Oscars 2015: National Board of Review

Those who have read the spew of nonsense I’ve been writing for the past five years know this is perhaps my favorite article of the year to write. (Top five, for sure.) I love the National Board of Review.

Everybody else puts stock into the Globes, or SAG, or BAFTA — forget that. NBR is where it’s at. The National Board of Review is the one organization I feel the greatest kinship with in terms of mutual film tastes. When they release their lists, I find myself agreeing with almost all of it. They usually have 5 of their top 10 the same as mine, and almost all of their films feature into my top 20 or 25 films of the year. No one else has that kind of ratio with me.

The National Board of Review began in 1909. The mayor of New York City thought that films were bad for the public’s morals. (A popular argument in the first quarter-century of the motion picture industry.) A bunch of theater owners and distributors banded together to create this board that would endorse really artistic films, and, in a way, act as the MPAA before the MPAA. Until the 50s, you’d see a seal before a lot of pictures that said “Passed by the National Board of Review.”

In 1930, they were the first group that put out a list of their favorite films of the year — and remain the first group to announce their winners, which is another reason I love them. Most people want to announce later and later to figure into the Oscar season. NBR puts their stuff out the same time, every December, and doesn’t care. They like what they like. It’s wonderful.

The important thing, though, is that they’ve essentially been around as long as the Oscars. And they’re not a group that consists of the same type of people. They’re not all critics. They academics, film lovers, filmmakers, students — they’re people. They don’t have an industry agenda (necessarily), they just love movies and pick their favorites. It feels like the most pure of all the groups that announce.

Aside from that sense of purity and the strong overlap in taste, the other reason I really like them is that I can understand their decision-making. I see trends of theirs that are consistent throughout the years. Just like any person. You look at my list of favorites, and you know certain films (westerns, for example) will skew higher. With NBR, I know they’re going to put a Clint Eastwood film in their top ten. It’s what they do. And when that’s the case, even if I don’t agree that J. Edgar was a top ten film of that year, I can go, “Well, I know you like that sort of stuff, so I get it.” There’s a familiarity there, so I’m more in the mindset of wanting to break their balls about it instead of getting antagonistic. Like, “Oh Mike, you and your fucking… whatever… again.”

Here’s a list of NBR’s choices for Best Film for the past 10 years:

  • 2014: A Most Violent Year
  • 2013: Her
  • 2012: Zero Dark Thirty
  • 2011: Hugo
  • 2010: The Social Network
  • 2009: Up in the Air
  • 2008: Slumdog Millionaire
  • 2007: No Country for Old Men
  • 2006: Letters from Iwo Jima
  • 2005: Good Night, and Good Luck

I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s 8 top ten entries and 2 11-20s.

Here’s the top ten films of the past five years:

  • 2014: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, Fury, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Unbroken
  • 2013: 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor, Nebraska, Prisoners, Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street
  • 2012: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Lincoln, Looper, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Promised Land, Silver Linings Playbook
  • 2011: The Artist, The Descendants, Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, The Tree of Life, War Horse
  • 2010: Another Year, The Fighter, Hereafter, Inception, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

How does that compare to your tastes? It compares pretty favorably to mine. Usually there’s one movie per year that makes me go, “What?” And another where I go, “Okay, I guess, but I wouldn’t have it that high.” Otherwise, I’m totally on board with everything. It’s great.

I like to give everybody that primer each year to show you that this is a group you should be paying attention to if you are not already.

I will also say that when I found out they were due to announce, my immediate instinct was, “They’re gonna go with Spotlight.” That seemed like such a foregone conclusion. So imagine my surprise when I check the press release this morning to see….

Best Film: Mad Max: Fury Road

What? They went with Mad Max? That’s both bizarre and awesome. I’m not here to proclaim what that means for Mad Max’s Oscar chances. It’s December 1st. That’s a fool’s errand. I am here to say, that’s a fucking fantastic choice, because I think we can all say we all loved that movie.

And as for their top ten list:

Top Ten Films

Bridge of Spies

Creed

The Hateful Eight

Inside Out

The Martian

Room

Sicario

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

I think that’s a pretty badass list.

