With a flurry of activity between Monday night and Tuesday morning, the 2011 awards season served notice that it's ready to start even if all the movies have yet to be seen.
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" has barely screened and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" hasn't been seen by any voters, but a string of judgments came in this week – first at the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York on Monday night, then with the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations on Tuesday morning, and finally with the New York Film Critics Circle voting, which was taking place as the Spirit Awards was making its announcement.
Also read: 10 Burning Questions — and Answers — About This Year's Oscar Race
Nothing that happened this week is likely to have a serious impact on the awards race, but it's certainly possible to trace the up and down movement of contenders, companies and awards bodies.
UP: "The Artist"
It won an upset victory in the New York Film Critics Circle voting, which speculation had said was liable to favor "The Tree of Life" or "The Descendants" or "Shame" or something less user-friendly. And it tied with "Take Shelter" for the most Indie Spirit Award nominations, when most of us didn't even realize it was eligible.
The Weinstein Co. has been trying very hard to position its film as an Oscar favorite; at this point it's there, and they might want to start scaling back expectations.
Also read: 'Take Shelter,' 'The Artist' Lead Indie Spirit Award Nominations
DOWN: 'The Descendants"
The problem for Alexander Payne's deft blend of drama and comedy isn't that it wasn't recognized by the Gothams or the Spirit Awards – it was nominated for the top award at the former, and scored four noms from the latter. The problem is that it had been anointed the frontrunner in some circles (including this one), and it didn’t behave like one.
The hits it took were small, but it took three of them: losing the top Gotham award to "The Tree of Life" (acceptable) and "Beginners" (ouch), falling short of "Take Shelter" and "The Artist" in Spirit nominations, and then being overlooked completely by the New York critics.
The National Board of Review will probably ease the pain on Thursday, though.
UP: "The Tree of Life"
It wasn't eligible at the Spirits, but Terrence Malick's film did well otherwise, even if the New York critics opted for "The Artist." It won (or tied for) the top award at the Gothams, then was saluted three times by the critics.
The film probably needs a strong showing in early awards to keep it on the Academy's radar, and so far it appears to be getting what it needs.
DOWN: Spirit Awards rules
"The Artist" (foreign writer-director, shot in the United States, and distributed by a U.S. company) is eligible in all categories, but "Shame" (foreign writer-director, shot in the U.S., distributed by a U.S. company) only qualified for Best International Film? "Footnote," an Israeli film, is eligible for Best Screenplay?
Somebody needs to clarify these rules.
UP: Fox Searchlight
Yes, they had some disappointments with "The Descendants" and "Shame" and "Win Win." But they got a robust shout-out from Gotham Award honoree Tom Rothman on Monday, and the size and breadth of their 2011 slate made them by far the most-nominated distributor on Tuesday.
With "The Tree of Life," "The Descendants," "Shame," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Another Earth," "Cedar Rapids" and "Win Win," they'll probably have more good days before awards season ends.
DOWN: Glenn Close
She shepherded "Albert Nobbs" for 15 years, buying the rights and co-writing the screenplay and producing the film and co-writing the end-credits song and playing the title character and persuading Janet McTeer to join the cast.
And now McTeer has a Spirit Awards nomination, and Close doesn't. That's a victory of sorts for the woman who got the movie made, but it has to sting a little.
UP: "Young Adult"
Jason Reitman's film didn't win anything on Monday (it wasn't eligible) and wasn't nominated for anything on Tuesday (ditto), and the New York critics ignored it. But the film's star, Charlize Theron, received a Gothams career tribute, which was introduced by her "Young Adult" co-star Patton Oswalt.
He was very funny, she was charming, and she kept him at the podium for her entire speech, turning the segment into a 10-minute demonstration of chemistry and charisma that might well coax a few people into seeing the film.
(The night's other acting honoree, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" star Gary Oldman, also made a case that he's overdue for Oscar recognition with a clip reel that drew a rare standing ovation.)
DOWN: New York Film Critics Circle
They really, really wanted to be first, so they moved their voting from mid-December to Nov. 28 so they could announce their winners before the National Board of Review. Then, when the found out they wouldn't be able to see "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" until the 28th, they bumped their announcement back a day and ended up fighting for attention with the Spirit Awards nominations, which were taking place more or less simultaneously.
Is it going to mean anything that they saluted "The Artist," Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep two weeks earlier than they would have if they'd kept to their original timetable? Of course not, except to make a respected critics' group look way too desperate to have the first word.
The problem with movies released early in the year is that voters tend to forget about them by the time awards season rolls around. But the unexpected Gotham win for Mike Mills's film ought to help change that.
And the four Spirit Award nominations, which ties the film with "The Descendants," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Drive" and puts it one behind "Take Shelter" and "The Artist," certainly won't hurt either.
SIDEWAYS: "Like Crazy"
It was shut out of the Spirit Awards nominations entirely; that's bad. But Felicity Jones won a Gotham Award over the more heralded Elizabeth Olsen; that's good.
Call it a wash for Drake Doremus's indie romance.
UP: Corey Stoll
On Monday night, he appeared at the Gothams presenting an honorary award to director David Cronenberg. On Tuesday morning, he became the only member of the "Midnight in Paris" cast to receive a Spirit nomination.
The guy who played Hemingway is still an Oscar longshot, but he's had a fine week so far.
DOWN: George Clooney
The Spirit Awards overlooked him entirely, and the New York critics gave their top acting prize to his pal Brad Pitt.
Knowing Clooney, of course, these little setbacks will just be fodder for some self-deprecating jokes that'll make him even more unstoppable in the future.
UP: "Margin Call"
Roadside Attractions' low-key release is doing as well on VOD and now seems to actually have some awards momentum. The New York critics named it Best First Feature over the more heralded likes of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," and the Spirit Awards jury gave it the Robert Altman Award, which goes to a film's director, casting director and ensemble cast.
It makes "Margin Call" the one film that now knows it'll come home from the Spirit Awards with some new hardware.