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By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20W2O Special: New York First! Film Critics Circle Get Tattooed

The slippery slope is an interesting landscape indeed. In the last 20 years, we have been through two major Wall Street bubbles that exploded and caused recessions and in the latest one, almost caused a depression. (The current Republican election cycle is predicated on blaming the EMT who saved their lives because he saved them the wrong way… but this is not a political column today.) The bubbles were generated by layer after layer of individuals at all levels of economic standing, choosing to do what they knew to be wrong because they felt it would be in their own best interests… and after all, everyone else was paying the game too, especially those damned rich people or privilege.

Jump Cut To: Our own little slice of the movie universe.

Tomorrow, one of the most anticipated and last “awards” films will screen, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It has been scheduled, as of this writing, to screen for just two groups: The National Board of Review, a group of historic irrelevance and a level of generosity spreading around awards as to make them a joke, aside from being the first award given out by more than one person (see: The Carloses) each year. The other group is the once esteemed New York Film Critics Circle, which has decided that it should be the first award of the season and has moved its date accordingly.

It’s been discussed here before, but there used to be a difference between the NYFCC and an AICN talkbacker screeching, “First!!!” There still is. NYFCC is a group of professional critics. There are no professional standards for talkbackers. NYFCC’s choice, on the other hand, is an embarrassment, going against the notion of criticism being a thoughtful, considered form. So for the moment, comparing NYFCC to AICN Talkbackers is a bit of an insult to the geeks.

I should note that Stephen Whitty, one of the few NYFCCers who were actually in the room for the vote on the move, came on The Hot Blog to comment and offered a much more administrative logic behind the move. And I respect the notion of the move being about something more than being first and Stephen’s willingness to speak. NYFCC president John Anderson chose, instead, to hide behind an alleged deadline, unable to speak to me after announcing this move… because obviously, no other media would feel compelled to report on it, so being unavailable after the announcement made a lot of sense. (Did I mention that the press release specifically offered Anderson up for interviews?)

The flip side was Lou Lumenick, who has gone from being a cranky but decent guy to a Fox News-style jackass, at least in public. He wasn’t in the room for the vote, but immediately positioned himself as the voice of the group. And he pushed forward the private discussion – the idiotic private discussion – that somehow, another film was flawed and being hidden because it isn’t being shown to this group early enough for them to be FIRST! to see it.

I have been assured that dates for screenings of Dragon Tattoo for all the other major critics groups will be announced sometime by the end of Monday night. But in the meanwhile, more than a week after the NYFCC announcement, no information has been available about any possible screenings until today’s promise of said announcements.

Some would say – and some will continue to insist – that my concerns about this are motivated by a personal wish to see the movie first or some such silliness. This is, simply, untrue. Would I prefer not to wait until December 15 if others are seeing it tomorrow? Of course. But there is an embargo on the NYFCC screening and Sony hopes to put an embargo on the other “early” screenings to come. There is no personal or individual competitive advantage to this screening choice.

Except for the NY Film Critics Circle.

My concerns about the state of film criticism and of journalism in general are broader than a screening date. This is how the standards for what is journalism and what the role of the critic is gets lower and lower and lower.

Anderson’s position on their new November date, bolstered by some other members, is that the studios could and should adjust to the new schedule of the NYFCC. After all, the studios bend over backwards for NBR and HFPA…. why not a real critics group?

But NBR and HFPA are not real critics groups. NBR doesn’t even really claim to be a critics group at all. HFPA is nothing but a well-oiled awards-giving business model that serves its 80something stockholders breathtakingly well.

“Real” critics groups should not be in the role of negotiating screenings or demanding anything from the studios of film producers. The idea of NYFCC being a proactive player in the awards season, positioning itself to be FIRST! and presuming that studios will follow is a business call, not a show call. And though many of us write about the business in the course of being critics – certainly too much these days… mea culpa – if there is any time that calls for a pure “show” mindset, it’s year-end awards.

