12/04/2011 04:47 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2012

Awards Season 2011: George Clooney, Brad Pitt Take Early Lead

Being smack dab in the middle of the prestige movie season means two things: one, the public gets to see Hollywood's best films of the year; and two, Hollywood gets to start rewarding itself for making said films.

The awards season began in earnest last week, with a number of independent and critics' circles handing out their nominations and hardware. Some of the biggest names in show business were bestowed with honors, stoking the gold derby race and handing prognosticators a bit of a muddled field.

The week began with the Gotham Independent Awards, which only had a few fields and only considered a limited range of films. Still, "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick's sweeping epic, kicked off a productive week with a tie for best picture, earning the honor alongside the lauded family dramedy, "Beginners."

"Tree" continued its great run with big wins at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, with wins for Best Actor for Brad Pitt (for both his role in that film and the more commercial "Moneyball) and Best Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain (who won for "Tree," "The Help" and "The Debt"). Chastain also scored a nomination in the same category at the Independent Spirit Awards, but for her role in "Take Shelter."

That film, a drama starring Michael Shannon, scored a plethora of nominations at the Spirit Awards, which also showered nods on "The Artist," a veritable Best Picture Oscar contender. In fact, it won Best Picture at the NYCCF awards, as well as a Best Director win for Michel Hazanavicius.

The National Board of Review, meanwhile, gave a shot in the arm to a number of films and stars; it awarded "Hugo" with Best Picture and Best Director, for Martin Scorsese, while giving George Clooney a much-needed Oscar shot in the arm with Best Actor and Shailene Woodley, its young breakout star, a big win for Best Supporting Actress.

Meanwhile, British actress Felicity Jones took home two Breakthrough Performer wins, at the Gotham Awards and the NRBs.

What does it all mean? Not much, probably; For Your Consideration campaigns are just getting started, and contenders such as "War Horse" and "Young Adult," for example, have yet to even be released. But it's better to win than not to win, and from the early look of it, we could see a "Descendants"-"Tree of Life"-"The Artist" battle come early next year, with a special place for "Hugo," as well.