Battle for the critics: ’12 Years a Slave’ vs. ‘Gravity’

12 Years a Slave” opens today in limited release, but while it probably won’t be a match for “Gravity” in terms of box office performance, so far they’re neck-and-neck in the battle for the critics.

Gravity” has a slight lead on Rotten Tomatoes, with 97% freshness compared to 96% for “12 Years.” Rotten Tomatoes measures critical response with a pass/fail system: any degree of like is denoted with a fresh tomato, and any degree of dislike gets a titular rotten one.

Metacritic may be the more reliable metric when it comes to predicting the critics’ year-end favorites, because it assigns a score of 0-100 to each review based on the degree of admiration, so a high score indicates not only unanimous approval but adoration.

Over there, “12 Years” is very slightly ahead as of this writing, scoring 97 based on the reviews of 31 critics. “Gravity” scored 96, but that was based on 48 reviews, so the numbers for “12 Years” may continue to fluctuate as additional reviews are counted.

But a higher MetaCritic score doesn’t guarantee success at the critics’ awards. In 2006, “Pan’s Labyrinth” scored a near-perfect 98, but only won Best Picture from one critics’ group: the National Society of Film Critics. The Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” didn’t win any Best Picture prizes despite a score of 97. Both films, however, took several Best Foreign Film notices.

But critics usually favor English-language films when handing out their awards – “The Social Network” had a slightly lower score than those films (95) and won everything that wasn’t nailed down – so that’s good news for both “12 Years” and “Gravity.”

In our experts’ Oscar predictions, “12 Years” currently has a decisive lead, with 14 currently picking it to win, compared to five who are betting on “Gravity.”

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