On Monday members of the Chicago Film Critics Association submitted their votes for the year’s best films, and the next day they got a second-round ballot with a narrowed field of five nominees per category, also posted it on the association’s Web site. CFCA initiated a second round of voting last year, but unless I’m mistaken this is the first time the first-round results have been published. The final ballots aren’t due until the day after Christmas, but by Tuesday night publicist Eric Levin of Terry Hines Associates had circulated a press release heralding Paramount’s Babel for having nabbed the most nominations (nine).


Weren’t we supposed to vote in private, then send a puff of white smoke through the chimney? I can only guess that CFCA is doing this to drum up more suspense and publicity, since the awards are not exactly earthshaking news. But it’s embarrassing to see that among our five nominees for best foreign-language film are two by native English speakers (Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto and Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima). 

I’d prefer to keep my ballots face down until the final results are announced, but I want to dispense some praise for my two “most promising” nominees, which the CFCA has already left in the dust: Presley Chweneyagae, who gave an electrifying performance as a South African hood in Tsotsi, and director Cristi Piui, whose 150-minute Romanian feature The Death of Mr. Lazarescu was the year’s great existential comedy.