I probably use the phrase "take a deep breath" to signal a pause before an awards frame plunge a bit too often this time of year, but the fact is this afternoon really is your last chance to breathe in some (somewhat) unsullied air before the precursor circuit really starts to mold this season into something resembling what it will be in three months' time.

Today, the New York Film Critics Circle will be screening David FIncher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Today was the group's original date for voting on its year-end superlatives (already noted as asinine in its early nature), but due to the fact that this film had a ready-by date that was immovable (and it still has color timing to be completed, but is nevertheless in a shape in which Fincher is comfortable screening it), they decided to move the date one day. No one asked them to do it, but they did.

The issue with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" was different. It really isn't ready and wouldn't be before December 2. So, NYFCC president John Anderson publicly and other members privately cast doubts on the film's quality as a result. I'll let you be the judge of that professionalism.

So the NYFCC didn't get to be FIRST! after all, because the Gotham Awards will be held tonight in New York. (HitFix's Greg Ellwood will be covering from on the ground.) And the NYFCC votes tomorrow, now, beginning at 9:30am ET. And there is no way they will be done with things by 11am. Why does that time matter? Because that's when the Independent Spirit Award nominations are announced.

Way to clog up the works with your nonsense, guys.

The rest of the circuit will begin to file in line after that, a progression already outlined last week. What, then, do we have to look for? What films and performances need the exposure of this circuit? What elements are clinging onto a precious foothold that could use an extra boost?

I'm thinking one actor who could really use some wind in his sails is Woody Harrelson. A committed campaign has been assembled around him and his film, "Rampart," is on the screen here in Los Angeles for its one-week qualifying run, but if he's to figure into the race at all, I think he needs some critical support.

Elsewhere, Tilda Swinton is hanging on on the edge of the Best Actress conversation for dear life. Her performance in "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is one of the year's best and deserves to be on a higher rung. Someone needs to spring for her. Meanwhile, the performance that beat her out for Best Actress at Cannes, Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia," could use some muscle from the precursors to have any impact whatsoever (though I don't really think it would make much of a difference for her one way or the other, ultimately).

One film that could have a better-than-deserved showing is "The Artist." If Jean Dujardin hopes to make a play on a Best Actor Oscar that is somewhat up for grabs, he'd do well to best George Clooney as much as he can along the circuit. Gary Oldman could use some help, as BAFTA won't be coming to the rescue for a little while yet.

Best Picture winners on the circuit don't count for much. Just ask "The Social Network." Indeed, it's significant when the critics line up behind a contender, but that won't be a story this year because I don't see them filing in behind one horse. "The Descendants" will have a good run, and "The Tree of Life" will surely find its champions, but it should be a little more scattered than in recent years.

Speaking of "The Tree of Life," Brad Pitt could really use a little gas in the tank. Now's the time.

Last year saw a single critics' fave. 2009 saw "The Hurt Locker" take the lion's share with "Up in the Air" and "Avatar" taking a few honors here and there. 2008 was dominated by "Slumdog Millionaire" and 2007 was all about "No Country for Old Men" for the most part. But this year, I expect more slices of the pie, for a (welcome) change.

I hope I'm right.

Anyway, that's just a sampling. If you have any ideas for performances or films that could use the critics' love in the coming weeks, rifle off your FYCs. You never know who's reading…

Guy and I have updated the Contenders section in full. The sidebar predictions reflect those changes.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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