By John H. Foote
From the end of TIFF, Venice, and Telluride it is safe to say the awards season in the film business is in full swing. There will, of course, be those late arrivals that threaten to turn the season and the awards on its ear, with a close eye watching the changes and evolutions that happen weekly. At the end of November the critics’ groups, guilds, and unions will have seen all the films that are coming before December 31, either in private screenings or by way of the DVD screeners the studios send out. The first of the major awards will be given at the end of November, and then all through December and December.
All eyes will be on each as they occur, gauging what they mean to the Academy Awards. Here are the awards we will be watching closest to see how they impact the awarding of that coveted little golden man which like it or not, is still the single most important award in movies.
In order of importance here, they are.
THE ACADEMY AWARDS
Though they create the most controversy and debate, love them or hate them, the Academy Award is the award that matters in the business. A nomination can add twenty-five million to the gross of the film, draw greater attention to it, while a win can add fifty million to the box office, and make the film ever wider seen. For an actor, a nomination brings them to the attention of the industry, and their stock and price will go up. Most important, better roles will come their way. For directors and writers, the projects they pitch will suddenly be taken seriously, they will, in fact, be on the studio’s radar and contacted for meetings. Understand the nomination in many cases means more than the actual award itself. Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, writers nominate writers and so on and so on, right down to editors nominating their peers. So, in fact, a nomination comes from those in the know, and then the entire Academy votes for the nominees to decide a winner. The Best Picture winner is selected by the entire Academy based on a points system, the order of preference. We might not agree, but they are still the award that matters.
THE DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA AWARDS (DGA)
For many years the five nominees for the DGA were the same as those for the Oscar, a few exceptions along the way. The winner, by and large, was the same person who won the Oscar. Things are changing but the awarding of the DGA Award is still of enormous importance and can impact the Oscars. Since 2008, just once has the Guild split from the Academy on a winner, Ben Affleck winning for Argo (2012), being snubbed for an Oscar nomination, which seemed to propel Argo (2012) to a Best Picture Oscar. Of the major guilds, this one has the greatest overall impact. Directors covet a nomination here more than the Oscar and a nomination is seen as a huge honour.
THE PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA AWARDS (PGA)
Almost always the Producers Guild of America lines up with the Academy’s choice for Best Picture. Since 1990, the Guild has split from the Academy just seven times, the following films their choices for Best Picture, with the Academy’s choice in brackets. The Crying Game over Unforgiven (1992), Apollo 13 over Braveheart (1995), Saving Private Ryan over Shakespeare in Love (1998), Moulin Rouge! over A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Aviator over Million Dollar Baby (2004), Brokeback Mountain over Crash (2005), Little Miss Sunshine over The Departed (2006), and The Big Short (2015) over Spotlight (2015). For argument’s sake, it could fall lower on the list behind the critics’ awards ahead of the Globes, but it is nonetheless a very important guild award. Once again the nominees likely provide a greater honour.
THE NEW YORK FILM CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS (NYFCA)
John Huston once called the awards from the New York critics, “the conscience of American film” and they were the only award George C. Scott would accept the year he refused his Oscar for Pattion (1970). New York has always been the hub of film criticism, be it the Times, the Post or the New Yorker where Pauline Kael wielded her poison pen and when the critics began giving out their own awards in 1935, they very often went their own way in all categories. There have been times they have agreed across the board with the Academy, but not often and they have often embraced foreign language films in their prizes. What I like about them is that they have no room for those silly sentimental awards, they honour who they believe was the best.
THE NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS AWARDS
Though it was once said the creation of this group was to directly do battle with the New York critics, it has grown over the years into a substantial award. For years they honoured foreign language films, but have in recent years embraced what is coming out of Hollywood, studio or independent. Many of the same critics of New York are also members of the National Society meaning through the years there has been repetition.
THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS (SAG)
Still a relatively new award, the guild began honouring the finest achievements in acting in 1994. Since they have closely lined with the Academy for winners, though they have from time to time gone their own way. Make no mistake…they matter, and their ensemble award has a huge impact on the Best Picture race. They cover TV too, and with the superb quality of some of what we are seeing on the small screen, that makes the awards doubly thrilling.
THE LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION (LAFC)
Created in 1975 to do battle with their New York counterparts, the LA scribes are fearless, and in fact, will honour huge box office successes when it moves them. While all other award groups were scrambling to honour Woody Allen and Annie Hall (1977), the LA group went with Star Wars (1977), a bold decision that no doubt helped the film rack up ten Academy Award nominations and seven awards. They have also honoured box office hits such as E.T.: The Extra-teresstrial (1982), Amadeus (1984), Do the Right Thing (1989), Goodfellas (1990), Pulp Fiction (1994), and more recently Call Me By Your Name (2017), choosing to go their own way. Though the NY group has greater clout and respectability, the LA group has grown in stature and come to matter a great deal.
THE CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS
Formerly titled the Broadcast Film Critics Association, they are a group of TV, radio and internet critics who have grown into a major awards night. In the beginning, the stars and directors did not show up, but they do now. They have come to realize how important film critics are to their career. Often they agree with Oscar, or Oscar agrees with them, but they can offer surprises from time to time which is thrilling.
THE GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS
Warren Beatty once famously quipped, “the Golden Globes are fun, the Oscars are business” and he was exactly right. I remember watching a plastered Peter O’Toole hand out an award one night and he could barely speak, or a drunk and stoned Jack Nicholson smile his way through accepting an award. The booze runs freely throughout the live TV broadcast, meaning there is a five-second language delay, which has often prevented audiences from hearing the cussing of salty language from the nattily dressed stars. The actors seem to understand not to take the whole thing too seriously and have a blast while there. Though once a full-scale industry joke, the Hollywood Foreign Press has worked hard to become a legitimate awards night. They matter, but as Beatty said…
THE WRITERS GUILD AWARDS (WGA)
The writers care, because a nomination or win here all but promises attention from the Academy. For writers only, and believe me, they care, but only they care.
TIFF PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
Many of the People’s Choice Award winners have gone on to Oscar nominations and wins. In recent years Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018), La La Land (2016), Room (2015), The Imitation Game (2014), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Silver Linings Playbook (2012), The King’s Speech (2010), Precious (2009), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and Eastern Promises (2007) all figured in the Oscar race, all but Eastern Promises for Best Picture. Further back, Chariots of Fire (1981), The Big Chill (1983) and Places in the Heart (1984) were firmly in the Oscar race after winning the award here in Toronto.
BOSTON, CHICAGO, LAS VEGAS, FORT WORTH, FLORIDA, TEXAS, WASHINGTON FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATIONS
Smaller groups, but taken seriously, each having grown in stature through the years. Boston and Chicago in particular, though Washington has made their mark too.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.