'La La Land' crowned Best Film, Casey Affleck and Isabelle Huppert also pick up accolades
ALL CROPS La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)
Credit: Dale Robinette

The New York Film Critics Circle kicked off a long, winding road of precursor accolades en route to the Oscars Thursday, when the 37-strong group announced its full list of year-end film awards, cementing La La Land‘s status as the Best Picture frontrunner.

Damien Chazelle’s modern musical, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, picked up the NYFCC’s top award for Best Film. Since 2003, only four of the NYFCC winners have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but only two (2006’s United 93 and 2015’s Carol) wound up without a Best Picture nomination at all.

Following a strong showing at Monday’s Gotham Awards, however, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight picked up its first major critics’ award with the New York set, earning likely Oscar contender Mahershala Ali the group’s Best Supporting Actor prize. In the lead category, Manchester by the Sea‘s Casey Affleck continues his upward trajectory, taking the NYFCC’s Best Actor honor on the same day he also landed a Critics’ Choice nomination in the same category.

All Crops: Moonlight/Manchester by the Sea Split
Credit: David Bornfriend/A24; Claire Folger

Since 2006, the NYFCC has correctly predicted the Best Actor Oscar winner five times. The last three men to have won the award — Spotlight‘s Michael Keaton, Mr. Turner‘s Timothy Spall, and All Is Lost‘s Robert Redford — did not receive nominations from the Academy.

On the actress’ side, Michelle Williams triumphed for her supporting roles in both Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea and Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women. Williams is not the only woman to win for her work in two separate films at the NYFCC Awards; Isabelle Huppert, who previously won the Gotham Awards’ Best Actress trophy, scored here as a leading actress in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come.

Huppert is in prime position for an Oscar nomination for Elle, as only three of the past 16 NYFCC Best Actress winners have missed out on a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, the exceptions being Hope Davis (2003), Sally Hawkins (2008), and Rachel Weisz (2012) — the latter two, like Huppert this year, having appeared in smaller European titles.

With the Gotham Awards and the NYFCC splitting the love between Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight across the rest of their categories (including Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actress)the race ahead could play out similar to 2014’s, when the critics groups fawned over Richard Linklater’s Boyhood early in the season, while the industry guilds later favored Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman.

Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea debuted on the festival circuit as critical darlings earlier this year, and are making a splash at the specialty box office, much like Boyhood did. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, which won the TIFF People’s Choice Award (a key Best Picture precursor), is poised to follow in the footsteps of Birdman, however, as a bigger-budget spectacle centered on characters in the entertainment world — the kind of film that has fared better with Academy voters (The Artist, Argo) in recent years.

Elsewhere, Disney’s Zootopia added to its growing roster of major precursor accolades with a major win from the NYFCC as well. Hot off its dominance at the Annie Awards nominations, where it leads the pack with nods in 11 categories, the $1 billion-grosser earned a Best Animated Film award from the NYFCC. In the past decade, each of the NYFCC’s Best Animated Film winners also received a nomination (sometimes a win) at both the Annie Awards and the Oscars in the corresponding category, save for 2014’s The LEGO Movie, which was snubbed by the academy. In 2011, the NYFCC did not recognize an animated film in a separate category.

Credit: Disney

Critics groups have become an increasingly important fixture in the run-up to the Academy Awards, often pushing late-breaking contenders and smaller, independent, and international works into the race at large.

Chaired by New York magazine’s David Edelstein, the NYFCC has boosted the Oscar profiles of films like Boyhood (Best Film in 2014), David O. Russell’s American Hustle (Best Film in 2013) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (Best Film in 2012) in the past. Though Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Silence screening for the group on Wednesday (to rave reviews from its membership), the film earned zero awards at Thursday’s ceremony.

Check out the full list of NYFCC Awards winners below.

Best Film: La La Land

Best Director: Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor: Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert – Elle and Things to Come

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea and Certain Women

Best Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Best Cinematography: James Laxton – Moonlight

Best Foreign Language Film: Toni Erdmann

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America

Best Animated Film: Zootopia

Best First Film: The Edge of Seventeen and Krisha

Special Awards: Thelma Schoonmaker, Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust 25th anniversary restoration release.