On Tuesday, the New York Film Critics Circle came out with its picks for the best film and film work of 2013. The winner, by a reportedly slim -- and hotly contested -- margin: David O. Russell's rollicking late-1970s ensemble piece, American Hustle, beating out Steve McQueen's intense pre-Civil War drama, 12 Years a Slave. Robert Redford won best actor from the NYFCC for his solo voyage in All Is Lost (bring it back to local theaters now!!), Cate Blanchett best actress for her portrait of a fallen socialite in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.
Today, Wednesday, the National Board of Review – a longstanding and somewhat strangely composed group of film observers, critics, scholars and whatnots – announced its list of most-worthy 2013 pics. Spike Jonze's Her, a near-future meditation on loneliness, connection, artificial intelligence and really cool natural fiber clothing took the best film and director kudos. Bruce Dern won best actor for his work as a stubborn, borderline senile senior who believes he's won $1 million. Emma Thompson, for her role as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks, was accorded best actress. Fruitvale Station, the harrowing true-life story of the shooting death of a young African-American by a Bay Area police officer, won multiple honors: supporting actress (Octavia Spencer), breakthrough performance (Michael B. Jordan) and directorial debut (Ryan Coogler). Sarah Polley's complex family history, Stories We Tell, was awarded best documentary. It also won the NYFFC's best non-fiction prize.
The NYFFC and National Board of Review announcements are only the first of a slew of awards to be meted out by critics groups and industry guilds in the coming weeks, culminating with the Academy Award nominations on January 16, 2014. Although the nominating rules of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are structured in such a way that it's statistically unlikely that all ten potential best picture slots will be filled, this is certainly a year where at least that many films merit such recognition. To see the complete NYFCC and National Board of Review citations, click here and here.