2010: Top 5 Awards That Mattered

Awards season is heating up but, as Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow learned this year, not all that is given out is equal

It sometimes seems as if everybody in Hollywood is getting awards, and the ones who aren't are giving them. But not all awards are created equal. Some are worth a smile, some a shrug or a scowl … and some resonate. Here are five movie awards (well, six; I cheated and included a tie) handed out in 2010 that mattered.


Kathryn Bigelow, Best Director, "The Hurt Locker": Yes, everybody knew she was going to win, including competitors James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino. No, there was not a moment of surprise at the Kodak Theater when "The Hurt Locker" capped its run through awards season. But surprise, in this case, is irrelevant; predictability is meaningless. What matters is this: On a Sunday night in early March 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman in the 82-year history of the Academy Awards to win an Oscar as Best Director.


"The Hurt Locker," Best Production of a Theatrical Motion Picture: Here's where the die was cast for Oscar night. "The Hurt Locker" had already wrapped up most of the 2009 critics prizes, but conventional wisdom said that the producers, whose job it is to make movies that make money, would be a secure bastion of support for James Cameron's mega-blockbuster "Avatar," which had recently won at the Golden Globes.

See all our year-end Top 5s here!

There was, however, one complication: When the PGA followed the Academy and expanded to 10 Best Picture nominations, it also instituted the preferential system for counting those final votes. The PGA victory for "The Hurt Locker" was an unmistakable sign that however much money it made, "Avatar" could not triumph under a preferential vote, which rewards consensus favorites over love 'em or hate 'em films. At that point, the big blue movie's Oscar fate was sealed.


"Winter's Bone," Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: Sometimes Sundance winners barely get theatrical release; sometimes they're still kicking when awards season arrives a year later. There was no telling which category Debra Granik's hardscrabble rural tale "Winter's Bone" would fall into when it won the U.S. jury prize in Park City – at the time, the film hadn't even picked up distribution. But almost 11 months later, "Winter's Bone" is ending the year the way it began it, as one of the most lauded indie dramas out there. (Its only competition: "The Kids Are All Right," another Sundance entry). This time, the Sundance boost had legs.


"The Social Network," Best Picture: By itself, the NYFCC isn't significantly more important than the other big city group, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. What matters is not that the New York critics picked David Fincher's Facebook drama, but that they did so the day after L.A. critics had done the same thing. It meant that we weren't seeing a landscape in which critics' awards were going to be spread among a variety of films, lessening the impact of any one award; it meant that "The Social Network" was the object of a critical consensus, just as "The Hurt Locker" was the previous year.

When the critics speak in unison, the Academy has to listen. They don't have to go along (just ask "Sideways" or "Brokeback Mountain"), but they have to listen.


Cannes — Javier Bardem, Best Actor, "Biutiful" Venice — "Somewhere," Best Picture: Why do these awards matter? They don't matter in the arena where awards mean a season of campaigning, six months of "for your consideration" advertisements, visions of boxoffice bumps or increased home-video revenue. They matter because some place, at some time, a group of film lovers got together and talked about what they loved and why they loved it, and decided to show some support to a quietly staggering performance in a surprisingly divisive movie, and to an art film that stubbornly, purposefully moves at a snail's pace.

They matter because recognizing good work, tough work, crazy work matters, even if you're the only one doing the recognizing.