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Memo to critics: Thou shalt not groupthink

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"One Film Is Making History," trumpets an advertisement for the movie "Sideways." The basis for the claim is the fact that "Sideways" has been named best picture of the year by more reviewer groups than you probably knew existed - from the New York Film Critics Circle, of which I'm a member, to the Southeastern Film Critics, the Toronto Film Critics, and similar outfits from Boston to San Francisco.

Looking at the best-of-year choices compiled by individual critics, "Sideways" also rides high. It's listed as No. 1 by reviewers for publications as different as Entertainment Weekly, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and New York magazine.

Other movies such as "Million Dollar Baby" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" also pop up on list after list.

Such sameness doesn't happen every year. The most honored 2002 movie was "Far From Heaven" with nine awards, and in 2001 it was "Mulholland Drive" with 11. Last year it was "The Return of the King," though, with a whopping 22 wins - the same number "Sideways" has gotten so far. Uniformity could be a growing trend.

I'm not complaining about critical kudos for the 2004 movies I've mentioned. "Sideways" was on my own 10-best list, with "Million Dollar Baby" and "Eternal Sunshine" right beside it. I am complaining about something else - namely, the near-unanimity of opinion that surges through the great majority of 10-best rosters and awards.

In elevator conversations after press screenings, my colleagues and I often find ourselves on very different wavelengths. Sometimes a dozen of us have a dozen different points of view on the movie we've just watched.

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