New York Film Critics Circle has picked Paul Greengrass's United 93 as the best picture of the year. ("Should Hollywood be in the 9/11 business?" wondered New York's David Edelstein, one of the Circle's 27 members, when the film came out. "Only if it can make movies like United 93." He went on to call it "brilliant, tightly focused, and momentous.") But here's the question: Does the picture — a stark, minimalist retelling of the passenger revolt that brought down the flight — stand a chance at the big awards show on the other coast? For now, we can only go on the Circle's track record.
Although the NYFCC's Website calls its awards "harbingers of Oscar nominations," they're more like harbingers of the token indie nod that goes nowhere when actual gold statuettes start changing hands: Mulholland Drive to the Academy's A Beautiful Mind, that sort of thing. Overall, in the last ten years, the New York critics augured the Best Picture Oscar winner exactly once — 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In 2005, when our city's professional cinéastes fell for sentimental favorite Brokeback Mountain, Crash won in a truly upsetting upset. Even when NYFCC went mainstream in 1997 (picking Saving Private Ryan), the Oscar, in one of the industry's biggest WTF moments, went to Shakespeare in Love. With this kind of clout, well, the New York critics might owe Greengrass an apology.