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Oscars 2018: National Board of Review Awards

Anyone who truly reads my Oscar coverage each year (which is in the tens) knows how much I love the National Board of Review. It’s my favorite voting body. They’re the only precursor group whose nominations/awards I actually look forward to. Everything else is marginal to me. The reason I love them is twofold. First, it’s the only group with as much history as the Oscars. And second, it’s the group that tends to be closer to my own personal tastes than any other one.

To get more specific about that first point — NBR started in 1909, when a bunch of theater owners banded together to show that films, which were looked at as a “lower” art form, and pretty immoral based on their content, to say, “No, look, these films are artistic.” So they would put their stamp on approval on the films they thought furthered the art form and showed what cinema could be. And in 1930, two years into the Oscars, they started putting out a list of their ten favorite movies each year. Which they’ve continued to this day. And unlike all the other precursor groups, they’re not just industry people (SAG and the other guilds) and they’re not just critics (HFPA, BFCA). They’re made up of critics and students and film lovers and people who just love movies. They are as locked into their tastes as anyone — I can always count on them to have certain types of films on their list each year — but very rarely do I look at their list and straight up disagree with more than one, maybe two of their choices.

Which brings me to that second part — I find that almost every year, their top ten films are almost all in my top 25 films of the year. Maybe like one of them falls outside of that. And when there is something outside, it’s never something I straight up disagree with. It’s always, “Yeah, I get it.” I always compare them to that good friend you have who also loves movies… sure there are gonna be things they like that you don’t, but you’re always like, “Yeah, I get it. You love those kinds of movies.” That’s how I feel about them. We may not be entirely aligned, but we generally agree and I know that, sight unseen, I already am like 70% in line with them.

Also, them posting their top films is basically the starting gun to Oscar season. They’re always the first ones to put out their lists, and it’s basically the first real “win” for people trying to get nominations. So there’s that too. They generally don’t affect much else — The Post won all their awards last year — but spiritually it’s a big deal.

What I like to do is go back over the past decade of NBR winners, just so we can get an idea of what they have done in the past.

Now, this is just their top film. They put out their top film and then a list of ten more. At the moment, we’re just looking at their Best Film winners for the past ten years. Here they are:

  • 2017: The Post
  • 2016: Manchester by the Sea
  • 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

All of those are Best Picture nominations outside of A Most Violent Year, which should have been one. So there’s that. Also, seven of the ten were in my top ten for their respective years. And the remaining three were (or are… at least before those last Top Ten lists get posted, wherein anything could change) in my 11-20. Though looking at them, I’d say we’re 9/10 top 20, and then one in top 25. But still. Always pretty much right in line with me.

And now, here are their top ten lists for the past five years:

  • 2017: Baby Driver, Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Downsizing, Dunkirk, The Florida Project, Get Out, Lady Bird, Logan, Phantom Thread
  • 2016: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Hail Caesar!, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, La La Land, Moonlight, Patriots Day, Silence, Sully
  • 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

The trend with them is always, one movie where I’m like, “Really? That one?” and one where I’m like, “I get it, but I didn’t like it as much as everyone else did.” Last year, Downsizing was the “Really?” one, and Get Out was the one I didn’t like as much as everyone else but understood why it was on there. 2016, Patriots Day and Sully were those two, respectively. 2015, pretty much just Straight Outta Compton fit both criteria. 2014 was The Lego Movie and somewhat American Sniper. (Though Unbroken looks more questionable as time goes on.) 2013, I didn’t like Fruitvale as much, but I did really respect and/or like the rest.

The point is, generally all really solid. The most you get me disagreeing on are like, two. And everything is generally in my top 40 for the year. So I really like them as a guild, and you should too.

Any who, that’s all precursor to what they picked this year.

Their winner for Best Film this year was (and by the way, I honestly don’t know what won until I’m typing this. I kept it a surprise for myself so I can give my unvarnished opinion):

Green Book

Wow.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t prepared for Green Book when I sat down to see it. Earlier this year I saw that Peter Farrelly was making this movie and it looked like a serious, Oscar bait kinda movie, and my reaction was, “Oh, so this is gonna be like Mr. Church, that Eddie Murphy movie no one saw that didn’t work.” But then by 20 minutes into the film, I was really surprised. And by the end, I loved it. I’m slightly surprised it won, but I totally get why it would be on their list. But wow. That’s… I wonder if that’s a sign of things to come. Probably not, given their history. They haven’t had a winner in ten years. But wow.

And their remaining ten top films are:

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Black Panther

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Eighth Grade

First Reformed

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary Poppins Returns

A Quiet Place

Roma

A Star Is Born

That’s… interesting. Why do I feel like they opened up their voting body? What a weird, weird list. It doesn’t feel like them at all.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve seen 7 of these films. Can You Ever Forgive Me? I just need to sit down and watch, and I will by the end of the week. Roma I’ll see in two weeks once it’s out, and Mary Poppins I’ll see by Christmas. The rest I’ve seen. And with that — Black Panther… really? Are we still on that? And A Quiet Place feels more like an AFI choice than an NBR choice. First Reformed, all year, was a film I didn’t like as much as everyone else did. That would have normally been the one where I was like, “Get it, but not for me.” But here, there are two complete head scratchers for me. I really don’t get those.

