Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Answer to the Latest Criticwire Survey Question: Critics Awards

Q: In the wake of the controversy at last week's New York Film Critics Circle dinner, the New York Times critic A.O. Scott opined on Twitter that "critics groups should not be in the business of giving out awards." (His employer, in fact, bars critics from belonging to such groups.) What do you think: Should critics' groups reward their favorite films at the end of the year, or does the process corrupt them?

I don’t really have a problem with critics giving out awards. In theory, they should help to promote and reward worthy films – and films that may be somewhat tougher, darker or more complex than what the Oscars usually reward. As long as critics are voting for their favorites, than I’m okay with it. People should also realize that just like any other awards group, whenever you have more than one person voting for something, compromises are made – consensus has to be formed, and so any award really isn’t rewarding the “best” film, but really “the film most people can agree on”. A.O. Scott is a critic I admire – and he raises some good points – but I think those points would mean more if he wasn’t a member of the New York Film Critics Circle by choice, rather than his bosses telling him he wasn’t allowed to be.

Having said all that, my real problem with Critics awards is how they seem to be chasing relevance in the Oscar race, rather than simply being awards unto themselves. Nowhere is this more prevalent than The New York Film Critics Circle, who a few years ago decided to move their voting date up so they can be the First group to hand out awards – as if the timing of the awards is more important than the awards themselves. I know they have argued that they didn’t move the date to be first (which, sorry, I don’t buy – they know when everyone else votes, and make sure to come first every year) and that they don’t miss anything they should see because of this date change. This year for example, they saw Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street on Sunday – and voted for their awards on Tuesday. My problem with that is that it doesn’t really allow the movie to settle, does it? Here we are weeks after the film has been released – and more than a month since most critics saw it – and there is still passionate arguments being made about the film – both pro and con. The New York Critics voted within 48 hours of seeing the last film. That doesn’t seem like enough time to me.

In short, I think Critics groups should pretty much ignore the Oscar race – and ignore what the Oscar bloggers are saying about what films and performances are in and out, and simply vote for their favorites and let the chips fall where they may. They should stop trying to influence the Oscars – they don’t anyway – and vote their choices. That way they will be relevant. If they continue to chase being an Oscar precursor, then I don’t see much point in their existence. All this is why I admire the National Society of Film Critics more than any other critical group. They vote in January, are more willing to off board than any other group, and don’t seem to much care if they have any influence on the Oscar race at all. That’s the way it should be.

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