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Critical Thinking: Film Critics Across the Country Name Their Top Movies and Actors

The Reel Breakdown

"The Artist"? "The Descendants"? "Hugo"? There was no critical consensus following a day of intense voting yesterday when a gaggle of critics groups voted their top honors. These included the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC), and the New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO), as well as critics in San Francisco, Detroit and Indiana. The American Film Institute also announced its annual top 10, typically taking no risks.

Best Picture: "The Descendants" got a strong push with a win at the LAFCA, but "The Artist" took the top prize at the BSFC and the NYFCO. Both titles will make the final Academy shortlist. Fortified by nominations for their respective directors Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick, "Hugo" and "The Tree of Life" should get nominations. The critics groups didn't get "The Help," any more than "The Blind Side," but the Civic Rights-era drama did make the American Film Institute top ten this year, so don't discount it yet.

Best Actor:
Michael Fassbender is coming up fast with an LAFCA win. Why should we care about that group in particular? They're on a six-year roll predicting the Oscar winner for Best Actor. Brad Pitt's also a contender for "Moneyball," getting an art-house bump from "The Tree of Life," with Gary Oldman coming up on the outside thanks to the critical and box-office success of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and a nod from the San Francisco Film Critics. How about George Clooney for "The Descendants"? He's still in the race, but not at the forefront. Like going for long shots? Then bet Michael Shannon for "Take Shelter," which won NYFCO. And if there's a sweep for "The Artist," add in Jean Dujardin.

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Best Actress: Michelle Williams of "My Week With Marilyn," solidifies her spot with a win at the Boston Film Critics Association. Los Angeles went way out for Yung-Jun Hee in "Poetry" (what?) in their 'we're cool and uncorrupted by the Oscar race' vote. NYFCO went classic with Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady." She's the Streep, but neither she nor Williams will be helped by an apparent lack of enthusiasm for their moves as a whole. Ditto Viola Davis ("The Help"), who will nonetheless make the top five Oscar nominees. Either SF winner Tilda Swinton ("We Need to Talk About Kevin") or multiple-runner-up Kirsten Dunst ("Melancholia") may slip in or come in sixth or seventh. Keep an eye out for Charlize Theron ("Young Adult"), Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene") and Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy) as wild-card entries.

Best Supporting Actor:
This is a two-man race between octogenarian Christopher Plummer and Albert Brooks playing against type as a cold-blooded hands-on killer. On the fringes: Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult"), Kenneth Branagh ("My Week with Marilyn") and Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes").

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Best Supporting Actress: Coming up on the inside is Melissa McCarthy for "Bridesmaids." Hurray for comedy! Bolstered by a best ensemble award from the LAFCA, this may push McCarthy into the five Oscar nominees. The LAFCA got behind Jessica Chastain, the NYFCO Breakthrough Performer, who was in every movie from "The Tree of Life" to "The Help," where she'll be competing against her popular co-star Octavia Spencer. The San Francisco critics supported Vanessa Redgrave for "Coriolanus," and Janet McTeer ("Albert Nobbs") was an LAFCA runner up in the category.

Who's out of the running in these five major categories? The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, J. Edgar and Midnight in Paris all underwhelmed. The X-Factor remains Scott Rudin's buzzy "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," which has not been screened widely after the New Yorker's David Denby flagrantly broke embargo on Rudin's other major film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Pack the Kleenex box for this one.

See the trailer to 'The Artist':