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Globes Put Critics To Shame In Picking Oscar Winners

Fri., Jan. 19, 1996, midnight

So now all the important critics groups - the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association - have handed in their votes.

What does any of it really mean when it comes to predicting this year’s Oscar race? Not much.

Variety recently looked at 25 years worth of Oscar winners vs. the choices made by the critics groups and the Golden Globes (a.k.a. the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) in the major acting categories. It wasn’t even close.

Oscar and the critics matched up anywhere from seven to 11 times at best. But the Golden Globes? Seventeen best actor matches. Nine best supporting actor matches. Fifteen for best supporting actress. Nineteen for best actress.

Of course, the Golden Globes do have a small advantage: twice as many winners to choose from because it divides the major categories into drama and comedy/ musical. Still, it’s a pretty good record, especially for a group that, in the early ‘70s, thought Ali McGraw did a better job in “Love Story” than Glenda Jackson did in “Women in Love.” Or named Shelley Winters best supporting actress for “The Poseidon Adventure” (given Winters’ heft at the time and her infamous underwater swimming scene, perhaps best supported actress would’ve been more appropriate).

And, let’s not even start with the Pia Zadora jokes (a Golden Globe winner in 1981 for “Butterfly”).

In fact, the Golden Globes were once such a laughingstock that a longtime publicist told Variety they were “about two seconds away from extinction because the foreign press members were a pain and their awards had zero credibility.”

Then someone had a brainstorm. Why not move the awards ceremony to the week the academy voters get their ballots? Said the publicist: “It instantly became this tremendous marketing tool. The Hollywood foreign press has basically been propped up by the studios.”

Guess how the Oscars got started? As a marketing tool for the studios.

At any rate, does that mean the critics’ winners are meaningless? Not really. Like Rodney Dangerfield and the rest of us, Hollywood wants a little respect, even if it comes from a bunch of sour, sallow-skinned movie reviewers based mostly in Manhattan or Los Angeles. (Yes, they call it the National Society of Film Critics, but of the 46 members, only about nine of us have ZIP codes outside New York or L.A.)

The point is, a nod from the critics groups can make you a contender, if not always a winner. I’m not talking “the honor is in the nomination. …” I mean, the money is in the exposure. For about six weeks Oscar nominees turn up everywhere - in the trades, on the talk shows, in the print media. And, in an industry notorious for its sun-baked attention span, having your name out there, even if you end up an also-ran, can add enormously to your credibility among producers, agents, casting directors, etc. It’s almost as good as being on “Friends.”

As for best picture, the Golden Globes also have done well there. Since 1980, 11 of its best picture picks have won the Oscar. And the critics groups? Well, this is typical: In 1988 the L.A. critics went for “Little Dorrit.” Actually, it was one of the best films of the year, but Oscar opted for a little movie called “Rain Man.”

This year, the critics’ votes have broken down into a boy/girl thing. The New York and L.A. groups went for “Leaving Las Vegas,” a boy movie (all the booze you can drink and lovely Elisabeth Shue hanging on your every word). The National Board of Review went with a girl flick, “Sense and Sensibility” (all that stuff about marriage and clothes). The national critics, I’m proud to say, eschewed gender issues and gave their hearts and snouts to the inimitable “Babe.” But, a pig as the star of Oscar’s best picture? Makes sense metaphorically, but it’s not likely to happen. Nor do I think the Big One will go to either “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Sense and Sensibility,” though their critical mass is likely to assure them nominations.

Nope, the Oscar is probably going to go to “Apollo 13.”

Hey, it’s got Tom Hanks in it. Trust me.

Tags: Commentary

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