What are we to make of the Critics' Choice Award nominations announced Thursday morning?
On the one hand, the hundreds of members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which decides the Critics' Choice film nominees (and of which I am a voting member), have precisely zero overlap with the thousands of members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which decides the Oscar nominees. On the other hand, I would argue that the Critics' Choice noms are as likely to impress Oscar voters as any set of noms that precede their own - deservedly or not, they confer a sense of importance and prestige upon a film, albeit slightly less so when there are, say, seven nominees for best director, as there are this year - and therefore could jump-start or stunt a contender's momentum.
This year, everyone expected this critics' group to drool over La La Land and Moonlight, and indeed the former received a field-leading 12 noms, while the latter landed a next-best 10. But few people, if any, expected Arrival to land as many noms as Moonlight - something that's causing people to sit up and take notice - or that Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply would get only an original song nom, Ben Affleck's Live by Night would get only a production design nom and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book would get only a visual effects nom. Talk about landing with a thud!
(Completely missing from the noms, but with excused absences, are three films that didn't screen in time for BFCA consideration: Martin Scorsese's Silence, which is expected to be an across-the-board contender, as well as Morten Tyldum's Passengers and Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which are being positioned as strictly below-the-line possibilities.)
While it's great for a film to be able to boast about a dozen noms, and it sucks for a film to have nothing to boast about at all, I actually think Critics' Choice noms make the biggest difference on the micro, not macro, level, by highlighting certain films and filmmakers that had been regarded as being on-the-bubble or outside-looking-in, and thereby changing that.
For instance, in addition to Arrival and its director Denis Villeneuve, Hacksaw Ridge and its helmer Mel Gibson landed best picture and director noms, respectively, which is a very big deal, in that it may sort of cue the rest of the Hollywood community, and other awards groups, that it's time to forgive, if not forget, Gibson's past indiscretions.
Loving also got a best picture nomination, thought not a directing nom for Jeff Nichols - while its leading man Joel Edgerton, who has received less attention this his co-star Ruth Negga (a best actress nominee), landed a best actor nom that was anything but assured. Meanwhile, momentum continues to build for Isabelle Huppert, who, on the heels of her best actress Gotham Award win, bagged a best actress nom for her work in Elle, a French film that also got a best foreign-language film nom, a combo of laurels that will make the pic even harder to resist for people reluctant to get involved with subtitles.
Lucas Hedges, Casey Affleck's young scene partner in Manchester by the Sea, also got a big boost, with not only a supporting actor nom, but also one for best actor/actress under 21, just the sort of profile-booster that the young unknown needs right about now. His competitors for best supporting actor will include Nocturnal Animals' Michael Shannon and Hell or High Water's Ben Foster, who were far from slam-dunks themselves. Foster's nom, on the heels of a Spirit Award nom, strikes me as a blaring reminder that, with other awards voting to come, there may well be affection enough for Hell or High Water and room enough in the supporting actor category to accommodate both Jeff Bridges and Foster.
The supporting actress noms for Manchester's Michelle Williams and 20th Century Women's Greta Gerwig are of particular note. Williams had been snubbed across the board up to this point, even as her male collaborators racked up recognition, and I was starting to question whether her brief but powerful performance was registering with anyone. Gerwig, meanwhile, wasn't even on many pundits' radar, if only because she's but one piece of a giant ensemble with numerous supporting actress standouts - but the truth is she probably was the strongest of the lot, and critics do love her (she may need a restraining order against A.O. Scott), so her nom makes sense in hindsight.
Other noms that jumped out at me: Arrival and Nocturnal Animals for best adapted screenplay (but, then again, critics may be more likely to gravitate towards cerebral scripts than other awards-givers); The Lobster for best original screenplay (it turns out memories of great work can extend as far back as May); and Edge of Seventeen's extraordinary Hailee Steinfeld, not for best actress (though she was worthy), but for best actor/actress 21 or under and best actress in a comedy, which still is a pretty nice showing.
Now, for every film or filmmaker that landed an unexpected nom, some other film or filmmaker, of course, got boxed out. Hidden Figures never was gonna be a critics' favorite - it's pure schmaltz. But it not only missed for best picture, but also several others for which it was thought to have a serious shot: best actress (Taraji P. Henson), best supporting actor (Kevin Costner), best supporting actress (Octavia Spencer), best costume design, best production design, best original score (Pharrell and Hans Zimmer) and best original song (Pharrell's "Running"). It did, however, snag best ensemble, best adapted screenplay (Ted Melfi and Alison Schroeder) and best supporting actress (Janelle Monae) noms, which, considering the general disinterest in the film, is reason to think it's looking pretty good in those categories moving forward. (For the record, The Help received eight Critics' Choice noms and won as many awards as Hidden Figures has been nominated for.)
Jackie, which I expected to land a best pic nom, did not, but was recognized for Natalie Portman's lead performance and in a host of crafts categories (five), a dynamic which I can totally imagine the Academy replicating. Meanwhile, Patriots Day got nothing, which feels a bit harsh.
For a bunch of individuals who missed, this is a very bad omen, because if this group - which one would expect to be their base - didn't go for them, it's hard to imagine any other group reaching a different conclusion. I'm talking about Rules Don't Apply's Beatty for best picture, director, actor or original screenplay (with Bo Goldman); Loving's Jeff Nichols for best director; Hell or High Water's Chris Pine (whose movie got a lot of love elsewhere), Captain Fantastic's Viggo Mortensen and The Founder's Michael Keaton (who seems to have no interest in campaigning and whose distributor does not seem to be campaigning for him) for best actor; Miss Sloane's Jessica Chastain (who gives a great perf in a troubled film) and Love & Friendship's Kate Beckinsale (not everyone's cup of tea) for best actress; Hacksaw Ridge for best adapted screenplay; 20th Century Women, Jackie, Captain Fantastic and The Founder for best original screenplay; Sausage Party for best animated feature; Moana for best original score; and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk for best visual effects (the fact that it couldn't even get a nom in this category represents a pretty massive rejection of the film).
Then again, as the old saying goes, "Everyone's a critic!"