Straight Outta Compton? Liked it, love that it made money. Wouldn’t put it anywhere near my top ten. Looks cool though, so I’m alright with it. Creed? Okay. Maybe a little bit high, but at the moment it’s in my top 20. But that could change a bunch in a month. The rest are all top 11 movies for me at the moment. (Of course, Hateful Eight TBD, but let’s face it — where do we think that’s gonna end up?)

Oh, and by the way, they don’t just pick their top ten (well… eleven) movies of the year. They also pick other lists and winners too (which is what separates them from AFI).

Top Ten Independent Films

’71

45 Years

Cop Car

Ex Machina

Grandma

It Follows

James White

Mississippi Grind

Welcome to Me

While We’re Young

Six of the movies on this list are awesome. Five of those six I thought were really awesome. The other was just really good awesome. While We’re Young — ehh, I guess you like Noah Baumbach. Welcome to Me is bizarre and interesting. So I’m okay with that. I’ve yet to see 45 Years, but I hear great things. And James White is another one that I might have to see based solely on the word of mouth for it.

Top Five Foreign Language Films

Goodnight Mommy

Mediterranea

Phoenix

The Second Mother

Tribe

Goodnight Mommy is nice and fucked up. The Second Mother is great. Mediterranea I know about because of the Independent Spirit Awards, otherwise I’ve never heard of it. Tribe I have no idea about. And Phoenix I actually heard was great a few months ago and just remembered that I did. Seems like a pretty solid list.

Top Five Documentaries

Best of Enemies

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

The Diplomat

Listen to Me Marlon

The Look of Silence

Oh, I guess I should mention that they also pick winners in these other categories (Documentary and Foreign Language Film), which I’ll go over in a second. Here, specifically, I got nothing. I don’t watch enough of these to care.

Now that the lists are done, here are the other winners they announced:

Best Director: Ridley Scott, The Martian

Best Actor: Matt Damon, The Martian

Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room

Best Supporting Actor: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Original Screenplay: The Hateful Eight

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Martian

Best Animated Feature: Inside Out

Best Foreign Language Film: Son of Saul

 Best Documentary: Amy

Best Ensemble: The Big Short

Breakthrough Performance: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation & Jacob Tremblay, Room

Best Directorial Debut: Jonas Carpignano, Mediterranea

William K. Everson Film History Award: Cecile De Mille Presley

Spotlight Award: Sicario, for Outstanding Collaborative Vision

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Beasts of No Nation & Mustang

Some notes for all of that:

— They went hard for The Martian, huh? Best Director and Best Actor? Okay.

— Keep in mind that none of this means very much for what will happen at the Oscars. They haven’t had a Best Director winner match the actual winner since 2006. We’re talking 5 times in the past 25 years did they match (and one of those times, they gave Soderbergh the award for two films, so they technically were right and wrong that year). Sure, Ridley might get nominated, but don’t pretend like this means anything. This is just a nice set of winners to look at now.

— Oh, and I guess while we’re at it: Best Actor they usually do a solid job with it. Keaton and Oscar Isaac tied last year. Bruce Dern, Bradley Cooper, Clooney, Eisenberg. They’re solid. Again, though, haven’t picked the same winner since 2006. Cool that Damon won this. Can’t see him getting anywhere past a nomination this year (if he even gets that). But I don’t even want to get into that now. I think it’s cool they picked him (though slightly strange).

— Best Actress for them is a real “nailed it” or a giant swing and a miss. They had Julianne Moore last year. Before that they had Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks. Chastain before that. Tilda Swinton. Lesley Manville for Another Year. Carey Mulligan and Anne Hathaway before that. Those were solid picks. They had last year right, and before that 2006 was the last time they matched up. Stoked about the Brie Larson love. Right now, she might be my favorite female lead performance of the year (though I’ve given no thought to it at all).

— Supporting Actor, they’ve had some winners. Since 2000, every single one of their winners has been nominated for the Oscar (4 winners) save one: Will Forte for Nebraska in 2013. Other than that, all nominated. Going back to 1990, only one other one has not been nominated: Philip Seymour Hoffman in 1999 (Magnolia and Talented Mr. Ripley). Every other winner has been nominated (they also had Anthony Hopkins Supporting for Silence of the Lambs, full disclosure). They have a very high ratio of picking nominees here, which is really surprising. Stallone might pull this one off. This could be his Color of Money. Not saying he’s gonna win, but this could get him his second (and likely final) acting nomination, which would be a nice bookend for him, both nominations with the same character, almost 40 years apart. And after seeing the movie, I think there’s a legitimate chance that could happen. It could just as easily not happen, but this is an interesting turn of events.