But this year, the creeping terror came and NYFCC made their move by planning to meet and award the year’s films, essentially, a full six weeks before the end of the year, as the plan was to vote tomorrow… the first day after the Thanksgiving break… and two full weeks before LAFCA was expected to vote (on the same weekend that NYFCC would normally vote).

Thank goodness, LAFCA saw NYFCC’s folly and did not follow. The second-week-of-December awards and nomination clusterfuck continues for most groups… groups that complain about not having enough time to see and consider all the movies, but still leave weeks between their choosing and the year’s end, invariably because they choose to put on a party and want to get to the business of doing so. But what was unfortunate a decade ago has become standard. That’s how things work.

So the question was, would the studios, in fact, bend to the demands of the NYFCC, 2 weeks before their normal voting date?

The argument is as old as the existence of 2-year-olds. The child wants something… and if they don’t get it, there is the threat of a very unpleasant tantrum. This has become the Finke Standard of Entertainment Journalism.

But NYFCC has something more than the average 2-year-old. They have awards that are considered to be of value. So not only does appeasing the group and its members, each individual critics in the biggest market in the country, but you can get a prize for your willingness.

And that’s where Sony and, Team Dragon Tattoo, got caught in the crossfire behind the NYFCC date change, becoming unwitting accomplices. David Fincher’s The Social Network won most critics awards last season, including Best Director and Picture with NYFCC. So what do you do when Fincher’s next film isn’t ready for the group’s new random deadline in November?

By all indications, Sony and Team DT didn’t change anything. They felt they would be ready to screen Dragon Tattoo tomorrow and said as much to NYFCC. And as it works out, if you are the NYFCC, you move the date by a day so you can get your screening on for one of the two last films.

Does this confirm the notion that, with the exception of one film, the studios will, in fact, adjust to your earlier voting date? Was this the intention on the Team Dragon Tattooo side in the case of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? I don’t believe so. But this is about perception, not reality.

In perception, the arrogance and short-sightedness of the NYFCC was greeted with acquiescence, aka They Won.

When the conversation is had – and it will be had – amongst other groups considering a move to an earlier voting date – will they focus on the result (NYFCC sees all but one movie, all before December) or will they focus on the process of how this came to pass? In my history, almost everyone seems to focus on the result.

This is the dynamic that is so destructive. No one will cop to being the driver or the passenger or in any way responsible for things continuing to change for the worse. But so long as the response to a person or a group moving the bar to a place that is almost universally agreed in the community of those affected to be wrongheaded is to continue to feed the needs/demands of the party making the change, all of the involved parties are complicit and carry some responsibility. And in a case like this, the behavior of a group like NYFCC has been so tainted by their aggression that any award that is the fruit of this bad behavior is, naturally, suspect.

As I wrote before, LAFCA didn’t jump. But if the answer to pushing the NYFCC voting date into November is to get a variety of competitive advantages, will LAFCA continue to hold out?

When there was talk about AMPAS moving The Oscars to the last weekend of January or the first weekend of February, there was push back about everyone else moving earlier. But there is a natural barrier for year-end awards. Or not… as NYFCC seems to suggest.

It is true that quality filmmakers are not going to deliver unfinished work in order to win awards from critics. But, indeed, all films budgeted over $40m have a release date. Deadlines are real. And if faced with the handicap of not being able to compete for all the critics’ awards, how long will it take filmmakers and distributors to adjust to the “new reality?”

In the end, in the macro view, this is all about a few weeks difference. What does it matter?

And we’re back to where I started… if it’s NBR or The Carloses or even the HFPA, who cares? These are groups that are in the game with the first goal of being players. But when it comes to critics, there are standards to be upheld… standards that are not whimsical or ethically situational.

I am not saying that the makers or distributors of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo are gaming the system. And personally, I expect the film to be a massive hit and a serious awards player. Not the point.

This is the same principle as not reviewing films from the same divisions of the companies producing or releasing the films from which you are drawing a paycheck. You are not automatically biased. And your employer is not automatically manipulating you. But you are suspect. And you should be suspect. And NYFCC and all or any legitimate critics groups should be above suspicion… as should the movies they award.

