The actual “awards” part of awards season is finally off and running with first results out of the East Coast with today’s Oscar_Logo110922004651__120227115551New York Film Critics Circle choices and last night’s Gotham Awards. And the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even got into the act earlier today narrowing the intense Documentary Feature competition from 151 entries to a shortlist of 15 finalists. Stuff is happening.

17th Annual Hollywood Film Awards - ShowThe NYFCC went whole hog for David O. Russell’s American Hustle (Best Picture, Screenplay, Supporting Actress) today, while Gotham unexpectedly crowned The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis over heavy favorite 12 Years A Slave. Those results are an early indication (or even confirmation) that this could turn out to be an extremely unpredictable year — one with no frontrunner.  The fact that the powerful critical favorite 12 Years, an early favorite to sweep the critics awards and use that to begin its march to Oscar (it leads most pundit polls), was shut out at the Gothams and only took Best Director for Steve McQueen at the NYFCC perhaps means this year won’t turn into a repeat of 2010. That’s when The Social Network swept the numerous critics groups Best Picture honors (and even the Globes) only to be upended by The King’s Speech when the Producers Guild turned the race. The King’s Speech became the industry favorite all the way to the Best Picture Oscar. I think dominance among the critics is important for a picture like 12 Years. That kind of awards pedigree could force reluctant Academy voters (and I know of a few resisting it because they fear it’s too brutal) to see the film and give it a shot. A lack of that kind of consensus could just bust this race wide open and turn it into a free-for-all. Of course there are many, many more of these groups to go, and 12 Years could still dominate, but the initial picture is cloudy. It’s an extremely competitive year and likely to continue to be if today’s results are an indication.

american_hustle_ver6_xlgAs for American Hustle‘s triumph at the NYFCC, it’s a bit unexpected but completely deserving. Sony Pictures , which releases the film December 13, has had a very good run with the NY Critics Circle — winning Best Pic in 2010 with Social Network and again last year with Zero Dark Thirty only to be stopped cold at the Oscars. Will Hustle be able to ride farther this early wave for the studio? Time will tell. With more Academy friendly-type films like Saving Mr. Banks, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena  and others going unmentioned, there are plenty of places for Oscar voters to drift including the wild card of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, which was a last-minute screening for NYFCC.

Related: OSCARS: ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ Makes A Raucous Debut

As for the NYFCC acting choices, I could see all of them repeating at the Dolby Theatre on March 2nd. And they are all first-timers at the NYFCC. Interestingly, Best Actor Robert Redford (All Is Lost) had only one previous dance with this group as an actor by coming in third for Downhill Racer in 1969.  He also placed third as Director for Ordinary People in 1980 but went on to win the Oscar for that.  Best Actress Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) previously had only been a runner-up at NYFCC  for her supporting work in I’m Not There.  Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) was last year’s runner-up for Lead Actress for Silver Linings Playbook but went on to win the Oscar. Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)  is a newcomer to the awards game, but I expect he will rack up a lot of trophies on the way to the Oscars.

Tomorrow, the National Board Of Review reveals its choices before the West Coast gets a shot this weekend robertredfordlost2when the LA Film Critics vote.  By the way, the NBR  — an odd group made up mostly of “film enthusiasts” — drew an inordinate amount of attention simply because it always went first. But now the NYFCC has taken back that thunder so we’ll see what happens with the announcement tomorrow. It’s a long season and there is an endless parade of awards to look forward to, folks.

MV5BMTQxNDY2NjMwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzExMDg0OQ@@__V1_SX214_As for the other big awards news of the day, the Academy’s Documentary branch narrowed its unweildy list of 151 entries to 15 shortlisted finalists. Usually there is a lot of controversy about omissions, but I don’t think too many people will get worked up about what was left out. There were some films from high-profile docu directors left out in the cold, though, including the latest from Errol Morris (The Unknown Known) and Alex Gibney’s Wikileaks docu We Steal Secrets; the prolific Gibney is still represented by his The Armstrong Lie, making it a good day for Sony Pictures Classics which also distributes another shortlister, Tim’s Vermeer which is directed by Teller of Penn and Teller.

Other high-profile films to make the list include Radius/TWC’s well-regarded and successful music docu Twenty Feet From Stardom and Sarah Polley’s personal Stories We Tell. The 15 titles will be narrowed to five when Oscar nominations are announced January 16th.  There were a lot of complaints within the branch that I heard about the current rules letting everyone vote on all 151 films — an impossible task for most. I am told by one former Governor who had trouble seeing everything that they came up with a blog where members were encouraged to watch at least 15 different films and then make recommendations to others about those worth seeing. Hmmmm. Sounds like more change is needed since the initial idea of this rule change was to reduce, not increase, the workload for diligent docu branch voters.