By: Erik Childress

Not to be confused with the Online Film Critics Society, a globally all-encompassing group of internet-bound writers, the more locally streamlined New York Film Critics Online have announced their 9th annual awards. Before dismissing them as just another fringe group, perhaps those with faith in the statistical analysis of awards season may not want to look past that six of their top seven awards in 2008 just happened to win a certain golden statuette a few months later. A sign of things to come or just another happy coincidence? More the latter since they have been a bit more stoic in producing nominees than winners. Yet they do have the distinction of being the first critics' group to put James Cameron's Avatar on the playing field.

It was Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds that led the NYFCO's awards with four victories (including Supporting Actor, Screenplay and Cinematography), but it was the 3-D IMAX CGI "game-changer" that captured Best Picture from them. Perhaps reflecting the film's lack of award-worthy performances, or screenplay, story and anything exceptional past its technical merits, the granddaddy prize of them all was the only one that Avatar walked away with from the group.

Funny enough it wasn't James Cameron labeled King for all his years of work into the project but his former Queen, Kathryn Bigelow, that was lauded as Best Director for the more gripping and low-tech explosives of The Hurt Locker. Both films walk away with nice percentages to become Oscar nominees from the group. Six of their last nine Best Films have been nominated and seven of their last nine Directors, though only Chicago and last year's Slumdog Millionaire and its director, Danny Boyle, went from NYFCO win to Oscar glory.

Just as we were wondering when Jeff Bridges was going to make his way into the race after an aggressive 11th hour push by Fox Searchlight for his work in Crazy Heart, the onliners break ground again. And its firm ground that Bridges stands upon thanks to this win. If history and numbers have any influence whatsoever, then the NYFCO's 8-for-8 record in this category could make him (alongside George Clooney) has one of the locks of the season. The four-time Oscar nominee has just won an award from a group that has seen its last five choices for Best Actor go on to win the golden statue. It's a shame it just might be for a rather mediocre film with some good music. Crazy Heart also grabbed its third music/score award of the day. Meryl Streep picked up her second win today for Julie & Julia. Last year's Sally Hawkins was the only NYFCO choice in their history for Best Actress that did not go onto a nomination.

The group's weakest category in terms of prognostication comes in Supporting Actor where they are only 50% (4-of-8). There's a good feeling though that this year's winner, Christoph Waltz, also named for Breakthrough Performer, is going to push that percentage up to 55%. The Waltz/Mo'Nique train also continues to steamroll ahead as the hyphenated singular note/name actress was named Best Supporting Actress marking the fourth straight group after Washington D.C., Boston and Los Angeles to name both winners. Six of NYFCO's last nine choices have garnered a nomination.

In the screenplay category it's been seven of their last nine selections, including a brief flirtation with splitting the category into Original and Adapted in 2001, that have been solid for Oscar nominations with only Mulholland Drive (2001) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) being left off the ballot. The Cove picked up its fourth Best Documentary crown and its third this very day. Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon won its first award for Best Foreign Film. Marc Webb was named the Best Directorial Debut for a second time for his Sundance favorite, (500) Days Of Summer.

The cast of In The Loop was named Best Ensemble. Up continues to be the only winner for Animated Feature, while Up In The Air was completely shut out from the group despite being one of their 11 selections for Best Films of 2009 along with Adventureland, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, The Messenger, Precious, A Serious Man, Two Lovers, Up and the winner, Avatar.