Inside the Boston film critics' vote

Amy_lDoes Oscar pay attention to what the critics’ groups in cities outside L.A. and New York think? Maybe not, but those of us in the Boston Society of Film Critics would like to think they do. After all, a few years ago, the BSFC was the first group to recognize Adrien Brody as Best Actor for The Pianist. And along with the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Boston is the first of the regional critics’ groups to vote each year (both LAFCA and BSFC voted over the weekend). So you’d think the deliberation in Boston over who did the best work in film each year would be a somber, august, contentious symposium befitting the city’s vision of itself as America’s Athens. Actually, it’s a loose, fun, convivial afternoon that involves consumption of massive quantities of coffee and donuts from Dunkin’ — lots and lots of donuts.

For a long time, it’s been my role to contribute to the serious discussion of movie merit by bringing up a big box of Krispy Kremes from New York, since they’re hard to come by in New England. (Though I’m based in NYC, I vote as a member of the Boston group because of my freelance movie reviews for the Boston Phoenix.) Every year, on the second Sunday in December, I would head out early to New York Penn Station, buy a few dozen glazed, ride up north, pop into the conference room at the Phoenix (where the annual BSFC meeting is traditionally held), share sugary treats with about 20 colleagues, toss names of prospective honorees into the pot, vote, return to Back Bay Station, ride back to the City, and be home in time for The Simpsons. Simple, painless, fun. Alas, this year I was too sick to go, so I sent in my ballot by e-mail. No Krispy Kremes for the troops, though I’m told they expanded their carb palate to include bagels and pizza this year. Lose Gary, gain a schmear and a slice of pepperoni. Probably a fair trade.

I’m also told that the deliberations were no more contentious this year than usual. Typically, for each prize, we allow everyone to shout out a few of their favorites (the more outlandish suggestions are usually met by some eye-rolling — but nothing meaner than that) before voting. Under our weighted ballot system (the rules of which are too arcane and dull to go into), it usually takes two or three rounds to reach a consensus on each award, but consensus is reached without bitter feuds erupting or voting blocs ganging up on each other (as I hear happens in other critics’ groups), and after about three hours, we have a slate of winners and all get to go home with sugar highs.

After the jump: my thoughts on this year’s Boston winners’ list — how the choices were made, and what they may mean for the Oscar race.

This year’s BSFC winner’s list is about what I expected, and it includes some of the choices I voted for, so I’m reasonably pleased with it. While Boston critics are aware of the potential of our early vote to influence the overall race, we also realize our picks are meant to be the year’s best work, regardless of whether anyone else thinks so or whether that person or film is likely to receive more kudos down the road. We’re also aware of the freedom we have in not being from New York or L.A., that we’re not going to be accused of being cozy with filmmakers and actors who live in town or picking people just because we want them to come to our awards ceremony (more on that later) — all accusations that have dogged the various critics’ groups in the two industry towns. So we’re free to be as left-field as we like; hence the award for Frank Langella, whom I do not expect to be recognized by any other awards group this winter since absolutely no one saw his film.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that a consensus is shaping up around certain films and performers, notably, No Country for Old Men (which has earned most of the Best Picture citations to date) and supporting actress Amy Ryan (pictured), who played the missing girl’s slatternly mom in Gone Baby Gone. The fact that Ryan has completely swept her category so far ought to help insulate Boston from the suggestion made in some quarters that we gave two awards to GBG (the other for first-time filmmaker Ben Affleck) out of local favoritism. Sure, Affleck is famously a local-boy-made-good, and he was gracious enough to bring location dollars back to his hometown and portray the city in a generally accurate way (down to finding actors, including his brother Casey, who could manage the tricky Bahston accents). But critics everywhere have praised the film, particularly the elder Affleck’s direction and Ryan’s performance, so it’s no more local favoritism for Boston critics to single them out than it is for LAFCA to honor the California-centric There Will Be Blood, or for the New York Film Critics Circle to give a lifetime achievement award to Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead director Sidney Lumet, who’s done more than any other filmmaker of the past 50 years to shape the way New York is depicted onscreen.

Will Affleck, Langella, Ryan, or any of the other BSFC honorees show up in Boston to receive their awards? Too early to say, but at least this year, for the first time, they have the option. The BSFC has never had an awards ceremony before, but on Jan. 27, we’re having one at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, and it won’t just be an opportunity for the 20 critics to rub shoulders with stars; there’ll be a screening of one of the winning films and a Q&A session for the audience with whoever shows up. Awards and prestige are nice, but we’d still like to think this process is about connecting with regular moviegoers and getting them to see the best work that’s out there.

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  • musicdweller

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve always wondered how those were decided. Gone Baby Gone is definitely a worthy contender. I’m surprised Rescue Dawn and Eastern Promises aren’t being mentioned more with these awards. Along with The Diving Bell & Butterfly, Control and Lars and the Real Girl, they were a couple of my favorite films.

  • Sally

    Don’t know why but I’m not excited about this year’s Oscars like before….most of these movies I haven’t seen, like Gone baby gone and the ones I have seen I thought would be nominated. How in the world the critics can overlook Keri Russell and Ruby Dee? I don’t get it.

  • step

    Can just anyone go to the awards ceremony? I looked on the site, but there’s no info.

  • KingLouieXVIII

    I’m really worried two of my favorite movies of the year, THE NAMESAKE and ONCE, are pretty much being completely ignored by all of the critic’s groups. I was hoping that they would go on to earn serious Oscar nods, but I don’t think it will happened. Also, is GONE BABY GONE really THAT good? I haven’t seen it, but it looks to me like a clone of MYSTIC RIVER. I know the novels in which both films were based were written by the same author so that me be it…but still. Recognize something different for a change!

  • Nell

    The Washington Area Film Critics also released our awards this weekend:
    http://www.dcfilmcritics.com/awards/ No donuts involved, and no lobbying — we do it all online. But we, too, have an arcane weighted voting system that produces results that feel right to us and seem to have the right amount of overlap with other groups (there’s a reason they call it CRITICal consensus) with enough differences to reflect our distinctive point of view. But I always feel we are too influenced by studio support. It’s just about impossible to give an award to a film that isn’t touted with DVDs and mailings.

  • Rob Grizzly

    Looking at that list of winners, it’s no wonder the Oscars don’t care what Boston thinks!
    Ratatouille best screenplay?? over Juno?
    No love for Once, Talk to Me, Eastern Promises, Ass. of Jesse James, or 3:10 To Yuma (ensemble cast).
    Most movies honored here nobody has seen or will care to see. That, Sally is why you aren’t excited for the Oscars this year…
    Yet alot of love is thrown to the Boston-set Gone Baby Gone (surprise, surprise). I do think Amy Ryan deserved her win, though.
    At least they recognized one of my fav docs of the year, Crazy Love.

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