Critics Choice Awards Analysis: Five Key Takeaways

Critics Choice Awards Analysis: Five Key Takeaways

How much should Oscar-watchers read into the results of Sunday night’s 28th Critics Choice Awards?

One school of thought says “not much.” After all, the Critics Choice Awards are determined by the Critics Choice Association, an organization comprising some 500 broadcast, radio and online critics and entertainment journalists based primarily in the United States — including, full disclosure, yours truly — whereas the Oscars are determined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an organization comprising some 10,000 people based all around the world who actually work on movies. In other words, there is zero overlap.

Another school, of thought, however, suggests that the choices of Critics Choice voters might still influence Academy members, who are currently voting — and will continue to do so through Tuesday — to determine their Oscar nominees, and who have demonstrated a tendency, particularly as the organization has grown larger and younger (meaning more voters are busy with their careers and don’t have time to watch as many movies as older voters), to rubber-stamp the choices of awards groups that precede them.

Here are my five takeaways from the Critics Choice Awards.

1) Brendan Fraser got the shot of adrenaline that he needed

For his transformative performance in The Whale, Fraser got a lot of love at the fall film fests — but his film itself was poorly reviewed (it’s at 66 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and, perhaps not coincidentally, his buzz had died down quite a bit by the end of the year. He was overlooked for the major critics awards and lost at the Gothams (to Till’s Danielle Deadwyler) and the Golden Globes (to Austin Butler for Elvis). And after the Globes, many with whom I spoke felt like sentiment and momentum had shifted toward Butler.

But Fraser prevailed on Sunday, and made the most of his moment in the spotlight. From the moment his name was called, he was visibly emotional (something that voters notice, since they like to vote for people who they think genuinely appreciate their support), and also on-message: He thanked Darren Aronofsky for bringing him back from “the wilderness,” noted that “it took me 32 years to get here” and told people who are struggling that “if you, too, can have the strength to just get to your feet and go to the light, good things will happen” — all of which I see as an effort to remind people, as subtly as possible, that he has put in his time and, unlike some of his competitors, may never get another shot like this one.

One thing to keep in mind: seven of the last 10 winners of the best actor Critics Choice Award went on to win the corresponding Oscar — but two of the three who did not were, like Fraser, sentimental choices of the critics (Michael Keaton for Birdman and Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) who then lost at the Oscars to non-sentimental choices (Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything and Anthony Hopkins for The Father, respectively).

2) Everything Everywhere All at Once was clearly the critics choice

Some seven weeks after winning the best feature Gotham Award and less than 24 hours after collecting the best film Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award (the latter in a tie with Tár), Everything Everywhere All at Once proved to be the clear favorite of the CCA. (It came in with a field-leading 14 noms, three more than any other film, so this wasn’t exactly a shocker.)

Though its leading lady, Michelle Yeoh, lost best actress to Tár’s Cate Blanchett, and the film itself lost best ensemble and best comedy to Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, it still bagged five wins, three more than any other film. After being awarded best original screenplay, best editing and best supporting actor (Ke Huy Quan), it was a surprise winner for best director (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, aka “Daniels”), at which point it became all but certain that it would win best picture, too, which it did.

Only five of the last 10 best picture Critics Choice Award winners have gone on to win the corresponding Oscar (Boyhood, La La Land, Roma, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Power of the Dog all failed to repeat), and, consistent with those figures, I can see things going either way for Everything Everywhere in the best picture Oscar race.

As was the case with last year’s best picture Oscar winner CODA (which, incidentally, lost the best picture Critics Choice Award to The Power of the Dog ), there’s an underdog aspect to Everything Everywhere (an indie that became an unlikely blockbuster) and the people who worked on it (who have faced adversity throughout their careers and yet still seem lovely) that makes it impossible to root against them.

Unlike CODA, however, Everything Everywhere is a challenging and polarizing film, which could cause it problems on the preferential (ranked-choice) ballot that the Academy employs for the best picture Oscar. And the film plays least well with older people — they tend to get lost in the multiverse of it all — who still have a disproportionate presence in the Academy.

