This weekend the National Society of Film Critics gave their Best Picture award to Paul Thomas Anderson's epic There Will Be Blood. Anderson was also named Best Director, and Daniel Day-Lewis Best Actor. Anderson should be proud of his shiny new awards, but also a little bit nervous; the Society tends to reward excellent films — excellent films that are just a little bit too difficult for the stodgy Academy to recognize. The NSFC award has become, in effect, the Too Good for Oscar award.
In the past twenty years, only three films that won the NSFC have gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar: Unforgiven, Schindler's List, and Million Dollar Baby. In fact, comparing the NSFC's list of past winners to the Academy's makes a pretty decent counter-history of great film. 1994: The NSFC picks Pulp Fiction; the Academy picks Forrest Gump. 1997: The NSFC picks L.A. Confidential; the Academy picks Titanic. In this decade, the NSFC has picked Yi Yi, Mulholland Drive, American Splendor, and Pan's Labyrinth, none of which were even nominated for Best Picture.
Perhaps the ultimate example of the NSFC being Too Good for Oscar was 1999, when two films won the NSFC owing to a tie vote. Needless to say, neither of the Society's choices won the Oscar; neither was even nominated, even though the two films — Being John Malkovich and Topsy-Turvy — were dramatically better than four of the five Best Picture nominees (American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense).
What does this all mean? It most likely confirms There Will Be Blood as this year's Designated Auteur movie at the Oscars. Day-Lewis will win Best Actor, Anderson will be nominated for Best Director, but the movie won't win — and quite probably won't be nominated for — Best Picture. That's the price you pay for being Too Good for Oscar!