After a Day of Critics Honors, the Awards Race Is Still a Confusing Mess

On a day when Melissa McCarthy won twice as many acting awards as Meryl Streep, the awards picture didn't get any clearer

"The Descendants" got a big boost when it badly needed one.

Albert Brooks secured his position as a serious Supporting Actor competitor.

Melissa McCarthyMelissa McCarthy showed that defecating in a sink might be a way to be taken seriously by the critics.

And "The Artist" proved that it's still the closest thing we have to a frontrunner, though dreams of a "Social Network"-style sweep through the critics awards are gone.

Also read: 'The Descendants,' 'Hugo,' 'Dragon Tattoo' Make AFI Top 10 List

On a day in which the American Film Institute, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online all announced their awards more or less simultaneously, we may not have learned much about the Oscar race.

This isn't 2009, when a barrage of critical awards helped push "The Hurt Locker" to the top of Academy members' screener piles.

Also read: 'The Descendants' Is Best, Say L.A. Film Critics

And this isn't 2010, when one film could dominate the critical landscape to an unprecedented degree, only to be passed over by guild and Academy voters looking for something friendlier.

This is a wide-open, confusing year, when the biggest day for critics' awards doesn't end with anything like a consensus, and doesn't impart any significant Oscar momentum.

After all, Yun Jung-hee won as many Best Actress awards as Meryl Streep (one.) Melissa McCarthy won twice as many.

Also read: 'The Artist' Named Best Picture by Boston Film Critics

In fact, with 23 acting honors doled out (12 winners and 11 runner-up slots), a remarkable 17 different performers were named, with only Brooks and McCarthy winning more than once.

Update: If you add in the results from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, which were announced after this article was posted, 19 different actors occupied the 27 winner and runner-up spots.

On the Best Picture front, Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" lingered as an alternative to "The Artist" — but it could never take the top prize, settling for one Best Director win and some runner-up finishes.

A second place Best Director finish to Terrence Malick in the L.A. Film Critics Association voting suggested that maybe Scorsese's film could win that group's Best Picture award, but longtime LAFCA favorite Alexander Payne snuck in and took that prize with "The Descendants."

Also read: 'The Artist' Wins Another: NY Film Critics Online

Emmanuel Lubezki was the only one to sweep, winning Best Cinematography honors from all three critics groups for "The Tree of Life." (And an additional one from San Francisco.)

And the two Scott Rudin films that have screened for awards voters under embargo found that the people who can't write about them apparently don't want to vote for them, either. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" got an AFI mention, while "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" had a Supporting Actor runner-up spot for Max Von Sydow. Otherwise, they were shut out.

The coming week may begin to clear up the awards picture — or, more likely, it may confuse things even further. The Broadcast Film Critics Association will announce its nominees for the Critics Choice Movie Awards on Tuesday, followed on Wednesday by Screen Actors Guild nominations and on Thursday by Golden Globes noms.

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.