Every year, people talk about which films will get Globes nominations for the show can have this star or that star on their red carpet and on the broadcast. Critics – even serious critics – have always been a bit more penetrable than they/we care to admit. We’re all just humans. But if this linchpin film wins a NYFCC award… or doesn’t… one has to wonder about the circumstances under which the film was seen and motives for voting for or against it. It shouldn’t be that way. But I didn’t create this situation. NYFCC did.

29 Responses to “20W2O Special: New York First! Film Critics Circle Get Tattooed”

  1. leahnz says:

    nobody except other critics gives two farts in the wind about ‘critics awards’, storm in a microscopic teacup.

    but what i can’t figure out is why ‘oscar watchers’ are so convinced before the fact that ‘dragon tat’ is going to be some huge awards contender, being as ‘the academy’ is notoriously allergic to hard-out violent thrillers in terms of doling out noms/statues and thus far only caring/sharing or sterile fincher has gotten academy sugar (ben button, social network); his brutal/violent/ crim majority is thoroughly ignored, he’s far from an academy darling…so unless fincher has made a more caring, sharing version of ‘tat’ – and judging just from the trailer it doesn’t look it – i don’t see this academy ‘sure thing’ at all

  2. Krillian says:

    They gave a trophy to the super-sweet King’s Speech last year, so maybe it’s pendulum-swinging time, and they’ll be okay to give it to another Silence of the Lambs type.

  3. leahnz says:

    but at the end of the day silence of the lambs has little on-screen violence/ brutality and only a few fleeting moments of gore/horror imagery; it’s mostly a tense dialogue-driven character study/police procedural with a nice subtle, building menace and chills propelled by intriguing perfs, two of which where achieved by highly respected and hugely-touted thesps/movie stars of that era awarded by the academy. i think comparisons to ‘tat’ could be thin, but of course it helps to see the actual movie

  4. LexG says:

    LOOK AT HER.

  5. Glamourboy says:

    Movie bloggers/critics complaining about other movie bloggers/film critics. yawn.

  6. David Poland says:

    Yes… I understand that all politics are local… that doesn’t diminish the things that are important to you and/or your work any more than this should be dismissed by some of you.

    The things that end up changing your life are often things most would see as irrelevant to their real lives.

  7. film fanatic says:

    Forget all the DRAGON TATTOO/EXTREMELY LOUD hubbub. There’s a movie coming out in late December with a cast responsible for a collective 5 acting Oscars v. 15 nominations that the NBR and NYFCC also haven’t screened.

    I am talking, of course, about NEW YEARS EVE.

    What does Lou Lumenick have to say about THAT!?!?

  8. Stephen Holt says:

    I don’t see the NYFCC awarding Fincher AGAIN.

    And they won’t go with a “major.” I see the Indies, esp. Weinstein Co. benefitting by all this shape-shifting.

    If they are sooo obsessed with being FIRST! as David puts it, then they are going to make an “artistic” choice.

    Like, of course, “The Artist” OR “The Descendants” although there are quite a few members who actively objected in print to “The Descendants” Stephanie Z. at Movieline.com is one big for instance. And she’s written that she LOVES “The Artist.”

    “The Artist” seems to be on the bubble right now and ALLL members of the NYFCC have pretty much raved about it without any serious dissenting voices.

    I’m saying it’s “The Artist.” It’s not going to be “War Horse” We know that. And they are NOT going to give it two Fincher two years running.

  9. JS Partisan says:

    On paper, this is a pretty lousy Oscar season to call FIRST on. If the Artist breaks out, then that’s tremendous. If not, that film possibly getting a best picture nom would have been reason numero UNO why Eddie Murphy needed to host those awards. Now you got Billy and possibly a weak bunch of noms that will generate very little excitement.

    Unless they decided to nominate the Help or Potter but the 10 noms could be gone, who knows if those films or others will have enough support to make it 10 noms, and that leaves us looking at Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, The Artist, the Descendants, and possibly Hugo for best picture. Yay.

  10. film fanatic says:

    NEW YEARS EVE for Best Picture!