— Supporting Actress, also solid. Not as many nominees, but they do have a good track record of badass performances. Last year they went Chastain for A Most Violent Year (snub and a half, I feel), before that Octavia Spencer for Fruitvale, Ann Dowd for Compliance, Shailene Woodley for Descendants, Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. They typically either go for the great performance that everyone loves that gets snubbed or the dark horse that sneaks on that no one knows about but is awesome. Jennifer Jason Leigh could go either way there. And with her getting acclaim for the Anomalisa performance, I’m curious to see where she ends up. Of course, we’ve got 3 weeks til the movie comes out, so no need to think about that for a while.

— Best Ensemble surprised me a bit this year. I thought for sure Spotlight won that. But they do tend to go offbeat here. Fury won last year. Prisoners. Les Mis. The Help. The Town. It’s a fair set of choices. (Then again, It’s Complicated won in 2009.) Curious to see if The Big Short won because of the actors involved or because the acting is actually really good.

— Also, how did Spotlight not win the Spotlight award?

— Adapted Screenplay is one of those where you completely get it. The Martian had a great script, and will likely be nominated. Looking at all their winners since they started giving it out: Inherent Vice (nominated), Wolf of Wall Street (same), Silver Linings (same), The Descendants (actually won), Social Network (won), Up in the Air (nominated), Slumdog (won) & Benjamin Button (nominated), No Country (won), The Painted Veil, Syriana, Sideways (won), Cold Mountain. They have a good run here. They usually pick a good choice (that happens to be nominated most of the time).

— Original Screenplay actually seems to go to something that doesn’t get nominated. Strangely. They hit 6/8 from 2003-2009 (In America, Eternal Sunshine, Squid and the Whale, Juno — which won, Lars and the Real Girl and A Serious Man; missing Gran Torino and Stranger Than Fiction, which weren’t nominated), and then have missed entirely from 2010 until now. Buried wasn’t nominated. 50/50 felt like the 6th choice that year. Inside Llewyn Davis was left off entirely. The Lago Movie had no shot. And now Hateful Eight. I feel like Quentin’s gonna snap that streak. But you never know. Too early to look at these things. Still, though, cool choices.

— Foreign Language Film is where they pick cool stuff. Wild Tales, The Past, Amour, A Separation, A Prophet, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Volver, The SEa Inside. Usually their choices are awesome or are nominated and win. This one seems like both. I haven’t watched Son of Saul yet. Definitely this week at some point, though. I’ll know better then. It seems like a runaway winner at this point.

— Animated Film doesn’t really matter so much. They started their category the year before the Oscars did (Chicken Run, FYI). Since 2001, they nailed every winner except two (Corpse Bride and Cars; Wallace and Gromit and Happy Feet won) through the first decade (meaning through Toy Story 3). And in the previous four years, they are 1-3. Rango won for them, but they’ve missed the last three years straight. Wreck-It Ralph (somehow) lost to Brave, The Wind Rises (I get why they voted for it) lost to Frozen and How to Train Your Dragon 2 lost to Big Hero 6. Seems like the loss streak is gonna snap this year.

— Documentary… ehh, they don’t really have much of a track record. They hit a bunch in the 2000s, seven out of eight years, but have only hit once since 2010 (Sugar Man). Only one of their winners has even been nominated outside of the winner. Life Itself was last year. This year, Amy just got shortlisted, but there’s no guarantee it gets on or even wins. We’ll see. It was good though.

– – – – – – – – – –

Anyway, that’s NBR for this year. Hopefully you’ll see why I love them so much.

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One response

  1. I love the NBR too. And Max being my favorite film of the year to date (by far), I’m incredibly stoked by their choice.

    Oh, and I highly recommend The Tribe. It’s not exactly a great film, but given what it tries to do and how well it does that, it’s very much worth your while.

    December 2, 2015 at 8:40 am

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