The Golden Globes. The Critics’ Choice Awards. Film critics groups in major cities like Chicago and New York. There have been nominations and praises galore for “Zero Dark Thirty”, the cinematic account of the real-life manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, which led to his death by Navy Seals in May of 2011. It is Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to the Oscar-collecting “The Hurt Locker”, and re-teams her with screenwriter Mark Boal. Bigelow and Boal are both up for Golden Globe awards for “Zero Dark Thirty.” However, the film doesn’t technically open wide for a couple weeks yet, placing it in the middle of January 2013.
Why should “Zero Dark Thirty” be gauged amongst the best of 2012, when the majority of world isn’t going to see it until 2013? As far as trying to hit the awards eligibility cutoff for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association(the voting body behind the Golden Globes) or the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences(the Academy Awards), movie distributors have utilized a familiar practice for years. If they have a hunch that their film is going to garner attention with awards voters, they will dump it in a few theaters in New York and L.A. in December just so it’s eligible for the awards ballot.
Now of course, the award shows are fun to watch, but they don’t truly affect how the general public receives a film(it’s very possible that awards and nominations affect the box office turnout for a film, though, which is a good thing for casual movie aficionados and buffs alike). The awards programs seem to speak more to the business side of filmmaking than the creative one. But what about film critics?
The Chicago Film Critics Association named “Zero Dark Thirty” the best film of 2012. However, a scan of movie showtimes will show that the film isn’t currently playing anywhere in the city. Why should the general public care that a group of critics think that “Zero Dark Thirty” is the best film of this year when they won’t even have the opportunity to see it until next year? Technically, they shouldn’t. And that goes for any other film that is currently only running in cities like New York and Los Angeles to skate in under the awards ballot deadline. Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut “Quartet” earned Maggie Smith a Golden Globe nomination(Best Actress-Comedy or Musical), but is absent in Chicago. Marion Cotillard is once again at the center of the film awards buzz for her lead performance in “Rust and Bone”, but that film just opened today at the Century Centre Cinema in Chicago(a location that specializes in foreign and independent films).
Film critics would argue that they provide a service to the general public, offering perspectives to keep moviegoers from throwing money at terrible films whilst supporting ones that will offer full enjoyment. So the question has to be asked: what service is being provided when a critics association lists a film that they know darn well that the general public has had no access to, and then rubs it in further by naming it the best of the year? Professional critics either saw the film in a press screening surrounded by their peers, or they watched an awards screener of it in their living room or rec room at home. And then they want to state that the best film experience they had in 2012 was watching a DVD on their couch at home?
Critics associations listing their top films and performances of the year speaks to the narcissistic side of film criticism more than anything else if they are willing to overlook the fact that the films they are listing aren’t accessible to people in their own cities. Otherwise, what’s the point? The business of awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes won’t change, but how critics’ groups share their picks of the best films within a twelve-month block definitely can change. How about limiting the choices to films that could actually be screened by the general public in a major metropolitan area? Of course, the guidelines on this couldn’t be too strict. Independent films aren’t sought out by the majority of moviegoers, but if this writer wants to hop a train for an hour to see a low-budget flick downtown, that option should be there. And it isn’t there today for the aforementioned films.
And who knows? If the critics associations decide to change their eligibility requirements for their ‘best of year’ voting, they might just influence the awards circuits to do something similar. Getting access to a slew of independent films at a multiplex is a pipe dream, and that is understandable. But what about the film that is getting a whole lot of Oscar buzz, and one that everyone knows is eventually going to open with a wide release anyway? Perhaps moviegoers will see the day when those films are released early across the nation, and not just cinematic hotspots like New York and Los Angeles. A movie buff can dream, can’t he?