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Oscar Watching: Does ZERO DARK THIRTY Lead the Race?

The question probably wasn’t even our minds just a week ago, but now, it’s one many ask as Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama took top honors at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and National Board of Review Awards, being named the best film and best director of the year at both. They also bestowed Zero Dark Thirty with an additional honor: the NYFCC for cinematography, the NBR for actress Jessica Chastain. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln also won three prizes from the former group. (Yes, I know the Satellite Award nominations also arrived earlier this week, but their impact on the Oscar race is minimal at best. There are also the Annie nominees, but they just reflect what we already know: the animated feature film race is, for once, a race.)

Both the NYFCC and NBR, whose winners were respectively announced Monday and Wednesday, shook up the race in a number of ways. You know how I wrote off Rachel Weisz recently? Well, consider this my foot-in-mouth moment. Perhaps the biggest surprise of either awards announcement came with the NYFCC’s decision to name Weisz the best actress of the year for The Deep Blue Sea. For many the film and her performance left the awards conversation long ago, but her win of a major film honor puts her back into the mix. The NYFCC also surprised when announcing that Matthew McConaughey won its honor for best supporting actor of the year for Bernie and his possible Oscar get, Magic Mike.

Check out each of the NYFCC wins below.

Best Film: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Best Actress: Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea

Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Bernie and Magic Mike

Best Supporting Actress: Sally Field for Lincoln

Best Screenplay: Tony Kushner for Lincoln

Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser for Zero Dark Thirty

Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary): The Central Park Five

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Animated Film: Frankenweenie

The NBR, a group known for loving Clint Eastwood and drinking the Kool-Aid, made some surprising decisions this year. In addition to Zero Dark Thirty’s three wins (the NBR likes to spread the wealth), Ann Dowd won supporting actress for the little-seen Compliance, and Rian Johnson’s sci-fi Looper won the honor for original screenplay and snagged a spot on the top ten films list. Check out all the NBR winners below.

Best Film: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty

Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd for Compliance

Best Adapted Screenplay: David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Best Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson for Looper

Breakthrough Actor: Tom Holland for The Impossible

Breakthrough Actress: Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Breakthrough Director: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Ensemble: Les Misérables

Spotlight Award: John Goodman for Argo, Flight, ParaNorman, and Trouble with the Curve

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: The Central Park Five and Promised Land

Top Films (in alphabetical order)


Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables



The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Promised Land

Silver Linings Playbook

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)


The Intouchables

The Kid with a Bike


War Witch

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry


The Gatekeepers

The Invisible War

Only the Young

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)




End of Watch

Hello I Must Be Going

Little Birds

Moonrise Kingdom

On the Road


Sleepwalk with Me

Keep in mind, though, that for the last 11 years, Oscar’s snubbed, in the very least, the NBR’s director winner or one of its acting winners. The race is fluid, but let’s call a spade a spade: Will Oscar really ignored Bigelow in its director lineup? Likewise, I can’t envision the actress lineup without Chastain at this point – especially if Zero Dark Thirty is a major threat for best picture. On the other hand, I can see the actor and supporting actress fields without Cooper and Dowd. DiCaprio’s still a wildcard, I think, but he’s probably in for supporting actor.

Of course, if you’re keeping count, neither group honored The Master or Amour (outside of foreign language film). Also, these precursors didn’t recognize Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), and Amy Adams (The Master). But don’t dismiss them just yet: their losses aren’t ideal, obviously, but nothing’s over until it’s over.

Besides, perhaps nothing got the shaft of the ever-exclusive awards season more than documentaries. Presumed front-runners in Oscar’s documentary feature race – such as The Central Park Five, The Queen of Versailles, and West of Memphis – failed to make even the list of 15 eligible docs, which includes…

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry


Chasing Ice



5 Broken Cameras

The Gatekeepers

The House I Live In

How to Survive a Plague

The Imposter

The Invisible War

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

Searching for Sugar Man

This is Not a Film

The Waiting Room

On a final note, let’s talk about the box office this weekend. Killing Them Softly made for Brad Pitt’s worst wide release opening in 18 years. Yikes. Guess that one’s not happening (though I wasn’t counting on Andrew Dominik’s latest to be much of a contender anyway).

Silver Linings Playbook pulled in better averages over the weekend than has been the norm thus far. However, it still needs to better if we’re talking about Oscar wins. Hitchcock and Rust and Bone also impressed more than they have previously, but they still need some awards attention in the near future to stick this season.

The Los Angeles Film Critics Association announces its picks on Sunday, with AFI announcing its prizes the day after and the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations following on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. It’s another big week for awards watchers like us.

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Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren

Donovan Warren loves the wonderful world of film and all that comes with it. He specifically loves long takes, fabulous actresses, and keeping up with the Oscar season - even when it's far too early to make sense of anything.