The awards handed out at the end of the year by film critics often are harbingers of things to come. Last year, for example, most critics groups named “No Country for Old Men” the best film of 2007. The Coen brothers drama went on to win the Oscar.
Don’t expect that sort of help with your Oscar pool this year. The critics are pretty divided over the best film of 2008.
The first group to make its vote public was our very own. The Washington DC Area Film Critics Association gave “Slumdog Millionaire” its prize for best picture.
“In the face of massive marketing for big studio films, it is the ultimate underdogs who have emerged as critics’ darlings and fan favorites,” WAFCA President Tim Gordon said in a statement.
The group honored other independent films, including “Rachel Getting Married” (with best supporting actress for Rosemarie DeWitt and best original screenplay for Jenny Lumet) and “The Wrestler” (with best actor going to Mickey Rourke).
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, not technically a critics group but rather a collection of film buffs, academics, professionals and students in New York, also chose “Slumdog.” The movie, directed by English filmmaker Danny Boyle, follows a street beggar in India whose explanation of how he has done so well on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” tells the poignant tale of his life.
The Los Angeles Film Critics Association chose “WALL•E,” the Disney-Pixar animated film about an adorable robot who spends his days cleaning up Earth in a cheerfully dystopian vision of our future, as its best film. The Boston Society of Film Critics couldn’t decide; “Slumdog Millionaire” and “WALL•E” tied for best picture in its poll.
The reviewers of the New York Film Critics Circle chose something else entirely: the biopic “Milk,” starring Sean Penn as the slain politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk.
“Frost/Nixon,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Doubt” are leading the Golden Globe contenders with five nominations each, including best dramatic picture for the first two - but they’re not getting that much love in the critics polls outside the minor categories. WAFCA, however, did give Meryl Streep its best-actress award for “Doubt,” and the film’s cast also was named the year’s best ensemble.
WAFCA, a six-year-old organization made up of 46 film critics from television, radio, print and the Internet (including this writer), gave “Slumdog” a few other prizes - best director for Mr. Boyle, best breakthrough performance for Dev Patel and best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy.
It gave the year’s biggest hit one award, too. The group named the late Heath Ledger best supporting actor for his astonishing turn as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” The Boston and L.A. critics groups also gave Mr. Ledger the nod.
The full list of WAFCA winners can be found at https://wafca.com.