New York Film Critics Awards: Oscar Precursors, Yes; Snooty and Artsy, No

by Andre Soares

Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven
Julianne Moore, Far from Heaven

For decades, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards have been considered a precursor of the Academy Awards. Movies, performers, directors – and later cinematographers and screenwriters – singled out by the NYFCC usually have gone on to receive Oscar nominations, oftentimes the golden statuette itself. The New York critics awards also have the reputation of being “snooty” and “artsy.” Are they?

When it comes to serving as a precursor of the Academy Awards, the answer would have to be a resounding Yes despite a number of NYFCC winners eventually bypassed by (most of) the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters. As for the NYFCC's “artsy” choices … Well, that depends on your idea of “artsy.”

If choosing John Ford's box office disappointment The Informer as Best Film of 1935 makes the New York critics artsy, then they were. If selecting a couple of non-Hollywood British actresses (Celia Johnson, a pre-Hollywood Deborah Kerr) during the studio era also makes those critics artsy, then they really were. But if your idea of “artsy” – or rather, “arty” – veers more toward, say, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, or Federico Fellini, then the NYFCC was “arty” for a very brief period, from 1969 (Best Film: Costa-Gavras' Z) to 1977 (Best Film: Woody Allen's Annie Hall).

From 1978 on, truly daring NYFCC choices became rare, e.g., Robert Altman's The Player in 1992, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. in 2001, Altman as Best Director for Gosford Park also in 2001. Unless, that is, you consider daring the choice of Linda Fiorentino (The Last Seduction) as Best Actress of 1994 – merely because her performance was ineligible for the Oscars, as her movie was initially shown on cable television.

Even nods for non-Hollywood productions became rare. In the last 25 years, Norma Aleandro (The Official Story, 1985) and Gong Li (Farewell, My Concubine, supporting, 1993) were the NYFCC's only two winners for performances in non-English-language movies.

But once again, as an Oscar precursor the NYFCC is all but unbeatable. From 1935 to 2010 (excluding 1962 when no voting took place due to a newspaper strike), 28 NYFCC Best Actress winners also became Best Actress Oscar winners – 29, if Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India) is included. Thirty-three NYFCC Best Actor winners went on to win matching Oscars – in addition to Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way). And 30 NYFCC Best Picture winners won matching Academy Awards – in addition to three Best Foreign Language Film Oscar wins (Z, 1969; Day for Night, 1973; Amarcord, 1974.)

When it comes to overall Oscar nominations (including the winners), figures are much higher. In fact, relatively few NYFCC winners have failed to be shortlisted by the Academy. In the Best Actress category, 62 (including an Elizabeth Taylor/Lynn Redgrave tie in 1966) received matching Oscar nominations; additionally, the aforementioned Peggy Ashcroft and Agnes Moorehead (The Magnificent Ambersons) were shortlisted by the Academy in the supporting category. I should add that 1981 NYFCC Best Actress winner Glenda Jackson was ineligible for the Oscar that year because her movie, Stevie, had opened in Los Angeles in 1978.

No less than 69 NYFCC Best Actor winners earned matching Best Actor Oscar nods, including the aforementioned Barry Fitzgerald, a double Academy Award nominee for the same role in 1944. Admittedly, in one instance – Gregory Peck for Twelve O'Clock High in 1950 – the Oscars preceded the NYFCC, as the Henry King-directed military drama opened in Los Angeles in 1949.

In the Best Film category, 68 NYFCC winners – including a Sons and Lovers/The Apartment tie in 1960 – were shortlisted for the Best Picture Oscar. Additionally, the aforementioned Day for Night and Amarcord were shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director categories. Indeed, among the NYFCC Best Film winners, only Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven (2002) failed to be shortlisted in either the Best Picture or Best Director Oscar categories.

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