Oscars 2016: National Board of Review Awards

This is one of my five favorite days of the awards season. I love hearing what NBR picks as their choices each year. Those twelve people who regularly read this website already know how gushy I get over NBR, and I’m sure by now it’s, “Yes, Mike, we get it. Shut up with the NBR already.” I hate myself for it. I hate that I call them NBR. I get it. But I still love them.


To me, the National Board of Review is the one organization that is most in tune with my own tastes as a movie watcher. That’s not to say that I agree with every film they put on their list. It just means that, like a good friend, I agree with most of their choices, and based on their consistency of taste, I understand why they choose certain films. Take me for instance. You see me rate a certain kind of movie and you go, “Yeah, I get it. You don’t like horror movies.” And based on knowing that, you can judge how you’d feel about it based on my opinion of it. And that’s what NBR is to me. I know they love Clint Eastwood (so without even looking I know Sully is on their list this year), so I get it. I can’t get mad when I see Sully, because I know that’s what they like.

They have, very consistently over the years, matched with my tastes of favorite films, to the point where, generally about 9 or 10 of their 11 choices end up as my top 20 or 25 favorite films of the year. So you can see why I get so excited when their list comes out.

Some history that I like to put in every time, because I do love this organization so: NBR began in 1909 when the mayor of New York City thought films were morally corrupting his constituency. So a bunch of distributers and theater owners got together to form this group that would endorse the really artistic films and basically tell the public, “Trust us. We’re legit. This is reputable.” So in the early films you’d see on their title cards or somewhere, “Passed by the National Board of Review.” Which is like getting an MPAA rating.

They became the first group to put out a list of their favorite films of the year in 1930 (meaning they’ve been around almost as long as the Oscars have), and they’re still the first group each year to announce their winners. Which I love, because everyone else is pushing their announcements later and later, after all the “Oscar” films have been decided. Typically you see everyone following suit with the obvious anointed choices. But NBR puts their stuff out early, because they like what they like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

And what makes them even cooler is the fact that they’re not just critics. They’re professors and students and filmmakers and film lovers. Regular people who love movies. They’re not voting for their friends’ movies or toeing the studio line. They’re picking what they liked the best (by and large), which makes it one of the purer sets of awards of the Oscar season. Which I love.

To further prove my point, here’s a list of NBR’s winners over the past decade:

  • 2015: Mad Max Fury Road
  • 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

Pretty awesome, right? Aside from the Eastwood on ’06 (told you they love him), which was a very bland kind of year, their winners were all nominated for Best Picture, aside from A Most Violent Year (which I loved, and apparently no one else did), and literally all of them with the exception of Zero Dark Thirty and Letters from Iwo Jima were in my top ten for their respective years. And Zero Dark Thirty was (and probably still is) in my 11-20, as is Iwo Jima. So again, at the lowest, top 25 each year.

Which brings us further out. Because it’s not just their number one choice. It’s all of them. Here is a list of their top ten films of the past five years (which are ten aside from their Best Film):

  • 2015: Bridge of Spies, Creed, The Hateful Eight, Inside Out, The Martian, Room, Sicario, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton
  • 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

To me, that’s an insanely high ratio of movies I really liked. Last year alone had eight movies from my top 20, and 7 in my top 13. 2014 had five top tens. I can look at this list as an entirety and pick out a total of two movies where I go, “Ehh, I wasn’t such a huge fan.” Otherwise they’re all movies I think are ranging from “I liked a lot” to “that was one of the best movies of that year.”

That’s why I love NBR so much.

Okay, have I overhyped them enough yet?

Now let’s get into what they’ve selected for this year, which I have not looked at yet. I did what I always do when I see NBR announced, which is immediately start writing this article and only looking when I get to that part of the article.

So we’re about to find out together.

NBR’s Best Film 2016 is….

Manchester by the Sea

Well shit, man. That’s high praise. I saw it. It’s very good. It’s a hell of an experience. That’s a big way to start the season. It feels to me as something they’d give acting nominations and writing but not Best Picture. But maybe it will get on. That’s what the flexible nominees situation is for.

Anyway, here’s what the rest of their top ten looks like:


Hacksaw Ridge

Hail, Caesar!

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Patriot’s Day



Interesting list.

I’ll cop to not having seen Silence or Patriot’s Day yet. Or Hidden Figures. But I have seen the rest, and I can say with absolute certainty (and without giving anything away) that they are all (all seven of them so far) are going to end up in my top 40. (Top Ten, 11-20 and Tier Two, is how that goes.) At worst we have a few tier two movies on there.