    MAKE IT HAPPEN

    “THERE’S NOTHING LIKE NEW YORK ON NEW YEARS EVE!” — A 2 TIME OSCAR WINNER

  11. leahnz says:

    christ, what the hell is ‘new years eve’, i’ve never heard of it

    call me old-fashioned but shouldn’t it be a rule that ‘judging’ the ‘best’ films of a year means you have to actually wait until the end of that year when all the movies that are going to come out, have? seems elementary. otherwise you’re just being a dick, not really a sign of the journalistic apocalypse tho. the perceived skulduggery seems predicated on the assumption that critics groups awards somehow ulitmately influence the oscars, which is of course nonsense. it’s industry glad-handing that counts.

    (prediction: dragon tattoo will not get an oscar best pic nom – far too rapey/weirdo/violent/noseringy for the mostly conservatives. if i’m right someone has to send me a balloon or something)

    (prediction: i never see you or your psycho dog again)

  12. Jason says:

    1. I would hope that voters do not emphatically say “no” to Fincher right off the bat without seeing the movie. The hope is, that they give the awards to what they fell is the best. I am sure that this is relatively similar to MVP awards in sports, where voters do not like to give repeat awards and prefer someone “fresh,” but that if someone has a great season, then they would vote for the same person. I am sure some voters subconciously are hoping for someone “fresh” but if Tattoo is “Strong” or “the best,” I hope they do not withold their vote because Fincher already won.

    2. With Christopher Plummer in the movie, could this counter the older generation/conservatives of the academy?

    3. This discussion brings up an interesting point. DP has been hoping the older generation/conservatives of the academy will be open minded about Shame. I wonder which is harder for the academy to lend their support too: the rating/sexual nature (Shame) or the violence (Tattoo)? Of course, they both could be distilled down to “subject matter” as it’s not necessarily the nudity in Shame or the violence in Tattoo that would be the issues. Or is this a moot point/comment as the quality of these 2 pictures will shine through and we are not giving the Academy the benefit of the doubt?

  13. Krillian says:

    Someone dared Garry Marshall to gather even more stars than he did for Valentine’s Day but to make it somehow even blander and less funny. And so Garry made New Year’s Eve.

  14. K. Bowen says:

    This reads like a very long way of saying “The New York Film Critics Circle moving its awards vote way early and then insinuating films are hiding out when they don’t meet the deadline is kind of ridiculous.”

    Yes, agreed. You should hire me as an editor.

  15. Danella Isaacs says:

    My father read the novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO at 84 and loved it and is looking forward to the film. This “old farts in the Academy” canard has always annoyed me. Look at it this way, the older members of the Academy are SO old, they… were actually around to vote on MIDNIGHT COWBOY (BP winner), A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (BP nominee), TAXI DRIVER (BP nominee), SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PULP FICTION…

  16. lujoc says:

    The biggest issue, not mentioned here, is voting before having actually seen all the movies! That’s where the insanity of the “first at all costs” position emerges. If they can’t see EL&IC in time for an arbitrary deadline, then they can’t vote until they’ve seen it — end of story (or should be).

  17. Don R. Lewis says:

    I mentioned this in the other thread about this subject but it went unanswered. If they DRAGON TAT people had refused to screen their film “early” for the NY film critics, would the film just be (potentially) left off their list because they never saw it?

  18. Glamourboy says:

    “The things that end up changing your life are often things most would see as irrelevant to their real lives”

    I’d be very curious to know how this could change my life. Now I’m worried. I’m packing an extra suitcase and leaving it next to the door…just in case…

  19. Marc Venis says:

    Given the source material, I do not see how Fincher can top what he did with Zodiac, a movie that was completely (and undeservingly) bypassed not only by the Academy, but by every single critics’ group, just because they more or less all sheepishly went for the Coen brothers and No Country for Old Men.
    With that in mind, quite simply, this year doesn’t seem Fincher’s year to me; in my opinion, it will feel like the year to crown (in descending order) Payne, or crown (again) Spielberg, or Malick, or Hazanavicius.

  20. LYT says:

    “the rating/sexual nature (Shame) or the violence (Tattoo)?”

