Pete Hammond

There’s new intrigue surrounding the race to be first among critics groups in announcing film awards. In a pre-emptive move that should send shudders down the spines of the National Board of Review — normally always first to announce — and the Los Angeles Film Critics — which normally gets a one-day jump on their New York counterparts — the New York Film Critics Circle has just announced that it will vote for their choices of the year’s best films on Monday, November 28, immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday. “As the nation’s pre-eminent critic’s group, we are excited about kicking off the annual end-of-year discussion with our new early voting date,”  says new chairman John Anderson, who replaced Armond White as head of the group. (See the full release below.)

The surprise chess move puts the other groups racing for influence in the Oscar race in a tough position as they would likely have to advance their voting dates to pre-Thanksgiving to beat NYFCC to the punch — a tough task when studios and distributors probably haven’t screened all year-end contenders at that point, especially those with tight post-production schedules. It’s known that some of them rush contenders just to meet the early December voting date of the National Board of Review, so anything before the 28th could be stretching it.

New York critics were likely frustrated last year following the gang of groups crowning The Social Network best picture and thereby looking like they were following the pack. The National Board of Review chose the film first on December 2, and the LAFCC followed suit December 12, a day before NYFCC announced it as their choice December 13. In between all that, the Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their nominations.

It will be especially interesting to see what the National Board of Review does now. This is not a critics group but rather a “film society” that is placated by studios with special treatment because they are always first to announce. Even officials of this group have admitted to me in the past that the reason their choices get so much scrutiny in the entertainment media is because they are first. L.A.’s critics also like beating their East Coast rivals, but from what I hear have already planned to select their picks that weekend of December 10.

With lots of talk about the Oscars moving up a full month as early as 2013 (although I am told until they figure out how to do electronic voting, no decision is being made), today’s NYFCC move will only add to the discussion. Is it only a matter of time before one of these organizations announces their nominees on Halloween?

Here’s the NYCFF release that came out this morning:

New York, NY – October 19, 2011 — The New York Film Critics Circle announced today they will hold their annual vote for the 2011 Film Critics Circle Awards on Monday, November 28th, at The Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center. The awards will be handed out at a ceremony to be held on Monday, January 9, 2012.

Says this years Chairman John Anderson, “As the nations pre-eminent critic’s group, we are excited about kicking off the annual end-of-year discussion with our new early voting date. On the basis of the films we have seen thus far, we are looking forward to another passionate debate amongst our members.”

Founded in 1935, the New York Film Critics Circle is the oldest and most prestigious in the country. The circle’s membership includes critics from daily newspapers, weekly newspapers, magazines and the Web’s most respected on-line publications. Every year the organization meets in New York to vote on awards for the calendar year’s films. The Circle’s awards are often viewed as harbingers of the Oscar nominations. The Circle’s awards are also viewed — perhaps more accurately — as a principled alternative to the Oscars, honoring aesthetic merit in a forum that is immune to commercial and political pressures.

Joining Chairman John Anderson in leading the group is this year’s Vice-Chairman, Time Out New York Senior Film Writer Joshua Rothkopf, who will assume the duties of Chairman for 2012. Additions to the group are returning voting member Amy Taubin of Film Comment and a new member, Salon film critic Andrew O’ Hehir.

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