Oscars 2020: National Board of Review Winners

Doesn’t this feel nice? To finally be back in the warm confines of Oscar season? Of course, that is, before they rip out your heart when the wrong film wins and make it so you can never properly feel again. But, I mean, you can still not be able to feel real emotions from under a nice, comfy heated blanket. So it’s all relative.

This is the official kickoff of Oscar season for me. I don’t pay any attention to anything before this day. Granted, this is the first day stuff gets announced, so it works out. NBR day is one of my favorite days of the year. As I say every single year on here: I love NBR. I love their choices, and they are the one group who generally feels most aligned with my own feelings most of the time. And when we disagree, it’s usually because they have their own personal tastes. But you can telegraph it. They love auteurs (or people they consider to be auteurs). That’s their big vice. So whenever Clint Eastwood makes a movie, it’s gonna be on their list. That’s just how it works for them.

They’re also the only group that goes back as far as the Oscars do, which you probably don’t need to hear me say anymore, so I’ll spare you the history lesson. But the one thing I do like to stress — their voting group isn’t necessarily industry people. It’s people from all over whose only real common thread is a love of movies. So it’s critics, academics, all sorts of people. And I love that about them. There’s less of an agenda so much as it’s purely about what they liked the best. They’re not trying to get people to come to their party (looking at you, HFPA).

Typically the NBR list matches pretty closely to my own personal top ten. I’m curious to see how they do their list this year, since if we’re looking at ‘awards’ stuff, things that aren’t on my own top ten will appear on their list. Because Oscar stuff counts through February whereas I just went purely from 2020 films. So it’s almost a pointless exercise to try to do what I normally do and guess what they’re gonna put in their top ten (because there’s a chance I haven’t seen some of it yet). But I will do that in a second, before we remind everyone of how they usually vote.

Here’s the NBR Best Film winners for the past decade:

  • 2019: The Irishman
  • 2018: Green Book
  • 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

One thing you’ll notice is that all but one are Best Picture nominees. And only one actual winner there. And, to my point of my tastes aligning with theirs — Social Network, Hugo, Her, Most Violent Year, Fury Road, Green Book and Irishman were all in my top tens for their years. Manchester and Zero Dark are in my 11-20 and The Post is in tier two. I tend to agree with them.

Now, that’s just winners. Here’s the rest of their top ten lists going back five years:

  • 2019: 1917, Dolemite Is My Name, Ford v. Ferrari, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Richard Jewell, Uncut Gems, Waves
  • 2018: 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
  • 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

Last year alone — six more top ten movies, one in 11-20, Uncut Gems in tier two, Marriage Story in tier three, and while no Richard Jewell, I know they always put Clint on their list. Makes sense to me. That’s always how it is with them. I get why they choose certain movies, even if I didn’t necessarily rate them as highly as they did. Very rarely do they have a choice that feels overtly ‘populist’ (that’s AFI’s job). They will sometimes go populist (like A Quiet Place), but even when they do, you can feel the actual filmmaking behind the choice. So yeah, I love NBR and I’m excited to see what they have for us this year.

I am gonna throw some guesses out there about what I expect this year. I will fully say that I cannot properly guess about the stuff that’s come out since January 1st or is still to come out. So The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Mauritanian, Supernova, United States vs. Billie Holliday, Pieces of a Woman, maybe more that I’m not thinking of — haven’t seen them, can’t guess. Maybe one or two makes it. Don’t know, will just be wrong.

Now, based on what I HAVE seen, I’m just gonna throw out my general expectations based on what I know about NBR:

