The mad rush of Academy Awards precursors is underway, and one of the biggest hit today as the Los Angeles Film Critics Association announced their annual awards. It’s so very early in the process, but this is already looking like another one of those years where the eventual Oscar winners will practically lock in early, and the critics’ organizations and other groups will be spending as much time ratifying those nearly predetermined selections as they do hashing out bold proclamations of merit. I note this because I take offense at any of their choices. Indeed, as a movie observer who operates from a home base distant from the hubs of cinematic activity, I’m especially ill-equipped to render my own judgments at this late point in the calendar year. Still, by citing the work of Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique, the L.A. group has beaten the drum for performers who already have thunderous percussion sections working in their favor, performers who are already the prohibitive favorites in their respective categories. Indeed, Bridges, probably on his way to his fifth nomination without a prior win, is as clear of a lock as you can get this far in advance of celebrities shuffling their way nervously down the red carpet.

This isn’t a complaint, just an observation. While I remain interested and even invested, I’m long past the point of caring passionately about how these groups summarize the year in film. It’s less interesting to look at their award as the fought-over determination of a group of committed film fans. As a barometer of where the critics think the awards season is going, on the other hand, there’s at least one very interested detail that can be gleaned from this grouping, and that’s the presence of Kathryn Bigelow’s name next to Best Director, hardly the first such award she’s won lately. She seems certain to become only the fourth woman to receive a nomination for the Best Director Academy Award. What’s more, it’s increasingly looking like she’s the front-runner. When the time comes to cast the final vote, enough Academy members won’t be able to resist the chance to cast a ballot that makes Oscar history, and even if The Hurt Locker isn’t perfect, it is an undeniable feat of directing. Even if there’s not much suspense that night, there may very well be something very worth watching.

(Posted simultaneously to “Jelly-Town!”)

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