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Wednesday, January 11, 2017
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Oscars 2017: Does ‘Moonlight’ Scoring National Society of Film Critics Top Prize Mean Best Picture Win Is Next?

'Moonlight' (Courtesy: David Bornfriend/A24)

‘Moonlight’ (Courtesy: David Bornfriend/A24)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

At this point it seems as though the best picture Oscar race has narrowed down to two films: awards magnet La La Land and underdog Moonlight. Both picked up major trophies at the Golden Globes — though La La Land totally dominated the night — and it’s almost as if we’re gearing up for an epic showdown. With the National Society of Film Critics honoring Moonlight as their best picture, does that indicate that the Academy will follow suit?

Moonlight — written and directed by Barry Jenkins — tells the tale of self-discovery for a gay black man, from childhood to adulthood, who grew up on the rough streets of Miami. The main character is played at three stages of life — by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes — and also features the likes of Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Janelle Monáe.

In addition to being named best picture by the National Society of Film Critics, Moonlight has similarly been recognized at the Golden Globes (on the drama side), the AFI Awards, the Gotham Awards, and the National Board of Review (as one of their top films). Additionally, it was nominated at the same level at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Satellite Awards and is nominated — with results yet not known — at the BAFTA Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Image Awards. This is just a taste of Moonlight’s successful run thus far.

The latest evaluation of the Oscar landscape by The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg lists Moonlight as a frontrunner in the best picture race alongside La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures, Arrival, Lion, Fences, and Nocturnal Animals. There’s really no chance of an upset — at least for Moonlight — but Deadpool, Silence, and Loving are considered major threats while Sully, Jackie, and Florence Foster Jenkins are possibilities.

So what pull will the honor National Society of Film Critics bestowed upon Moonlight have at the Oscars? Not much, per history. In the time that the group has been around — since it was founded in 1966 — there have only been six times when their best film choice eventually went on to be named best picture at the Oscars: 1977’s Annie Hall, 1992’s Unforgiven, 1993’s Schindler’s List, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, 2008’s The Hurt Locker, and 2015’s Spotlight.

One semi-positive for Moonlight here is that these occurrences have happened in recent history, with almost all taking place from the early 1990s through just last year. Maybe that means the National Society of Film Critics and the Academy are starting to see eye to eye about what they consider to be the best film of the year, albeit still sporadically and not very regularly. Some crossover is better than none but having only been congruent 6/51 times — or less than 12% of the time — is still nothing incredible to write home about. It seems as though the National Society of Film Critics has a more highbrow taste than the Academy.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the National Society of Film Critics and the Academy — besides the former having more highbrow tastes than the latter — is their makeup. While the Academy consists of about 7,000 members within the film industry while the National Society of Film Critics is, as you might guess, holds fewer than 100 film critics from various publications nationwide in its ranks. There’s absolutely no overlap here with membership so it’s not too shocking that they don’t agree almost all of the time.

The best picture Oscar race is still a dead heat between La La Land and Moonlight and, since both have been showered with accolades galore, there’s no clear lead. One thing is for certain, though: the top choice of the National Society of Film Critics probably has little to no sway over which film the Oscars honors with the best picture title. Don’t put the champagne on ice yet, Moonlight!

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