  • I fully expect Nomadland to be on their list, if not be their #1
  • I fully expect Mank to be on their list (but not expecting a win, even though it would fit)
  • I fully expect Minari to be on their list (and also would not be surprised if it got left off)
  • I expect Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to probably make their list.
  • I would love to see Small Axe on their list, but I don’t know how they’re gonna qualify that series. Maybe they’ll give it its own distinction, maybe they’ll just pick one of them, maybe they’ll leave it off entirely. I still would like to see it on there.
  • I’m curious to see what happens with Soul. Pixar has made their top ten a handful of times (Wall-E, Up, Toy Story 2, Inside Out), but I’m not sure how they’re gonna react to this one. It could go either way. I’d be happy to see it, but I still don’t know.
  • I expect them to leave Never Rarely Sometimes Always off the list, though it would thrill me if it made it.
  • I would be thrilled to see I’m Thinking of Ending Things on their list even though I expect that to be left off as well. They typically haven’t responded well to Kaufman over the years (outside of his first two, which could be seen as more Spike Jonze love than Kaufman love. Since not even Eternal Sunshine made their list).
  • News of the World feels like a 50/50. It’s Greengrass and Hanks, and feels like an easy inclusion for them. But also… Greengrass doesn’t fare well with them. United 93 and Captain Phillips both got left off, and somehow the only film Greengrass did get on was Bourne Ultimatum. I won’t expect to see it, but I also won’t be surprised if it makes it.
  • Trial of the Chicago 7 feels like a slam dunk choice for them in terms of subject matter, though they haven’t gone for Sorkin in most of his stuff (Social Network could be seen as a Fincher choice over a Sorkin choice). I’m gonna err on the side of yes over no.
  • Tenet will be an interesting barometer for them. They might admire the filmmaking or they might toss it aside as a flawed blockbuster. Nolan has done well with NBR, though Interstellar didn’t make it, and that’s arguably as polarizing a film as this is. So I’m curious to see if they put it on. My gut says no, but I also don’t know shit.
  • If they put Hamilton on their list, it’s a total cop out. I assume they won’t, but I’m just throwing it out there in case they do.
  • Bad Education is New York-based, and I always think of them as a New York group. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that sneak on. Logic says likely no, but that also feels like a movie I might sneak on my own personal guess list because it feels like something you might see.
  • I’m assuming no for On the Rocks. Sofia hasn’t made their list since Lost in Translation. Not gonna figure they suddenly go back there.
  • Palm Springs feels like more of an AFI choice to me than an NBR choice. Not gonna say no for sure, but it feels unlikely. The real interesting thing is if it does make it, and people have to take it seriously for the moment for real awards.
  • Sound of Metal is a 50/50. Just don’t know. Gonna think probably yes because it seems to be factoring in well for awards pretty heavily so far, so I’d err on the side of yes over no.
  • Promising Young Woman feels like it’s not for them. They seem like they’ll leave it off but honor Carey Mulligan. That’s more their speed. I’d love to be wrong, but that’s how I view them vis-a-vis this movie.
  • Da 5 Bloods is an interesting one. Spike missed NBR for Do the Right Thing, but then made it on for Jungle Fever and Malcolm X and then not since. Which reeks of ‘hot young auteur we missed out on and now wanna get on the bandwagon for’. But BlacKkKlansman didn’t even make it, and that’s the year they put on Mary Poppins Returns. So I don’t know with them. Maybe they’re back in ‘we fucked up’ mode and will put Spike back on.
  • One Night in Miami feels like one people assume a yes for that feels more like a no. Could be wrong, but that’s my feeling. No gonna remotely be surprised to see it, though.
  • First Cow — man, I hope they don’t. And usually they don’t go for stuff like this, but I don’t know what the hell they’re gonna do.

That’s just what I’m thinking off the top of my head.

So, they’re gonna announce 11 movies (top ten and a ‘winner’). So if I’m guessing which 11 (of the ones I’ve seen. Being the caveat there) they’re most likely to choose, I’d say…

Da 5 Bloods
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
News of the World
One Night in Miami
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
(+1 film that probably came out post-January)

(I also expect some sort of appearance for Small Axe, but more likely in some sort of honorary award and not the list itself.)

Other Possibilities: Tenet, On the Rocks, Palm Springs, Promising Young Woman

Doubtful: Never Rarely Sometimes Always, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, First Cow

There almost has to be at least one 2021 film on there. But we’ll see, I guess.

It’s a lighter year, so barring some real big surprise or lots of 2021 stuff, I feel like it should be kind of easy to telegraph how they’re gonna go. It’s not like there’s a treasure trove of great stuff to choose from like there was in other years. The consensus ‘favorite’ films list is pretty small. Mostly I’m just gonna skew toward films with singular authorial voices and go with that. Otherwise I have no fucking clue what they’re gonna pick.

(And yes, this was all written before I saw what they’d chosen.)

They also hand out Top Ten Independent Films, Top Five Foreign Films and Top Five Documentaries, so there’s a chance one of my picks will end up on the Independent List (First Cow for sure will be on here, as probably will Never Rarely Sometimes Always). I don’t think they let any crossover happen there, from what I can remember.

