With its one-two punch now of Best Film and Best Director wins from the first two voting bodies on the so-called critics awards circuit — the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of ReviewSony‘s Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal is establishing itself as a powerful and promising early force in the race and only stands to add to the total as a tsunami of critics awards are unleashed over the next couple of weeks (including LA, Boston, etc, later this week). In many recent years critics groups have tended to follow each other like lemmings, and sometimes — especially if it is a nearly unanimous choice like Bigelow and Boal’s The Hurt Locker in 2009 (although NBR virtually ignored that one) —  it can definitely have an impact on Oscar voters.  Academy voters at the very least will be rushing this year to see everything they think they should see in time for the earlier voting period starting December 17 through the holidays to January 3rd. Big early wins like this won’t go unnoticed.

Related: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Debuts: Can It Overcome Controversy To Wow Oscar Voters?

Of course there can also be a great divide as we saw in 2010, when critics groups (including NYFCC and NBR) almost in lockstep chose Sony’s The Social Network right through to its victory at the Golden Globes (the HFPA often likes to go with a perceived winner). That film was then completely upended at the Producers Guild and subsequent industry awards by upstart The King’s Speech, which of course went on to win four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Tom Hooper.

Related: Deadline Awards Watch With Pete Hammond, Episode 3

Although Sony should be feeling very good about the way things are going right now, this studio which had high hopes based on that torrent of critics awards for Social Network was obviously none too happy as that season played out the way it did — especially since it looked so good in December and most of January. My guess is with that in mind they are going to grab this early momentum for Zero Dark Thirty and run with it. It recently hired Michael Kupferberg of Strategy PR as a consultant. Isn’t it ironic that again one of their major competitors is a Hooper film, Universal’s Les Miserables. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate Sony bummer if he were able to come along and again rain on the studio’s parade when the guild shows roll around? (more…)