As for everything else — Sully makes sense for them. Moonlight is one of those indie darlings I actually fell for. It’s what Birth of a Nation should have been, in terms of how it came out and was received and publicized. La La Land was always gonna be here. Hell or High Water is amazing, and I’m glad they recognized it. Arrival is one of those movies that people will either love or hate, just because it’s so complex, and I’m surprised at how many people loved it. Not that I didn’t also love it, I’m just surprised there wasn’t a backlash, given that the narrative is so ambitious. Hacksaw Ridge — did not see that coming. Actually pretty happy. Good for Mel. He’s a great director. Also cannot believe they remembered Hail Caesar this late in the game. That’s nice to see.

But yeah, I think these are great choices. And looking at the other three — I’m sure Patriot’s Day will be solid. Doubt it’ll be top ten or 11-20, but I can probably get the same out of it that I got out of Deepwater, which will be okay. Hidden Figures is the only one I can’t tell about. It looks like I might be “meh” on that, but I am hopeful. So I will remain as such until I see it.

They typically avoid animated movies here (which is what made Lego Movie such a surprise in 2014), so I don’t begrudge the lack of those on this list. There are a few movies that I loved that I’m surprised not to see here, but I’ll keep those to myself for now, since we’re hitting that time when I need to start thinking about a top ten list.

Oh, and while we’re still here, NBR gave out more awards. These ones I’m less interested in tracking from year to year, but do like looking at when they hand them out. So let’s do that now.

Best Director went to Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. Not my first choice, but not a bad choice by any stretch. So solid.

Best Actor went to Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. Completely understand that one. It’s too early for me to start thinking about that, but that’s definitely someone likely to be in my top five at worst.

Best Actress went to Amy Adams for Arrival. Okay. Not sure I saw a whole lot there, but sure. Fine. Also currently too early for me to have any opinions on that one.

Best Supporting Actor was Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water. Which is pretty awesome. Love that performance. Too early to say if it’s my favorite, but I did love him in this film.

Best Supporting Actress was Naomie Harris for Moonlight. Which I get. I thought I’d get more out of the performance based on what I knew about it going in, but she was solid. I’m not unopposed to this.

Best Original Screenplay was Manchester by the Sea. Makes sense.

Best Adapted Screenplay was Silence. Which, okay. Didn’t think Scorsese would ever get a writing award, but okay.

Best Animated Feature was Kubo and the Two Strings. Fuck yeah.

Best Ensemble was Hidden Figures. Can’t speak on it, haven’t seen it yet.

Best Foreign Language Film was The Salesman. Asghar Farhadi again. Makes sense.

Best Documentary was O.J. Made in America. Which is hard to argue with. It was really good.

Best Directorial Debut was Trey Edward Shults for Krisha. Sure.

Breakthrough Performance (Male) was Lucas Hedges for Manchester by the Sea. Which, absolutely. Him and Casey Affleck are both incredible in that movie. And in a way, he was the bigger revelation.

Breakthrough Performance (Female) was Royalty Hightower for The Fits. Awesome. She was great there.

The Spotlight Award went to the collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. Which — sure. Whatever.

Top 10 Independent Films

20th Century Women

Captain Fantastic

Creative Control

Eye in the Sky

The Fits

Green Room

Hello, My Name is Doris


Morris from America

Sing Street

I’ve seen all of these but 20th Century Women. Which I will see within the next month.

LOVED Sing Street, Morris from America and Green Room. Really liked Eye in the Sky and The Fits. Liked Captain Fantastic a lot. Hello My Name Is Doris was nice. Creative Control I liked visually but otherwise didn’t much care a whole lot for. But I support its inclusion on this list. And Krisha I was prett indifferent toward but a lot of other people really liked it. Overall, solid stuff.

Top 5 Foreign Language Films


The Handmaiden


Land of Mine


I’ve seen The Handmaiden and Julieta, and I have the other three films and will see them. So for this — sure. I’ll have a better idea at the end of the year.

Top 5 Documentaries

De Palma

The Eagle Huntress


Life, Animated

Miss Sharon Jones!

Seen four of them. De Palma is great. Eagle Huntress is great. Life, Animated is very good, as is Gleason. Really excited to see Miss Sharon Jones. There’s only one other documentary they didn’t mention that I loved, which was Tickled. Otherwise, no issues here at all.

– – – – – – – – – –

So that’s NBR. I’ve been dragging my feet on typing up some of the other shortlists as I forged my way through the last of those Oscar Quest articles, and also because I’ve been so focused on getting to year end stuff that I haven’t put aside time to focus on those. I’m starting to get my focus back, so there might be a barrage of those coming over the next ten days.


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