    It’s not an either/or. There’s sex and sexual violence in Dragon Tattoo.

  21. David Poland says:

    Yes, Don. How could they vote on an unseen film?

  22. Don R. Lewis says:

    It was a leading question….

    So ridiculous and frankly, I’m a little shocked studios went for it. Wouldn’t these critics lists be taken less seriously if certain true “best of” films weren’t even on them? I can’t imagine anyone who reads these lists at years end wouldn’t note some major films missing from the NYFCC list and thus not take them with a huge grain of salt. But alas, the entertainment business continues to be the strangest power struggle ever.

    I guess another positive of the studios not caving to such childish actions might be movies like TAKING SHELTER or MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE taking well deserved spots from movies that the studios didn’t feel the need to cowtow to critical groups for.

  23. Mattoc says:

    David, well there must be a cut-off date. In reply to Don’s post. Could it not be considered for next year?
    If not and Extremely so and so in a masterpiece, they’ll look like a couple of dicks, a gaggle of dicks. What’s a coll give for dicks??

  24. Mattoc says:

    Coll give, damn word police. Collective name for dicks!!!

  25. Mattoc says:

    Yes, well…you’re obviously not a golfer.

    I think that’s offensive. Take that back. Doooo it!!!!

  26. leahnz says:

    i’m no expert but i think the collective name for dicks is ‘dicks’

    daniella if you’re still reading this thread, re: your ‘ “old farts in the Academy” canard’ comment, i do give the academy a hard time for being kinda conservative middle-of-the-roaders (plus ‘mate-voters’ and ‘political-campaign-susceptible-nominators’ and ‘haven’t-seen-all-the-nominees-but-still-cast-a-ballot’ers), which is why it’s all the more astonishing to me when some sizable faction of voters do occasionally pull their finger out of their ass(es) and nominate/award something outside the box like the movies you list – or ‘no country’ or something genre like ‘the exorcist’, etc…

    but i feel even the more ‘hard-core’ fare that’s been oscar nomed/won are all dramas at heart – and in the case of the likes of ‘clockwork’ and ‘pulp fic’ so stylistically/conceptually unique as to really stand out from the crowd/defy genre; but what they are NOT are straight-up ‘sex/violence thrillers’ such as fincher’s ‘d-tat’ appears to be, even as he describes it himself. ‘silence of the lambs’ was previously mentioned up thread, as it is so often is as an example of ‘academy genre love’, so i won’t bore repeating myself in full — but the point i wanted to make then and now again is that that movie is thought of a certain way, as some ‘gnarly genre example’, but in reality it’s a relatively tame dialogue/actor’s showcase/performance-driven character drama with some nice horror/thriller trappings, still within the academy’s ‘we love drama!’ t-shirt declaration purview. same with ‘midnight cowboy’ (and ‘midnight express’), taxi driver, exorcist, no country, pulp fic, etc, even ‘district 9′, in some cases genre trappings but dramas at heart. the academy apparently eats, drinks and poops drama, bless them. they do not like icky sex/violence flicks (because icky graphic sex/violence is low brow and the academy is decidedly middle-brow, i guess)

    (i can’t think of any straight-up ‘violence/sex thrillers’ best pic oscar nominees as precedent, not to say there aren’t any, i’m just drawing a blank as to what)

  27. waterbucket says:

    How the hell do you tolerate this kind of behavior from a poster?

  28. JS Partisan says:

    Oh stop it. Seriously, few people have ever needed a hug as much as you have, sir.

  29. chris says:

    Even more than the exclusion of the Daldry movie, I think it’s idiotic that the New York Film Critics are OK with saying, essentially, “We know the kinds of films we’re looking for before we see them” and, thus, not caring that there’s a possibility of a knock-your-socks-off supporting performance in, for instance, “Ghost Protocol” (which I assume they also haven’t seen) or great work of some kind in the other, more “commercial” stuff they haven’t seen. Didn’t they give Steve Martin best actor for “All of Me?” But if that came out in December this year, they wouldn’t even have seen it.

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