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Critics’ Choice Awards Go Early, but Is It a Bang or a Whimper?

Variety logo Variety 12/12/2016 Kristopher Tapley
© Provided by Variety

The Broadcast Film Critics Assn. shifted the entire calendar for the annual Critics’ Choice Awards up a month this year in order to capitalize on being first out of the gate with a critical assessment of the year’s filmmaking accomplishments. An early voting deadline in November meant the group (of which I am a member) could preempt the New York and Los Angeles film critics’ announcements, while a mid-December ceremony gave them a major jump on the Golden Globe Awards (the competition, as BFCA brass sees it).

However, this also meant there was no time to screen Martin Scorsese’s “Silence,” considered in some quarters one of the year’s finest films, for the nationwide membership. Same for late-breaking blockbuster fare like “Passengers” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which might have found a home in some of the BFCA’s genre categories.

The group is slightly embattled lately, on the heels of shoe-horning last year’s Lucasfilm entry, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” into the best picture category after the fact, as well as key members of sister group the Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. resigning in protest to a partnership with Entertainment Weekly last month. Thankfully, there was no such move to insinuate “Rogue One” into the picture this time around. Meanwhile, requests to screen “Silence” for only a portion of the membership, in New York and Los Angeles, were declined out of fairness.

So the scandals were more or less behind them as the BFCA/BTJA set out to honor the year’s best film and TV at a Santa Monica ceremony Sunday night. Well…all but telecast host T.J. Miller’s arrest for getting physical with a Trump-supporting Uber driver Friday. (Speaking of which, the show’s writers might have overestimated awareness of that episode: Attempts to address the arrest were met with muffled, bewildered laughter.)

The big winner at the end of the night was Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” and it’s no surprise, given that the film is a consensus favorite this year primed for Academy Awards. In the world of Oscar prognostication, if the Critics’ Choice Awards are good for anything it’s seeing how a broad group of people respond to the year in film; that’s in part why their choices have so often lined up with the Academy’s.

Chazelle’s film also won prizes for director, original screenplay (in a tie with “Manchester by the Sea”), cinematography, editing, production design, song and score. That doesn’t quite topple “Mad Max: Fury Road’s” nine-trophy haul last year, but it’s good enough to make “La La Land” the second-most awarded film in Critics’ Choice history.

As ever, a number of winners were announced as commercial bumpers, including the screenplay categories, which best actor winner Casey Affleck thought it worth pointing out. “That seems like a funny thing to skip over considering none of us would be here without that,” he said, adding: “They probably would write some interesting speeches.” But alas, you can only squeeze so much in when you’re handing out film and television awards as well as a slew of genre prizes aimed at beefing up the celebrity profile of the show.

However, it appeared some of those celebrities didn’t bother to show. But the BFCA found extra star wattage in “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds, who took the stage not once but three times: to accept the best actor in a comedy prize, to bask in the film’s overall win in the comedy movie category (somehow edging out more critically acclaimed movies — go figure) and to collect an Entertainment Weekly-branded Entertainer of the Year honor.

On the TV side, it was interesting to note that Netflix’s “The Crown,” FX’s “Atlanta,” and HBO’s “Westworld” all picked up their first-ever prizes, lest the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. seize upon their usual kingmaker status first. John Lithgow (best supporting actor), Donald Glover (best actor in a comedy series), and Evan Rachel Wood/Thandie Newton (best actress/supporting actress) won for each respective program. Given the mass defections, though, one wonders how the overall TV vote was affected.

So indeed, congratulations to the Critics’ Choice Awards for being “FIRST!” The question with the early jump, however, is whether it will actually provide the exposure the group is hoping for, or if it will be too much too soon. The BFCA had a nice groove going for the handful of years the ceremony was held on the same day the Oscar nominations were announced. They ended up with dibs on the first red (er, blue) carpet walked by many newly minted nominees, as handlers were eager for their talent to attend and take the dive into phase two campaigning.

But tomorrow’s Golden Globe nominations will overwhelm all awards coverage, with the Screen Actors Guild announcing just two days later. Will Sunday night feel more like a distant rehearsal than early standard-setting when the season finally times out?

Other prizes of note: “The People v O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” Game of Thrones,” and “Silicon Valley” won the top TV categories. Actor Lakeith Stanfield interrupted the the latter’s presentation in what appeared to be a bit of a protest on behalf of his show “Atlanta.”

Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”), and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) won other top performance categories.

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