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Mar. 7 2010 - 7:54 am | 516 views | 1 recommendation | 6 comments

The Oscars v. New York Film Critics: which picks modern classics?

Mel Gibson as William Wallace anachronisticall...

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When most people talk about the best movie of the year, they usually talk Oscars. But does winning an Oscar for Best Picture lift a movie to the level of classic? Clearly not.

Over the past 20 years, the New York Film Critics Circle Award has arguably picked many more modern classics than the Oscars. By modern classic, I mean a movie that still broadly resonates a few years after the spotlight has dimmed and, therefore, has a chance of being watched for generations. Sure, it’s a relative term, but in my opinion many of the choices are pretty clear after just a few years.

Let’s look at the past twenty 20 Oscar winners and pit them against the New York Film Critics Critics Awards, which picked The Hurt Locker for 2009. In my system, I give a tie if both awards went to classics that are equals, a win to the award that picked the clearer classic, a nil when neither picked a classic and I noted when they chose the same film. The four times that both awards went to the same movie seem to be the best predictor of all.

1989

Oscars: Driving Miss Daisy

NYFCC: My Left Foot

Winner: Tie (some years produce multiple classics)

1990

Oscars: Dances with Wolves

NYFCC: Goodfellas

Winner: NYFCC (fuhgeddaboudit)

1991

Both chose Silence of the Lambs

1992

Oscars: Unforgiven

NYFCC: The Player

Winner: The Oscars (the Player is too insider)

1993

Both chose Schindler’s List

1994

Oscars: Forrest Gump

NYFCC: Quiz Show

Winner: The Oscars (how many lines can you recite from Quiz Show?)

1995

Oscars: Braveheart

NYFCC: Leaving Las Vegas

Winner: NYFCC (freeeeedom! from Mel Gibson, please)

1996

Oscars: The English Patient

NYFCC: Fargo

Winner: NYFCC (Fargo is an icon)

1997

Oscars: Titanic

NYFCC: L.A. Confidential

Winner: NYFCC (a cautionary tale to the Oscars, I hope)

1998

Oscars: Shakespeare in Love

NYFCC: Saving Private Ryan

Winner: NYFCC (if only the Bard had stormed a beach)

1999

Oscars: American Beauty

NYFCC: Topsy-Turvy

Winner: Nil (and there stood Being John Malkovich, just waiting)

2000

Oscars: Gladiator

NYFCC: Traffic

Winner: Nil (although the Oscars should lose points for this one)

2001

Oscars: A Beautiful Mind

NYFCC: Mulholland Drive

Winner: NYFCC (if a decade of confounding viewers equals classic)

2002

Oscars: Chicago

NYFCC: Far From Heaven

Winner: NYFCC (although Cannes really deserves it, for the Pianist)

2003

Both chose The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

2004

Oscrs: Million Dollar Baby

NYFCC: Sideways

Winner: The Oscars (New York critics, you corkscrewed up)

2005

Oscars: Crash

NYFCC: Brokeback Mountain

Winner: NYFCC (plateaus, not platitudes, make classics)

2006

Oscars: The Departed

NYFCC: United 93

Winner: NYFCC (people will watch United 93 for generations)

2007

Both chose No Country for Old Men

2008

Oscars: Slumdog Millionaire

NYFCC: Milk

Winner: Tie (for now)

The Final Tally

Oscars: 3

NYFCC: 9

Tie: 2

Nil: 2

Agreed: 4


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  1. collapse expand

    I think your assessment is right on . . . but I think both Fargo and English Patient are destined to be classics – I’d call that one a tie.

  2. collapse expand

    I read a similar article last year, and I think it was on True/Slant. It wasn’t about the NYFCC, but it did take a look back at picks from the last 30 years to see if the Academy’s picks held up over time or made sense in retrospect: they mostly didn’t.

    Unfortunately True/Slant’s search is not very robust (read: clunky and nearly useless) or I’d post it here.

    • collapse expand

      I’d be interested in seeing the link if you do come across it, jcalton. I did a rather un-robust search myself for the idea in general. I chose 20 years, because it seems like there’s still room for movement as to whether some movies will settle in as a classic or not. I would agree with the general sense about the Academy’s pick: many, many don’t. But it seemed interesting that a lot of NYFCC come close.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    You seriously think Leaving Las Vegas was a better film than Braveheart – and your rationale for this is that Braveheart was…made by Mel Gibson…?

  4. collapse expand

    Overall, Michael, I think you’re right. But Braveheart was still a much better film than Leaving Las Vegas. Then again – it all boils down to taste in the end…

    • collapse expand

      It is all taste, you are right E.D. Forget Mel Gibson, I thought Braveheart was rife with cliche. But I was trying to not let my own opinion cloud it too much. I was trying to ask, “What’s the state of this movie today?” And it seems that movie hasn’t had much of a life the past ten years, especially given Gibson’s, ahem, troubles.

      It’s impossible to avoid your own opinion, though. I fully admit it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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