From ‘West Side Story’ to ‘Squid Game,’ an Analysis of the 2022 Critics Choice Awards Ballot

·12-min read

The members of the Broadcast Film Journalists Assn. (BFJA) and Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. (BTJA), who vote for the annual Critics Choice Awards in their respective media, always deliver at least a few surprises on the year’s ballots when compared to other voting populaces.

The 27th annual Critics Choice Awards are no exception. In television alone, HBO’s drama series “Succession” nabbed the most nominations of all series (eight), which was expected, and the same premium cabler’s limited series “Mare of Easttown” followed closely behind (with five noms). But the usually (and unfortunately) underappreciated “Evil,” which moved from CBS to Paramount Plus this year, also tied for the second-most noms with five. Additionally, the BTJA shined a light on some other deserving but thus far overlooked series and individual talent with nominations for comedy series “The Other Two,” which moved from Comedy Central to HBO Max in its second season, as well as “Saved by the Bell” star Josie Totah, who scored a supporting comedy series actress nom.

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As for the film nominations, “Belfast” and “West Side Story” dominated, while the CCA delivered a few surprises, including Nicolas Cage’s nod for indie “Pig” and Rebecca Hall’s acclaimed “Passing” being completely passed over. The CCA also recognizes young performers and ensemble categories, and feature comedy, allowing voters to spotlight breakthrough performances. Doing double-duty in feature categories, “Flee” has a chance in both animated and foreign-language film categories while “Licorice Pizza” has a shot in best pic and comedy, as does “Don’t Look Up.”

Here, Variety breaks down how nominations shook out for some of the biggest categories at the 2022 Critics Choice Awards.

Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” are the big winners at the CCAs, since they each landed the most nominations. “Belfast” hits awards season with a good omen — it took the Toronto Intl. Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award. That prize has been a good indicator of awards season success, and “Belfast’s” march toward a CCA win looks pretty strong so far. But “West Side Story,” despite its disappointing box office, has earned critical kudos while its Tony Kushner screenplay speaks to the 21st-century audience. The rest of the lineup is also formidable: “Dune,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Don’t Look Up” and “Nightmare Alley” while “Tick, Tick … Boom!” may be a little surprise here. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut is a showcase for Andrew Garfield’s powerhouse perf. Other crowd-pleasers that could gain traction are “CODA” and “King Richard,” while Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” has already established a high profile in its awards campaign, earning wins out of the gate at its Venice festival bow and nominations from myriad critics’ groups.

Like the Golden Globes, the CCA nominates a comedy feature, but doesn’t combine it with musical, in a bid to celebrate films that otherwise aren’t deemed “awards worthy.” Hulu hit “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” gave audiences another side of Jamie Dornan — who may be 2021’s most versatile actor, given his CCA nom for supporting actor for drama “Belfast” — as a spy tripped up by unrequited love in this Kristen Wiig/Annie Mumolo comedy. Adam McKay’s star-studded satire “Don’t Look Up” is gaining momentum and he’s now a veteran of awards season, having been recognized for “The Big Short” and “Vice.” Wes Anderson is another auteur in the mix with “The French Dispatch,” which has faded in the race as the competition has heated up. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” goes into the new year with buzz, as Focus carefully rolls out the film. The surprise in this category is “Free Guy,” Shawn Levy’s comedy-actioner starring Ryan Reynolds as a milquetoast bank teller who discovers he’s actually a character in a video game. Audiences loved the film, so it’s nice to see the 20th Century Studios/Walt Disney pic here.

