The Hurt LockerIn case you missed them, the first two events of the 2009-2010 Academy Awards season occurred earlier this week, providing the narrowest of glimpses into how the race may shake out between now and Oscar show time March 7. And this morning (Dec. 3), the National Board of Review launched the parallel awards universe conducted by critics and fan societies.

Prepare for a blizzard of award announcements in the next few weeks. Virtually every big American city, and some small ones, have critics' groups that weigh in with their awards, and every critic with access to a newspaper, magazine, TV/radio outlet, or blog will have a 10-best list to toss into the for-your-consideration pot. The Hurt LockerIn case you missed them, the first two events of the 2009-2010 Academy Awards season occurred earlier this week, providing the narrowest of glimpses into how the race may shake out between now and Oscar show time March 7. And this morning (Dec. 3), the National Board of Review launched the parallel awards universe conducted by critics and fan societies.

Prepare for a blizzard of award announcements in the next few weeks. Virtually every big American city, and some small ones, have critics' groups that weigh in with their awards, and every critic with access to a newspaper, magazine, TV/radio outlet, or blog will have a 10-best list to toss into the for-your-consideration pot. Then, then there are the industry guilds -- made up of actors, writers, directors, producers, art directors, film editors, visual effects folks, sound editors and costume designers -- who will foist upon us their preferences for the year's best work in their fields.

It is impossible to say which of these various awards will have the most impact on the Academy members whose votes are the only ones that ultimately matter? But if you plan to follow this derby like a horse race, there are clues as to which horses have the most "gitty-up."

The Gothams announced Monday have no gitty-up at all. Presented by the Independent Film Project, the Gothams (see the winners here) are in their 19th year and remain unknown to most Gothamites. Created as a means of honoring indie film work done in New York and New England -- the Yankee Stadium of independent film -- it has been eclipsed by the Independent Spirit Awards presented in the solar klieg light of southern California where folks actually pay attention to them.

The Spirit Award nominees were announced Tuesday, but winners won't be acknowledged until two days before the Oscars. 'The Hurt Locker' was shut out here, apparently because it had been technically eligible for Spirit Awards last year. Instead, the hot movie for the Spirits is 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,' which was shut out at the Gothams, apparently because its five judges didn't think enough of it.

Precious'Precious' received five Spirit nominations, followed by indie faves 'The Last Station' and 'The Messenger,' with four each. As a predictor of the Oscars, the Spirits have a big edge on the Gothams, so the snub of 'Precious' out east probably won't effects its chances at all.

The National Board of Review, which likes to promote itself as the oldest critical group in America, was founded in 1909 as a quasi-censorship group, and began its annual awards activity in 1929. It is not a critical group -- it's made up of dues-paying, mostly-Manhattan movie fans -- and it has zero credibility with other critics groups. But as a plebiscite of moviegoer opinion, it is useful to the marketers of Oscar contenders and tomorrow's winners will be trumpeted in newspaper ads as early as this weekend,.

More important to the Oscar race are the Golden Globes, the 2010 nominees for which will be announced Dec. 15. Voted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation, a group of 100-plus freelancers for overseas media, the Globes have less credibility than a compliment from Larry David. But the Globes telecast has become the Ultimate Dress Rehearsal, a chicken-dinner-and-bourbon party that brings the royalty from both TV and film worlds together in one room.

When I started covering the Globes in the late 1970s, there was a running joke that "on the night of the Golden Globes, you can't find a good waiter anywhere in town." It was a reference to the spurious reputation of the foreign press, whose members were accustomed to being photographed with the movie stars they interviewed and to having their expenses paid for movie junkets that often took them to exotic locales around the world.

Today, it doesn't matter whether entertainment writing is their day or night job, the foreign press members have the show of shows. And their nominations are more important in Oscar campaigns than all the critics' awards combined.

As for those critics groups, there use to be just one that mattered -- the New York Film Critics Circle, founded in 1935 by the nation's most influential critics with the purpose of presenting more refined choices for movie awards than the nascent Oscars were providing. Then came the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, powerful because of their its to the powerful, and then the National Society of Film Critics, supposedly la creme de la creme of reviewers but, in fact, a closed club of film snobs whose awards have been more noteworthy for their eccentricities than for their influence on anyone else.

If you were to talk to Academy members, you'd learn that the guilds have the most influence on them. If the sound editors are wild about a particular movie, they probably know what they've heard. It's logical that peer groups can better judge work in their own craft fields, and the guild nominations are closely matched by Academy nominations.

Here's the deal: except for Best Picture, the 20-plus Oscar ballots are determined by votes of either select committees (for documentary features and shorts, animated features, foreign language films) or by craft branches of the Academy. Actors nominate actors, directors nominate directors, film editors nominate film editors, etc., and in the craft categories, in particular, there is a large overlap between members of the guilds of the Academy branches.

So, pay attention to the Golden Globes, amuse yourself with critics' awards and top 10 lists, and give special due to the guild awards when they kick in after the New Year. Here's a calendar of the major markers en route to the Oscars:

Dec. 3 -- National Board of Review awards
Dec. 12 - Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards
Dec. 14 -- New York Film Critics awards
Dec. 15 -- Golden Globes nominations
Dec. 17 -- Screen Actors Guild nominations
Jan. 3 -- National Society of Film Critics awards
Jan. 5 -- Producers Guild of American nominations (10 for Best Picture)
Jan. 7 -- Directors Guild of America nominations
Jan. 11 -- Writers Guild nominations, American Society of Cinematographers nominations
Jan. 17 -- Golden Globe telecast
Jan. 22 -- Film Editors' Golden Reel nominations
Jan. 23 -- Screen Actors Guild awards telecast
Jan. 24 -- Producers Guild awards
Jan. 30 -- Directors Guild awards
Feb. 2 -- Academy Award nominations
Feb. 8 -- Art Directors Guild nominations
Feb. 13 -- Art Directors Guild awards
Feb. 20 -- Writers Guild and Film Editors awards
Feb. 21 -- British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards
Feb. 25 -- Costume Designers awards
Feb. 27 -- American Society of Cinematographers awards
Mar. 5 -- Independent Spirit Awards
Mar. 7 -- Oscar telecast