Anyway, I wrote all this ahead of time, so now I’m gonna leave this alone and pick it back up here for when they announce and then see how terrible I did.

– – – – – – – – – –

Okay, so now it’s time to find out. The NBR winner for Best Film of 2020 is…

Da 5 Bloods

Well, shit. Spike won. Maybe this is ‘we fucked up’. Because Green Book won the year of BlacKkKlansman, and BlacKkKlansman wasn’t even on their list. Can’t say for sure, but it’s nice to see Spike get acclaim again. I wasn’t sure they were even gonna put this on, and it won. So now I’m real interested in the rest of this list.

Here’s the rest of their top ten:

First Cow

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Judas and the Black Messiah

The Midnight Sky


News of the World


Promising Young Woman


Sound of Metal

Huh. No Fincher. First Cow on here and not on the Independent list. No Sorkin.

Soul got on. That’s awesome.

Nomadland of course. News of the World cool. Minari sure. Sound of Metal makes sense.

Forty-Year-Old-Version is an interesting choice for me. Since I’d have expected that for sure on the indie list and not at all on this one.

And Judas and the Black Messiah… of course there’s one movie I haven’t seen yet on there. But that hit AFI too. So now I’m real intrigued to see how good it is.

Promising Young Woman making it on thrills me to no end. Good for them.

Now we get to the most interesting choice of the bunch — Midnight Sky. It’s funny… that feels like an NBR choice, and yet… I just assumed reviews were bad and no one gave a shit and it stood no chance in hell. But here it is. Wondering how people are reacting to that.

Let me go back and look at my list and see how I did:

I guessed 6/11. Which isn’t that terrible. 7/11 if you wanna count me saying that one of the post-2020 films got on, even though I couldn’t be too sure what it was.

I missed Midnight Sky, Promising Young Woman, First Cow and Forty-Year-Old-Version. And only two of them I just didn’t see coming. One I wasn’t sure if it was for them and the other was a 50/50. So honestly, I feel okay about this.

In terms of what didn’t make it — Mank and Chicago 7 not being here intrigues the hell out of me, not that it’s really indicative of anything other than their tastes. They haven’t gone Sorkin almost at all in their history, so I can’t say I’m too surprised. They tend to go for message and filmmaking over pure writing, so I guess that continues to be their thing. No Mank, though. That’s intriguing as hell. I truly don’t know how that film is being perceived because I am beautifully in my bubble and will remain as such until I get precursor data.

That’s 0/2 on One Night in Miami. And honestly, kinda happy. I like Regina King and the movie was a solid debut, but I felt like they were gonna force that into a race when it just wasn’t that good a piece of material to earn a spot there. We’ll see what the Globes and BFCA do (since they should be next up), but honestly, kinda glad it’s not there. Also same for Ma Rainey, which I thought was solid but also just solid and not exemplary.

I guess final thoughts on this — kind of a variant list for them this year. Only three movies in my personal top ten, two more in the 11-20. Two in tier two, one in tier three, one haven’t seen yet and one straight up not on my list.

That’s the worst they’ve done since 2018. But I guess 8 in the top two tiers is par for the course. It’s just less overall top ten movies than I’m used to. And I really only disagree with the one choice that I usually disagree with. And I imagine I’ll like Judas and the Black Messiah just fine. So I guess, like most aspects of 2020, you kind of need time away from it to really get a sense of things.

Anyway. Let’s move onto other awards they gave out…

Top Ten Independent Films

The Climb


Farewell Amor

Miss Juneteenth

The Nest

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

The Outpost


Saint Frances


The Climb was awesome. Miss Juneteenth was very good. Never Rarely I loved, naturally, Wolfwalkers is fantastic and Saint Frances was great. Relic I heard good things about, The Outpost surprises me, but hey, go for it. The Nest I wasn’t a huge fan of. Driveways I heard was good. And I haven’t seen Farewell Amor.

Overall about what I’d expect from them here. First Cow and Forty-Year-Old-Version jumped on the main list, otherwise they’d have been ones I expected to see here.

