Did Jennifer Lawrence And 'American Hustle' Just Steal The Oscar Race?

New York Film Critics Circles honored the David O. Russell film with early awards, besting early frontrunner '12 Years a Slave.'

For those keeping a close eye on the awards circuit in the months leading up to the Academy Awards, the New York Film Critics Circle Awards have become the first signpost for where the statuettes might pile up come Oscar time. On Tuesday, the group announced their winners, and it could mean a shift in the awards conversation.

Still unreleased to the general public, David O. Russell's "American Hustle" came out the big winner, snagging awards for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Lawrence. "Hustle" taking the top prize came as a shock to many who had pegged "12 Years a Slave" as the shoo-in, but the harrowing drama only collected a Best Director honor for Steve McQueen.

The big showing for "American Hustle" flew in the face of the two early favorites for top awards in 2013, "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity." It was the late release date of "American Hustle" that made it such a dark horse, since so few people have actually seen it at this point, but that may change once it hits theaters on December 18. But as awards expert Mark Harris pointed out on Twitter, he heard from a source that the NYCC was nearly split down the middle between "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave."

While the NYFCC hasn't always been an early predictor of who might end up with Academy Awards, it has in recent years gotten the ball rolling on a few contenders and could do the same for "American Hustle." In 2011, the group gave the top prize to "The Artist," which eventually went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Last year, "Zero Dark Thirty" received the honor, but its Oscar chances likely waned after politicians hijacked the conversation around the Bin Laden thriller.

It might be too early to say what fate lies ahead for "American Hustle," but it now seems certain that the crime movie will be a significant player in the conversation. As is Lawrence, who now stands a serious chance at winning back-to-back awards, a rarity in Oscar history. But with a win under her belt in a category that doesn't have a clear favorite, it's not entirely out of the question.

Regardless, a Katniss Vs. Oprah showdown is now looking like a possibility, so that's always a good thing.

"American Hustle" opens in theaters on December 18.