With a whopping 51 categories in which it has to declare winners, the 21st annual Critics’ Choice Awards has its work cut out for it this year, for the first time ever combining 28 movie categories and 23 for television. They will have to somehow manage all this in a three-hour broadcast on A&E Networks on Sunday, January 17. To put a little perspective on this: the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Broadcast Television Journalists Pete Hammond badgeAssociation (BTJA) have more than twice as many categories to get through in the same amount of time as the Golden Globes, which take place a week earlier. You can count on much of this being accomplished off screen.

However unwieldy this show may tend to be, it is sure to be star-studded. How can it not be with all these nominees? In the movies alone we not only have Best Picture, but also Best Comedy, Best Sci-Fi Film, Best Action Film, Best Animated Film, Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film. The huge haul of 13 nominations for Mad Max: Fury Roadwhich leads all others comfortably, includes three of468049 those distinctions: Best Picture, Sci-Fi and Action film and two for Charlize Theron as Best Actress and Best Actress in an Action Film. Beginning with its Best Picture win from the National Board Of Review, this May release and third sequel to the original Mad Max has defied common wisdom to really come on strong so far this awards season.

Although this critics organization tends to include a lot of nominees, there really weren’t too many surprises here with films like Carol, The Big Short, Mad Max, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight continuing their strong showings already demonstrated in other early awards derbies. However, some films like Brooklyn, Sicario and Bridge Of Spies should see their Oscar hopes given a shot of adrenaline after having relatively paltry showings at the Golden Globe and SAG nominations last week. BFCA (full disclosure: I am a voting member) has always had a sweet spot for Steven Spielberg, so it is no surprise that he would pick up Picture and Directing nods from this group. And it is good to see Sicario, a film I detect strong support Revenantfor with many Academy voters I speak with, coming into play finally this season with five nominations here, though Benicio Del Toro is conspicuously absent in the uber-crowded Supporting Actor contest. But then so is Michael Keaton, originally thought a front-runner to take Supporting Actor (he’s a New York Film Critics winner for lead actor) in Spotlight who has now been passed over by SAG, Globes and BFCA. The group did recognize him as part of the film’s nominated ensemble, and gave individual nods to his co-stars Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo. Last year, Keaton took a huge haul from BFCA with threeSpotlight poster awards for Best Actor, Best Actor In A Comedy and as part of the Best Ensemble Cast, all for Birdman, so maybe they thought enough was enough. 

The BFCA has amassed a strong reputation for being one of the more reliable predictors of eventual Oscar nominees and winners, though last year they missed on Keaton and chose Boyhood over Oscar winner Birdman as Best Film. This year, BFCA has further validated other early awards groups in consistently showering love on Trumbo’s Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren, 99 Homes’ Michael Shannon, and Carol’s Rooney Mara and The Danish Girl’s Alicia Vikander, with BFCA rubber-stamping the decision of  SAG (and their respective distributors) by putting the latter pair in Supporting Actress even though the Golden Globes ruled (correctly) they should be in lead. BFCA sent out an email last week recommending that if members want to vote for Mara it should be in lead, but instead bought into The Weinstein Company’s campaign for support instead. Conversely, BFCA had recommended voters categorize Vikander as support in Danish Girl, per distrib Focus Features’ wishes – and they did.

trumbo 2With nine nominations each, Carol, The Revenant and The Martian seem particularly strong — along with Mad Max — with the voters in this group, the largest film and TV critics group in the U.S. and Canada with over 300 members. But of these four front-runners (at least in number of nods), only The Martian managed to be nominated in Screenplay in addition to acting, picture and directing. Spotlight with eight noms overall and Bridge Of Spies with five also pulled off that key quartet of important categories, indicating real strength. ConspicuouslyBRIDGE OF SPIES absent from the crowded Best Actor race are Concussion’s Will Smith (even though screeners were sent to members in plenty of time) and Bridge Of Spies’ Tom Hanks (who has yet to score an acting nomination for his great, subtle but apparently under-appreciated work in the film). I have to say I was very pleased to see Charlotte Rampling, so good in the small British film 45 Years, recognized here on the Best Actress list after being 45 yearsoverlooked at the Globes and SAG. (Over the weekend, she picked up the European Actress award to add to her prizes from Berlin and the L.A. Film Critics.) Also, it should be noted there is not a single nomination for what promises to be the biggest movie of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens — not even special effects. That is because the film is so under wraps no one in the critical fraternity, even the junket-driven BFCA, sees it before tomorrow’s all-day press screenings, and of course tonight’s massive world premiere that has locked down Hollywood Boulevard.

In terms of television,  the BTJA members seem more in line with the adventurous spirit of the Globes than SAG in terms of nominating fresh, newer series outside of the same old names and faces we see so often. With shows like FXX’s You’re The Worst, Amazon’s Catastrophe, Netflix’s Master Of None, USA’s Mr. Robot, Lifetime’s UnREAL, Sundance’s Rectify, Cinemax’s The Knick and Showtime’s Penny Dreadfulmr. robot 3 among the Comedy and Drama Series program nominees, you can see this is a group that is reaching well beyond the traditional borders of television to dig up their nominees.

Rather than the Broadcast Television Journalists, it might better be called the Narrowcast  Television Journalists. This isn’t to say commercial networks were completely shut out as ABC’s Black-ish and a couple of Fox series — The Last Man On Earth and Empire — did manage series program nods, and acting citations were generous to everyone no matter where their shows air (in fact, one of the Big 4, ABC, even tied with HBO for the most nominations). Still, it seems BTJA seems like they are almost trying to be too hip for the room, even marginalizing upstart Netflix which led the Golden Globes over any other TV network last week but here only got five scattered noms. Netflix didn’t grab a single nod for any of their best-known shows like House Of Cards, Orange Is The New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Grace And Frankie and Bloodline — the series were the centerpiece of their Emmy campaign.

With eight nominations in Movie or Limited Series categories, FX’s Fargo led the television parade continuing the dominance it had last June when Critics’ The Wiz Live!Choice Television Awards were last presented as a separate show, but this is a very forward-looking list that doesn’t reflect much of what we just saw at the Emmys in September or in SAG’s aging selections last week. It’s so new that one of the biggest leaders was NBC’s The Wiz Live! with five nominations including Best Movie or Limited Series. That show just aired 10 days ago.

Next up on the awards calendar will be the announcement of AFI’s Ten Best List for Movies and TV on Wednesday.