How Film Critics Circle Awards Work

Each December (and now November, thanks to the New York Film Critics Circle), you can’t go to any entertainment web site without seeing the results of different film critic associations’ awards. Before I was an accredited film critic, I always wondered what went into this process. I’ve been an actively participating member of the Utah Film Critics Association (UFCA) since 2006. Fellow staffer Aaron Peck has also been a member for the past couple of years. Since this subject was once interesting to me, I figured that it might be interesting to you, so here’s a little breakdown of the process.

Each association is slightly different and may vary from the UFCA examples I’ll give here.

1) Becoming A Member

Technically, it’s pretty easy to qualify. All you have to do it write or broadcast a minimum of 50 reviews each year for a Utah-based, well-established outlet. If I simply ran a small blog that my friends and parents visited, that wouldn’t qualify. The UFCA consists of reviewers from local movie-based television series, print (newspaper) outlets, online outlets and broadcast radio stations. Many of us work for several outlets. For example, I write for High-Def Digest as well as my own Salt Lake City-based site (that Mr. Peck and I run together), and I offer weekly reviews to an SLC FM radio morning show.

2) Membership Duties

The 50-review minimum simply establishes that one is devoted to this job. Before someone can become a member of the critics circle, he /she must commit to seeing just about everything that opens in a calendar year. (We follow the same rules as the Academy for qualifying films – with the addition of anything that premieres at the Sundance Film Festival, since that’s held less than 30 miles east of Salt Lake City.) That means one can’t just show up for the big blockbuster screenings, but must also try to see as many of the small indie films as possible.

Since most critic circles hold their annual awards voting meetings in mid-December, we must rush to see the rest of the year’s releases in a short period of time. Multiple screenings in one day aren’t uncommon. There’s also a big wave of awards screeners that are mailed out to members over November and December. We’re not only filling our days with films yet to come out, but playing catch-up on the some that we may have missed. Needless to say, these months are so busy watching movies that we have to see that there’s little time to watching anything we want to see.

3) Nominations

Each critic circle has its own list of categories. For this example, I’ll use the 12 that the UFCA awards: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Documentary, Foreign-Language Film, and Animated Feature.

I’ve acted as Vice President for the last three years, so I know this process well. This year, we made out nomination ballots due on Friday, December 16th at 5 PM. By then, all members had to email me their top five films in all 12 categories. Nomination ballots must rank the nominees (1-5). As I tallied the nominations, all picks numbered 1 were given five points, 2 were given four points, 3 were given three, 4 were given two, and 5 were given one. After all of the ballots were submitted, I totaled all of the points for the different nominees. The five with the highest point values were then passed on to the final ballot. In cases that resulted in a tie, there were six nominees.

4) Voting

This is where it gets fun. On December 20th, we met for the big hoorah. For this annual meeting, each member comes in with his or her picks for the winners. Over the course of the evening, we chat category by category about the nominees. This is where you fight to convince others why your picks are better than someone else’s. Not only do you try to sway people, but also to be swayed yourself. When it came to the Best Actor category this year, I thought all five of our nominees were worthy, so I needed to hear the group’s thoughts before making up my mind. Sometimes you’ll come into this meeting with your picks and end up voting on something/someone else entirely.

Last year, due to an even number of members, we finished with a few ties, which we all agreed were lame. So this year we made sure to have an odd number. But this process is not so easy. We only award a nominee if it receives the majority vote, meaning more than half of the votes. This year, we had 13 participating members present. A few times, each of the five nominees in a category earned votes, and the one with most votes only had four – which is not a majority. In that case, the two picks with the most votes are considered the nominees and anyone who voted for the other three has to re-vote on the two top choices. Does this make sense, or are you thoroughly confused?

5) Getting the News Out

The President of the association blasts out the official press release containing the nominees and the results of the voting to web sites, contacts and publications around the nation. Then, and only then, is there time to let out a big sigh, sit back and watch a movie of our own choosing.

Just for fun, here are the results for the Utah Film Critics Association’s 2011 awards voting:

Best Picture

‘Drive’ (Runner-up: ‘The Artist’)

Best Achievement in Directing

Michael Hazanavicius, ‘The Artist’ (Runner-up: Nicholas Winding Refn, ‘Drive’)

Best Lead Performance by an Actor

Joseph Gordon-Levitt:’ 50/50′ (Runner-up: Jean Dujardin,’ The Artist’)

Best Lead Performance by an Actress

Michelle Williams, ‘My Week With Marilyn’ (Runner-up: Rooney Mara, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor

Albert Brooks, ‘Drive’ (Runner-up: Christopher Plummer, ‘Beginners’)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actress

Amy Ryan, ‘Win Win’ (Runner-up: Vanessa Redgrave, ‘Coriolanus’)

Best Original Screenplay

Will Reiser, ’50/50′ (Runner-up: Mike Mills, ‘Beginners’)

Best Adapted Screenplay

Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash,’ The Descendants’ (Runner-up: Jason
Segel & Nicholas Stoller,’ The Muppets’)

Best Cinematography

Newton Thomas Sigel, ‘Drive’ (Runner-up: Emmanuel Lubezki,’ The Tree of Life’)

Best Documentary Feature

‘Senna’ (Runner-up:’ Project Nim’)

Best Non-English Language Feature

‘A Separation’ (Runner-up: ’13 Assassins’)

Best Animated Feature

‘Rango’ (Runners-up:’ The Adventures of Tintin’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda 2’)


  1. Yeah, there is just no way I could be a film critic. There are movies I like, and am quite critical about, and, not to toot my own horn, but I am a great writer as well. I actually thought about being a critic at one time. Then I started reading this site more, and I was like, “Crap, I would probably be unfortunate enough to get Human Centipede” or some other movie that, not only am I not interested in, but would lead to me being seriously ill watching it. I just don’t like the idea of having to watch a movie because I Have to watch it for my job, I want to watch a movie because I choose to watch it. I also like the ability that, if a movie is crap, I can turn it off after 30 minutes (Last movie I did that with was Sucker Punch – that movie was horrible).

    I also have kind of a random question – when you guys review Blu-Rays, do you actually sit through all of the bonus material? Just wondering how you would have time to do anything else if you had to watch the movie and like 20 hours of bonus materials for every disc you reviewed.

    • Can’t speak for everyone, but yes I do watch all bonus material. Most Blu-rays have really cruddy special feature packages. On average I’d say you’re looking at less than 30 min. on MOST discs that come out. Only big, noticeable releases get any sort of huge features package.

      As for commentaries, I listen to most of them, but if it’s an especially horrendous movie I’ll say so in my review and state that I didn’t want to subject myself to watching it again.

      I do understand being hesitant to be a critic though. Just for some perspective my first three movies of the New Year have been ‘Scorpion King 3,’ ‘Division III: Football’s Finest,’ and ‘Shark Night.’ Yeah, you have to watch a whole lotta crap along with the good stuff.

    • I watch all of the special features too. As for commentaries, I’ll usually re-start the movie at the beginning, see how it starts and flows, then jump ahead throughout the film to see how it’s held up.

      • Thanks for your input, guys. I certainly do not want to be a reviewer now – I would go nuts! I had a little blog for a while where I was reviewing stuff, but on bonus features, I would normally just watch a few minutes of each unless it was something I was really interested in. Usually a brief sentence on each feature pretty much describing what it was. I have movies I have had for years that I haven’t seen all the bonus features on yet!

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