 points/mentions).

Best Undistributed Films
1. The Headless Woman (15 points/mentions).
2. Tony Manero (11 points/mentions).
3. Four Nights with Anna (10 points/mentions).


Image from LA Weekly / Village Voice Critics Poll winner WALL-E: Walt Disney Studios / Pixar Animation.

Image of Juliette Binoche in indieWIRE Critics Poll winner Flight of the Red Balloon: Margo Films / Les Films du Lendemain.

“Critics Poll: Why So Few Favorites Winning Critics Groups Awards?” last updated in March 2018.

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