But if the Academy does not go for Everything Everywhere, then what would it go for instead? I could see The Fabelmans or Top Gun: Maverick doing well on a preferential ballot — but the only other ceremony that employs a preferential ballot is the PGA Awards, meaning we won’t see if/how a preferential ballot could impact their chances until Feb. 25.

3) Quan and Bassett are looking locked

When Troy Kotsur, who won last year’s best supporting actor Critics Choice Award (and Oscar) for his performance in CODA, came onstage Sunday night to present the best supporting actress Critics Choice Award, it offered a reminder of what a slam-dunk looks like. Indeed, Kotsur won virtually every honor for which he was eligible from the beginning through the end of last awards season.

To my eye, the woman to whom he presented a Critics Choice Award, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s Angela Bassett, and the man who took home the best supporting actor Critics Choice Award, Everything Everywhere’s Ke Huy Quan, look an awful lot like slam-dunks, too. Like Kotsur, they gave very strong performances, and they also have irresistible narratives not unlike his own: They’ve been around for a long time; they’ve experienced ups and downs and bullshit that they never should have had to endure; but they stuck it out and they’re still here, not only surviving, but thriving.

That’s pretty hard to resist, and I have a hard time imagining anything or anyone derailing the Oscar trajectory of either.

4) Globes winners tank at Critics Choice

Less than a week after dominating at the Golden Globe Awards — another awards show for which journalists determine the winners — The Banshees of Inisherin went 0 for 9 (plus its two male stars were both MIA due to COVID) and The Fabelmans went 1 for 11 (winning only best young actor/actress for Gabriel LaBelle) at the Critics Choice Awards.

Also with disappointing Critics Choice showings: Babylon went 1 for 9 (best production design), Elvis went 1 for 7 (best hair/makeup), Avatar: The Way of Water went 1 for 6 (best visual effects) and Top Gun: Maverick went 1 for 6 (best cinematography).

5) Look out for RRR

RRR, the period piece/musical/action-thriller from India that has proven to be a giant phenomenon all around the world, took home an impressive two Critics Choice prizes: best foreign-language film and best original song for “Naatu Naatu,” the same tune that was awarded the corresponding Golden Globe and was instrumental in netting the film the best music/score L.A. Film Critics Association Award.

Make no mistake about it: RRR is in serious Oscar contention — not for best international feature (India really screwed the pooch by submitting another film instead), but certainly for best original song, and quite possibly for best picture (remember that there are a guaranteed 10 slots and that the Academy has never been a more international organization) and best director (S.S. Rajamouli already won the best director New York Film Critics Circle Award).

RRR is being distributed in the U.S. by Variance Films, the same company that was behind Drive My Car, the Japanese film that wound up with picture, director and screenplay Oscar noms last year on top of a best international feature nom. And the same dogged publicist who handled that film’s awards campaign, Josh Haroutunian, is handling RRR’s.

On Saturday at the Ross House, a screening venue in Mount Olympus, I saw firsthand the enthusiasm that dozens of Academy members have for the film. Like them, I braved horrendous rain just to be there, which I see as a testament to the buzz for the film; unlike them, I was there not for the screening or a post-screening reception with Rajamouli and his cousin/composer/“Naatu Naatu” songwriter M.M. Keeravani, but to record a podcast with Rajamouli that will post Monday.

While my sound guy was setting up, I realized that the film was approaching its “Naatu Naatu” showstopping sequence, so I asked Rajamouli if he would mind delaying the start of our conversation by a few minutes so that I could watch the audience’s reaction. He happily consented, so we snuck in to the back of the theater and, sure enough, people were visibly gobsmacked throughout the number, and broke into applause at its conclusion.

Does this mean RRR will be nominated not only for best original song, but also for best picture and best director, as it was at the Critics Choice Awards? Of course not. But, particularly because the film cannot be nominated for the best international feature Oscar, I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both of those nominations end up happening.

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