Off the Carpet: Deep breath before the critics have their say

Such a weird year for movies, this. I feel like it’s been a rather weak one, to be honest. Not in terms of the quality of what’s there, but in terms of the quantity of quality. And even then, I note that so many of my favorite movies this year carry that designation with more caveats than normal.

Yet I really am enjoying 2011 in cinema, or at least, I’m enjoying my favorite movies from the year quite a bit. And it’s interesting to note so many of them are all about a state of mind. “Rampart,” “Shame,” “Drive,” “Take Shelter,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” all films that play in the abstract and put the viewer into a character’s frame of perception, at times painting a bit of a dreamscape to do so. Fascinating.

Where the art is meeting commerce, there are still joys to be had. “The Descendants” opened this weekend and landed on my doorstep this morning. Even though I was cooler on it than most at Telluride over two months ago, I find myself eager to give it another look. “Young Adult” and “Hugo” are films that expect to be repeat viewings on my Blu-ray player when I get them, as will “Moneyball” and, most definitely, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

And I haven’t been as excited to receive a screener as I was when “Midnight in Paris” showed up, funnily enough. That says a lot about that film, which may be a trifle to many, but is no less delightful to most.

I’ve already written about 2011 as a Rorschach season, though. And I mention screeners now because it’s getting to be crunch time for many studios looking to bring their product back around for awards voting bodies. Generally most critics groups and the like have just about everything, save for the really late-breaking films, by Thanksgiving. That gives the holiday to mull over everything again or catch up with elusive titles and then, traditionally, voting is held in the first or second week of December for these guys.

Well, things changed this year when the New York Film Critics Circle cravenly opted to jump ahead of the National Board of Review and be FIRST! out of the gate with an assessment of the year’s best. They made it easy for their colleagues on the west coast, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, to look classy when that organization opted to stay in the usual mid-December frame for its vote.

Though word is Sony will not be able to screen “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for New York press in time for the November 28 vote, so things were delayed until November 29. That still gives them a day’s cushion before the NBR announcement on December 1, though. So no sweat off their back, I guess.

However, Warner Bros. will not be screening Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” for either the NYFCC or NBR. It’s been in the editing room for quite a while and I legitimately think it just won’t be ready, but alas, if you have to be FIRST!, you miss out on this and that. (And it’s worth mentioning that NYFCC chief John Anderson has reportedly noted in a letter to the membership notifying them of this development that they are to “draw their own conclusions” about this, which is vaguely casting an aura of failure onto the film for having the gall not to meet his asinine early deadline. How professional.)

The LA critics vote on December 11. Coincidentally that is the voting deadline for the BFCA’s Critics’ Choice Movie Awards picks. Those nominees will be announced two days later on December 13. Then there will be the countless critics groups across the continent who make their picks, which will hopefully be more varied and inspired than last year’s snooze fest of group think. Two weeks later AMPAS ballots hit the mail on December 27 and then it’s one mad publicity dash until polls close on January 13.

Oh yeah, and there are still films waiting to be screened for a great many: “War Horse,” “We Bought a Zoo,” “In the Land of Blood and Honey” and the aforementioned “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” How will they figure into the race? We’ll find out soon enough.

A note on prediction updates this week. As previewed two weeks ago, Guy and I are now splitting up the Contenders section between us. We’ll have a separate space for final predictions further down the line, but for now, throughout the season, we’ll be sharing these duties. Who is tackling what can be noted by the commentary section of each category. Those predictions are reflected in the right sidebar, as always, though now the sidebar paints a more inclusive portrait of multiple takes on the race rather than the exclusive portrait of just MY take. So head on over there now and have a look at what we’re thinking this week.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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