Eighth Grade is an interesting inclusion. Especially around everything else. Had they not done those other ones, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But here… feels slightly out of place. Beale Street makes total sense. Jenkins is now part of that “auteur” list they like to put on. Like the Coens. That’s why they’re here. If Hail Caesar made it, Scruggs was almost a shoo-in.

I can’t say I’m disappointed here, because at this point, I’m still kinda holding out hope that there are gonna be a bunch more good films to make me not feel like this was a really weak year. At the moment I feel like I’d struggle to put out a top ten list. So I’m not sure I have too many alternatives to what’s on here. Or, if I did, they’d be stuff I know is divisive and wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

Slightly surprised to not see Widows here. That felt like something they’d put on. What other big stuff can I think of offhand… First Man, Front Runner, Old Man and the Gun, The Favourite, At Eternity’s Gate… you know what, though? I get it.

Of the stuff that’s not out yet, what else could have made it? Vice… was hoping to see that, but maybe they didn’t screen it in time. The Mule is nowhere to be found, but I feel like that’s being kept from everyone. Because they love Eastwood here. They’ll always include him if they can. Mary Queen of Scots is missing too. But that feels like more an acting choice than anything. That would be slightly out of place for them. On the Basis of Sex? Ehh. That doesn’t necessarily feel like them either. There’s not much else left. So I guess they were backed into the, “We didn’t love anything, so here’s all the popular shit everyone else loved.” That’s my only read of it.

2018’s a weird year, guys.

Here are their top ten Independent Films:

The Death of Stalin
Lean on Pete
Leave No Trace
Mid90s
The Old Man & the Gun
The Rider
Searching
Sorry to Bother You
We the Animals
You Were Never Really Here

Liked all of these. Wasn’t as crazy for The Rider as others were, but everything else I either liked a lot or loved. So that’s good. And there’s at least one of the films I was expecting to maybe see on their main list.

Most of these are things people have heard of, but We the Animals was really solid, in terms of movies you may not have heard about.

And now, for the individual awards:

Best Director: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Really? Okay, then.

Best Actor: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Makes sense. You give it the big one, it’s gonna win an acting award too. He was really solid, though.

Best Actress: Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Well all right, then. Suddenly that Director award doesn’t look so bad. I wonder if that’s more about the overall nature of the role than anything else.

Best Supporting Actor: Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born

Finally, something I can get behind. He was fantastic.

Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Yeah, the trendy choice. Not sure I saw enough there to give her a win. But sure. Good actress, really solid in the film.

Best Original Screenplay: First Reformed

K.

Best Adapted Screenplay: If Beale Street Could Talk

Cool.

Best Animated Feature: Incredibles 2

Disagree. But also this year is so weak I don’t really have an alterna… oh, yes I do. Isle of Dogs was better than this.

Still need to see Ralph, which really seems to be the only thing that could change my mind. I guess technically Mirai could too, but that would surprise even me, if I liked it better than at least two of the films I already mentioned.

Breakthrough Performance: Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

She was fantastic.

Best Directorial Debut: Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade

It was a very sure-handed debut.

Best Foreign Language Film: Cold War

Sure. Looked fantastic. Not sure I cared about the plot, though.

Best Documentary: RBG

Makes sense. She’s from Brooklyn.

Best Ensemble: Crazy Rich Asians

Sure.

William K. Everson Film History Award: The Other Side of the Wind and They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

Cool. Glad they shouted those out.

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: 22 July

… not sure that was a good idea. Since I felt that movie gave the shooter a chance to express his views more than it should have. But whatever.

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: On Her Shoulders

And now the top Foreign Films:

Burning
Custody
The Guilty
Happy as Lazzaro
Shoplifters

I’ve seen exactly zero of these. Have Burning, haven’t watched it. The others I’m guessing I’ll maybe see depending on how the category voting goes.

And their top Documentaries:

Crime + Punishment
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Haven’t seen Crime + Punishment or Minding the Gap. Liked the other three a lot. So sure.

– – – – –

Not sure I have much to say here. I haven’t really liked this year. I’ve liked a lot of stuff from this year, but I haven’t really loved anything. I feel like most years I have that movie that I’m just excited to talk about that makes me actively gush over it. Here, I just kind of like stuff. And I feel like these choices reflect that. It all just kinda feels fine, with some choices making me go, “Is this where we’re at? Populist opinions?” But I don’t know. I feel out of the loop this year because of outside factors. Maybe it’s me. But I can say this — I’ve seen over 400 movies already this year, and there’s a chance only half their main list makes my top 40 come year’s end. Well, I guess there are 11 movies. So like 6. The over/under is 6. Though I guess if I end up getting four top ten movies out of that, it’s kinda worth it. I’m generally running around 5 per year on them, give or take, in the top ten. This year may test that. We’ll see how the last month runs out.

Either way, Oscar season’s just around the corner.

– – – – – – – – – –

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