“King Richard” star Saniyya Sidney plays Venus Williams in the true-story drama. - Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
“King Richard” star Saniyya Sidney plays Venus Williams in the true-story drama. - Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Young Actor/Actress
This category hosts an embarrassment of riches. It’s rare that such a young actor carries a film, but Jude Hill does just that in “Belfast” without being precious in conveying the full range of emotions called for: horror, guilt, confusion, joy, love. Another young actor asked to convey difficult emotions is Saniyya Sidney, Venus Williams in “King Richard. She had to dig into the mindset of a young person willing to sacrifice in order to be the best in this exceptional family drama. Emilia Jones could be Hill’s closest competitor in this category as she also is the lead of “CODA,” and her portrait of a hearing daughter of deaf parents is at turns heartbreaking and joyous and 100% relatable. Cooper Hoffman makes an auspicious debut in “Licorice Pizza.” Fans have emotionally connected with the young actor, who’s the son of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who was also memorable in a few Paul Thomas Anderson films. Woody Norman holds his own playing opposite Joaquin Phoenix in Mike Mills’ finely wrought “C’mon C’mon,” while Rachel Zegler is a singing and dancing revelation in “West Side Story” who’d already won the lead actress award from the National Board of Review.

Acting ensemble
Similar to the SAG Awards, the CCA recognizes ensembles. In the past few years, the org has honored “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” “The Irishman,” “The Favourite,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Moonlight” — interesting choices all, and ones that maybe were a bit left of the mainstream center. This year, “The Harder They Fall” could be a great way to recognize the iconoclastic Western that is bursting with great performances but is not a front-runner. “Belfast’s” stars have all except Judi Dench picked up individual CCA nominations, but here is where voters can reward the whole cast. A win here for “Don’t Look Up” would also recognize cast members that didn’t get individual nods. “Licorice Pizza’s” ensemble cast has been lauded — Bradley Cooper being singled out — and only Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman been recognized with CCA noms. The large singing and dancing cast of “West Side Story” should also garner some love here, a great way to reward the fresh faces that powered the film. The leads from “The Power of the Dog” — save Jesse Plemons — have individual nominations, so a win here could reward the “Power” cast while freeing up votes for actors in other films in the solo categories.

Drama Series
Although there are still a few weeks before the actual awards are handed out, Robert and Michelle King are already big winners, having two of their series nominated in this category: “Evil” and “The Good Fight,” both streaming on Paramount Plus. “Evil” picked up its first nom in this category, although it was previously celebrated in the horror series category at the CCA Super Awards, which were designed specifically to put genre series into bigger spotlights. “The Good Fight,” on the other hand, has received its fourth consecutive nomination in this category. Other return nominees include FX’s “Pose,” now up for its final season after picking up noms for its first two in 2019 and 2020; NBC’s “This Is Us,” which has three prior nominations under its belt; and HBO’s “Succession,” which was not only nominated for its first two seasons, but also won the trophy in 2020. Other first-time nominees joining “Evil” are Apple TV Plus’ “For All Mankind,” Showtime’s freshman “Yellowjackets” and Netflix’s Korean drama “Squid Game.” “Succession” is a proven critical darling that only continued to pick up more buzz as the third season rolled out episodes weekly until the middle of December, so it will be hard to beat. However, if any show can topple it, it should be “Squid Game,” which was an unexpected phenomenon when it launched in September and gives the voters a chance to make history by honoring a non-English language original.

Comedy Series
It should say something about the state of television comedy that only two of the eight nominees are returnees to the ballot: FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” and Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” which is the incumbent in this category. After the COVID-19 pandemic continued on so much longer than most people thought it would, the need to consume light-hearted content became more important. That surely contributed to the wide variety of series represented here, from freshman nominees HBO Max’s “Hacks,” Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and FX on Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs,” to rookie nominees that are in various places in their runs: Hulu’s “The Great,” for its second season; HBO Max’s “The Other Two,” for its second season; and HBO’s “Insecure,” for its fifth and final season. Although it is never wise to count out “Ted Lasso” as a victor, it is rare for this voting body to award repeat winners in the category, which pushes “Only Murders in the Building,” boasting a stellar and also star-studded ensemble that may prove hard to deny, into front-runner status.

