Awards season came to the masses as Friday night’s 16th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards was broadcast live on VH1, becoming the first movie kudos show of the year to hit the airwaves. It was a loose, sometimes hip, sometimes flip, telecast that if recent tradition is any indicator may provide a clearer picture  of what might happen February 27th. As one prominent entertainment reporter remarked, “This looks like it might be the Oscars.” Maybe. The CCMA’s have matched the Academy on Best Picture nine out of 15 times including the last four years in a row. Is it going to be five in a row? I’m told the Broadcast Critics’ voting was actually very close between The Social Network and The King’s Speech for the big prize, an indication this Oscar race is still fluid. Sony’s The Social Network grabbed four awards including Best Director for an absent David Fincher, Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin (who quipped, “Seven years ago Mark Zuckerberg registered the Facebook domain name, and I’m sure this movie is just what he had in mind”), and Trent Reznor’s score plus the all-important Best Picture which Jane Fonda presented at show’s end. It was fairly predictable as most critics groups have done the same thing this year. Still, these results further solidify The Social Network’s increasing frontrunner status but it’s still early.

Warner Bros’ Inception actually led the list with 6 awards but all with the exception of Best Action Movie were technical prizes not presented on the telecast. Favorites in the acting races all coming through were Best Actor Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Best Actress Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale and Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo (The Fighter). The Fighter also won the acting ensemble prize while The King’s Speech also won for David Seidler’s Original Screenplay. King’s Speech distributor Harvey Weinstein, though clearly pleased for Firth and Seidler, seemed ready to move away from critics groups and on to the glitzier Golden Globes where his movie goes head to head next with Social Network on Sunday and could even the score in the Best Picture Drama category. Harv was particularly disappointed for director Tom Hooper and composer Alexander Desplat both of whom he hopes will be victorious elsewhere.

Black Swan had led the pack with a record 12 nods but won only for Portman, while True Grit which had 11 nods picked up just one for Hailee Steinfeld as Young Actor/Actress. Seven of the 10 Best Picture nominees took at least one award, meaning the Broadcast Critics were definitely in a mood to spread the wealth. Since the winners (and losers) followed the expected path the real highlights of the show were special moments honoring Matt Damon for his humanitarian work and Quentin Tarantino as the first honoree of the org’s newly established film + music award.  Maroon 5 was the house band this year and kept the Hollywood Palladium rocking during commercial breaks.

Earlier in the day, many of the same people sweating out the Critics Choice awards were in a celebratory mood at the Four Seasons hotel where the 2010 AFI Awards honoring the year’s best in movies and TV was the subject of a hot ticket luncheon that brought out more studio heads than stars. It was a major turnout for what many kept saying was their favorite awards event of the year even though AFI  President Bob Gazzale  promised in his opening remarks, “Just what you need, another awards lunch. This is not that. There are no acceptance speeches, everyone’s a winner. And for those executives in the room remember, your table has been paid for – and by someone else.” Groups doing this kind of kudos event usually force studios to buy tables themselves. In this case it was all paid for by sponsor Hewlett Packard.

Everyone seemed to get a warm fuzzy feeling watching top notch clips from AFI’s Top 10 TV programs and movies, all the while hearing how the AFI juries succinctly described the reasons that these works were being honored (although no one was allowed to accept). Even though the rules are strict that this is about American narrative works, two exceptions were made so additional “special awards” went to the education documentary Waiting For ‘Superman’ and The King’s Speech. The latter’s director Tom Hooper told me he has been coming to the AFI lunch for four of the past 5 years with various projects including John Adams. “There’s no pressure about having to make a speech or not getting to make one, and you get a plaque at the end that tells you the reasons they think your film is good. It’s my favorite event.”

The 10 AFI Motion Pictures of the Year were Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, The Social Network, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. On the TV side it was  The Big C, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Glee, Mad Men, Modern Family, The Pacific, Temple Grandin, 30 Rock and The Walking Dead. Numerous stars, producers, directors and writers from all the above filled the room including Natalie Portman, Annette Bening, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Lawrence, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, Ryan Murphy, Matt Weiner (who hasn’t made a new Mad Men deal yet), Aaron Sorkin, and Scott Rudin who told me as he walked in, “This is an event I actually enjoy”. Among studio honchos were Warner Bros’ Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov,  Sony’s Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and Sir Howard Stringer (who doubles as Chair of AFI Board of Trustees), Disney’s Rich Ross, Fox’s Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, and Paramount’s Brad Grey to name just a few.

The afternoon closed with a speech from Kirk Douglas who noted he made Spartacus 50 years ago but was just about the only cast member still alive. “The tragedy  of being old is loneliness. You lose so many friends and are left with only a fragment of a memory.” He talked about how he ended the Hollywood blacklist by insisting writer Dalton Trumbo receive full credit on that film and visit the studio. “I am beginning to think I am a Spartacus fighting for freedom.” He closed by toasting son Michael (not there) “who battled the big C and won”. That’s better than any award.