Top Five Foreign Language Films



Dear Comrades

The Mole Agent

Night of the Kings

I heard Apples as something talked about on the foreign list, so I imagine that’s in play for the Oscar. Collective is a foreign documentary, and that line seems to have blurred in recent years, so that’ll be interesting to see. Dear Comrades I know nothing about, so we’ll see what happens with that going forward. Mole Agent sounds amazing (and is another foreign documentary) and Night of the Kings is starting to pop up places so I’ll keep an eye out for that on other precursors too before the shortlists are announced.

(We have like two weeks left before shortlists, they better fucking announce the eligibles list, especially for Foreign Language and Original Song. Don’t fuck this up, guys. That’s one of the best things I get each season.)

Top Five Documentaries

All In: The Fight for Democracy

Boys State

Dick Johnson is Dead

Miss Americana

The Truffle Hunters

All docs I know about, so that’s not surprising. I haven’t seen almost any docs this year yet so I’ll reserve judgment on all of this.

Best Director: Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods

Previous winners: Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Ridley Scott for The Martian.

Well, it won best film, so that makes sense. Good for Spike. Starting to sound like a lock for an Oscar nomination at this point, given the history of NBR with this one.

Best Actor: Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal

Previous winners: Adam Sandler for Uncut Gems, Viggo Mortensen for Green Book, Tom Hanks for The Post, Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea, Matt Damon for The Martian.

Sweet. He always seemed like a lock from the jump, but that’s a good start, I guess.

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

Previous winners: Renée Zellweger for Judy, Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born, Meryl Streep for The Post, Amy Adams for Arrival, Brie Larson for Room.

YES. Thrilled about this. Kinda hope she wins the Oscar for this (even though that’s a tall order, given the type of film. And plus I have no idea what the category is even gonna look like).

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

Previous winners: Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Sam Elliott for A Star Is Born, Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Sylvester Stallone for Creed.

Oh wow. Indie Spirit Awards and now this. Maybe he’s got a shot? Gonna have to look out for this. The Globes are the first test. If they go there, then that’s a great sign. BFCA… they would do that. Globes though… that’ll be the test for me.

Best Supporting Actress: Youn Yuh-jung, Minari

Previous winners: Kathy Bates for Richard Jewell, Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk, Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Jennifer Jason Leigh for Hateful Eight.

Yeah, that makes sense. But you guys also went with Kathy Bates last year, so… though granted, every single person who won these awards in previous years that I’ve listed (save Sandler) got nominated. So odds are much better, I guess.

Best Original Screenplay: Minari

Previous winners: Uncut Gems, First Reformed, Phantom Thread, Manchester by the Sea, Hateful Eight.

Makes sense. Should be a lock for the Original category.

Best Adapted Screenplay: News of the World

Previous winners: The Irishman, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Disaster Artist, Silence, The Martian.

Okay then. I mean, I’m not unhappy, I just wouldn’t have expected that.

Breakthrough Performance: Sidney Flanigan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Yeah, she’s terrific. Great choice.

Best Directorial Debut: Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth

Good for them, good for him.

Best Animated Feature: Soul

I mean, obviously.

Though Wolfwalkers on the indie list and no animated list… I guess the year in animation was pretty bad. So actually, I get it. I’m not sure I could currently give you five animated films I’d like enough for a category (and trust me, I’m starting to come around to looking at having to do that for some point soon).

Best Foreign Language Film: La Llorona

Hmm. Interesting. I’ve seen this pop up, but apparently it’s horror? I know so little about it, so there’s not a whole lot I can really say here except, good for them.

Best Documentary: Time

I’ve seen this on a lot of lists. Fully expecting a shortlist for Doc Feature and me watching it off that.

Best Ensemble: Da 5 Bloods

I mean, clearly.

NBR Icon Award: Chadwick Boseman


NBR Freedom of Expression Award: One Night in Miami

There it is.

Though the disrespect for Steve McQueen is awe-inspiring.

Not to take away from Regina, but come on, everyone. Did you NOT watch Small Axe?

NBR Spotlight Award: Radha Blank for writing, directing, producing and starring in THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VERSION

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Nomadland

Wait, did they give out one of these before? This feels new.

Not that I wouldn’t expect that to get nominated. Just… why this, why now? But sure.

Anyway, that’s NBR, guys. I’ll see you all in eight days for Golden Globe nominations.

– – – – – – – – – – –


One response

  1. Goldwater

    “The Bucket List” made NBR’s list back in ’07. That’s weird, right?

    January 28, 2021 at 5:34 pm

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