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What effect does the National Society of Film Critics have on the Oscars?

January 10, 2011 |  5:45 pm

It probably seems logical to believe that "The Social Network" is a cinch to win best picture at the Oscars now that it just won the top prize bestowed by the National Society of Film Critics. After all, if America's leading film critics believe a movie is the best of the year, doesn't it make sense to think that Hollywood leaders – who make films every day and belong to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – must agree?

Social network x  5 No, not really. In the 44 years of the society's history, it's agreed with the academy on best picture five times: "The Hurt Locker" (2009), "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Unforgiven" (1992) and "Annie Hall" (1977). Sometimes the society opts instead for Oscar nominees for best picture like "There Will Be Blood" (2007) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994). Also, the critics frequently pick offbeat flicks with no Oscar potential at all -- like "American Splendor" (2003) and Taiwan's "Yi Yi" (2000) – just to show how smart they are. Back in the early days of the society, they used to do that all the time, trading between films by Luis Bunuel ("Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise," 1972), Francois Truffaut ("Day for Night," 1973) and Ingmar Bergman ("Scenes from a Marriage," 1974). Logically plotted films featuring characters speaking English were usually cursed competing for society trophies.

But NSFC choices have become much more Oscar-friendly in recent times, as evidenced by the "Hurt Locker's" victory last year. "Hurt Locker" also proved itself to be a critics' darling by winning the prize bestowed by the New York media wags. Some Oscarologists believe that academy members are paying special attention to journalists' awards nowadays whenever there is a consensus among them. Next, let's see what happens Friday at the Critics' Choice Awards, which went to "The Hurt Locker" last year too.

— Tom O'Neil

Photo: "The Social Network" (Columbia Pictures)