FIRST!

In a very surprising twist, the New York Film Critics Circle has announced today that it will be revealing its list of superlatives on November 28, a full two days before the National Board of Review's announcement (the group which traditionally signals the beginning of the precursor season).

A number of awards-giving bodies, from the Gotham Awards (announcing nominees tomorrow) to the Hollywood Film Awards like to consider themselves the starting gun of the precursor season, but it's really always been the National Board of Review, going on 100 years now. It's the first gauge of where things might start going, with a few quirky things thrown in here and there. We all know it's just a bunch of New York film enthusiasts and not a critics group, but nevertheless, that's just been the lay of the land.

No more. In the NYFCC announcement, chairman John Anderson says, "As the nation’s preeminent critics’ group, we are excited about kicking off the annual end-of-year discussion with our new early voting date. On the basis of the films we have seen thus far, we are looking forward to another passionate debate amongst our members."

The real question, of course, concerns films like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "War Horse" that might not even be ready for the NYFCC's screening deadline. "The Iron Lady" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" are both still in the editing bay. The NBR has even run into this before with their early December announcement, some films missing the cut or just barely making the deadline.

The rest of the release is the usual nauseating self-propelling mumbo-jumbo. "The Circle’s awards are often viewed as harbingers of the Oscar nominations. The Circle’s awards are also viewed—perhaps more accurately—as a principled alternative to the Oscars, honoring aesthetic merit in a forum that is immune to commercial and political pressures." Etc.

The sad thing is, with language like that, it's painfully obvious the NYFCC is just looking to be a substantial part of the awards season and not just one of a number of critics groups handing out awards. It's entirely self-serving. Let's not pretend it's about honoring the highest in film accomplishment more than it is puffing yourself up in an already stuffy and crowded time of year. Alrighty? You're basically telling studios, "Finish your film now or else." It's nonsense. And with the number of confessed "film lovers" in the NYFCC's ranks, you'd have expected more.

Recent winners of the NYFCC's award for Best Picture include "The Social Network," "The Hurt Locker," "Milk," "No COuntry for Old Men" and "United 93."