After scoring a limited series Emmy nom, Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad” is taking its victory lap this winter awards season. - Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon
After scoring a limited series Emmy nom, Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad” is taking its victory lap this winter awards season. - Credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon

Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon

Limited Series
This category features an even split between titles that are taking their final awards laps with the winter season (HBO Max’s “It’s a Sin,” HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad” and Disney Plus’ “WandaVision”) and shows that launched after Emmy eligibility and are only now beginning their awards races (Hulu’s “Dopesick,” Peacock’s “Dr. Death,” and Netflix’s “Maid” and “Midnight Mass”). In the past, this voting body has taken the opportunity to be one of the first to award a truly standout title, such as last year’s winner “The Queen’s Gambit” from Netflix, but it has also celebrated stories the Emmys undervalued, including “When They See Us,” also from Netflix. That’s why “The Underground Railroad” and “Mare of Easttown” are ones to keep an eye on. (“Mare” picked up many Emmys, including for stars Kate Winslet and Evan Peters, but not the series prize, while “The Underground Railroad” underperformed, even with noms.) However, there is still the question of whether “Maid” is the new “Queen’s Gambit,” which makes this a critical prize for its future in the awards space.

Foreign-Language Series
After a decade and a half of the film arm of the org awarding a foreign-language title a special prize, the influx of local language series on streaming finally allowed that category to be duplicated in television. In a surprise to no one, Netflix dominated this category, picking up five out of the six noms. The lone non-Netflix series to score attention is Apple TV Plus’ “Acapulco,” which is actually a bilingual series, telling its story half in English and half in Spanish. Netflix’s five series come across three languages, with “Call My Agent” and “Lupin” being French stories, “Money Heist” and “Narcos: Mexico” being told in Spanish, and “Squid Game” being from South Korea. “Squid Game” is also nominated and is a front-runner in the drama series category, which boosts its profile in this race, as well. It feels like a shoo-in, but because campaign resources will be put behind quieter titles, it is too early to officially call it.

Animated Series
Only two long-running series and veterans of this race made the cut this year (Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers,” which was previously nominated in 2018 and 2019, and Netflix’s “Big Mouth,” which was previously nominated in 2020), but what makes this race even more interesting is the wide berth of stories, in addition to animation styles, celebrated. Fox’s freshman “The Great North” follows in the footsteps of “Bob’s Burgers” as a family animated comedy aimed more at an adult audience, while Netflix’s “Q-Force” is about chosen family, arguably also aimed at a slightly older audience. Disney Plus’ “What If…?” reimagines big moments from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while that same streamer’s “Bluey” is aimed at the under 10 crowd and previously picked up a youth programming nomination from the Television Critics Assn. Comparing these, therefore, gets complicated, especially because repeat winners are the norm in the category but none of the past winners were still eligible. The two previous nominees should have an edge just for their long-term familiarity to voters, but voters’ willingness not to repeat all past nominees that were eligible does make it appear that they are looking to break old patterns. This could give an edge to the out-of-the-box Disney Plus nominees.

Talk Show
This is another category where repeat winners are common. The incumbent winner, NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” for example, picked up the awards in both 2020 and 2021 and now stands a shot at making history by winning a third consecutive time. (The only other show to win three was “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” but those were not consecutive wins.) It is joined by fellow previous winner “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” from HBO, which picked up the trophy in 2016 and was nominated three other times. Other previous nominees back in the running are Showtime’s “Desus and Mero,” nominated for the past consecutive years; NBC’s “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” also nominated for the past two consecutive years; and Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen,” which was only nominated once before, in 2018. The final nominee is a freshman in the race: Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show.” “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and “The Amber Ruffin Show” are two of the more interesting entrants this year because of their outlier status: The former is a daytime talk show, while the latter entered into sketch series instead of talk series at the Emmys. But what sets them apart may actually hurt them for the win. Voters tend to be traditional in this category, keeping the incumbent winner on the top of the pack for at least one more year.

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