Oscars 2021: National Board of Review Winners

Oh it’s that time again.

Anyone who’s read this site for all these years knows the two things I’m gonna say right now. That this is the unofficial beginning of Oscar season and that NBR is my favorite group to hand out awards. It’s been my refrain for over a decade. You know I love this day.

The short version, if you’re just joining us — NBR is the only group to hand out year-end awards that’s been around as long as the Oscars have. And rather than just having voters from one section of the film landscape (critics, actors, directors, writers, executives, etc), they get people from all over, including academics. Which I like. Plus, I always feel their tastes most consistently match my own among all the groups out there that announce awards before the Oscars. And when they pick stuff I don’t necessarily agree with, I understand it because they’ve at least shown a consistency of opinion in choosing that sort of stuff over the years.

Most years I do a whole prelude and spend the day before trying to guess what they’re gonna pick as their favorites, but obviously this year being what it is and things being how they are, I’m not doing that. I’m still catching up on all the movies from this year (for reference, I went through all the months of the year in order (outside of the handful of stuff I’ve seen in theaters, which wasn’t even until October anyway), and as of Labor Day I had only just barely started April and by October 1st I was only into June. As of today, I’m about to start October and plan to be all caught up with everything by Christmas), so my aphorism about not paying attention to Oscars before at least NBR is more true than ever. Most years I’m aware that there is chatter and am sort of ‘fingers in my ears’, ‘la la la la’-ing myself to ignore it because it’s meaningless. This year, they could have already announced what’s gonna win Best Picture and I’d have absolutely no idea. And to be honest? Kinda wonderful that way. It’s lead to a much purer viewing experience of everything so far and is really putting me in the position I long to be in, utterly clueless and guessing Oscar stuff in a vacuum.

Anyway, just to continue with tradition and start building the foundation for what will eventually become Oscar nomination guesses, let’s look at the correlation between NBR and the Oscars over the past handful of years.

Here are all the NBR Best Film winners over the past decade:

  • 2020: Da 5 Bloods
  • 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

Only two of those didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. Which obviously is something to note for whatever wins.

Also, here are the rest of their top ten lists going back to 2015:

  • 2020: First Cow, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Midnight Sky, Minari, News of the World, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Soul, Sound of Metal
  • 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

Generally all solid films. You can quibble about a few here or there, but by and large, they’re good lists and don’t feel polluted the way other groups’ lists do. And, as you can see, they love auteurs. They live singular directors with visions and, to a lesser extent, love really established people (Eastwood, Hanks). It’s rare for them to have something you out and out disagree with. With them it’s more of a ‘I wouldn’t put it in my top ten, but I get it’ sort of thing. And that’s why I like them. Also an average of about 4-5 Best Picture nominees per year on there as well.

Anyway, let’s see what they have for us this year:

Best Film: Licorice Pizza

Oh hell yeah. I went and saw that in 70mm a few days ago and it was incredible. I’m fully on board with this as a choice. And it being Paul Thomas Anderson, I have to imagine it was always gonna firmly be in play for Oscars anyway. But this is a nice boost, especially since it’s more of a comedy than the kind of drama the Oscars love.

And the rest of their top ten:


Don’t Look Up


King Richard

The Last Duel

Nightmare Alley

Red Rocket

The Tragedy of Macbeth

West Side Story

Well damn. Hard to argue with that. I’ve seen Belfast and loved it. Also really liked The Last Duel a lot. Dune I also quite liked, though I’m slightly surprised they chose it. They love Denis. Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival all made their list, but they left Blade Runner off and I assumed because it was a big ‘franchise’ kinda movie. This is even more so than that. I guess their love of Denis outweighed that this time. That’s cool. But, from what I’ve seen, I love their choices. Pretty thrilled for West Side Story and Red Rocket next week, Nightmare Alley after that, and I think Don’t Look Up comes out just before Christmas and Macbeth is Christmas Day. King Richard I just need to get to November on and I’ll see. Which should hopefully be in the next ten days. Really nice list though, and mostly I just hope that Last Duel isn’t ignored the way it seems to have been so far.

I also just noticed that they only picked ten films total this year. I feel like they’ve done ten plus a #1 for the past decade. This makes more sense logically, to have a top ten and then pick one as your #1. But looking back, I think this just means that they had a consensus on these as the top ten. Because most of the past decade had 11, but some years did have just the ten. So I guess there were ties and stuff. Either way, good list.

Top Ten Independent Films

The Card Counter

C’mon C’mon


The Green Knight



Old Henry


Shiva Baby

The Souvenir Part II

I’ve seen six of these and think they’re great choices. CODA was amazing. The Card Counter was quite good. Green Knight was solid. Holler I liked as a low budget character piece. Pig was awesome. And I liked Shiva Baby a lot. C’mon C’mon I’ll probably see within the week, Jockey comes out end of the month, The Souvenir I’ll see whenever I can, and Old Henry I heard about but just assumed it was a throwaway VOD movie. If NBR likes it this much, I’ll check it out.

Top Five Foreign Language Films



Lingui, The Sacred Bonds


The Worst Person in the World

A Hero also won for Best Foreign Language Film, which makes sense. It’s Asghar Farhadi. Otherwise, I’ll see at least five of these. Benedetta I’ve got coming up, along with Lamb and Titane, and I really wanna see The Worst Person in the World and A Hero. Lingui I haven’t heard of, but it’s not unlike me to be clueless about most foreign stuff until we get to this part of the year. At some point over the month I’ll start looking at the International Feature eligibles and start to learn which ones seem like favorites and which ones I’m interested in seeing.

Top Five Documentaries




The Rescue

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

I saw Roadrunner and the only reason I’ve heard of Flee is because I randomly caught a trailer in front of something else I went to see. Otherwise I’ve got no clue what the rest of these are. So, good for them. I see The Rescue is by the Free Solo team, so that makes some sense. And Roadrunner is Morgan Neville. But also Bourdain is a New York guy and NBR tends to skew New York.

And now the individual awards:

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, Licorice Pizza

Best Actor: Will Smith, King Richard

Best Actress: Rachel Zegler, West Side Story

Best Supporting Actor: Ciaran Hinds, Belfast

Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis, King Richard

Best Original Screenplay: A Hero

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Tragedy of Macbeth

Breakthrough Performance: Alana Haim & Cooper Hoffman, Licorice Pizza

Best Directorial Debut: Michael Sarnoski, Pig

Best Animated Feature: Encanto

Best Documentary: Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Best Ensemble: The Harder They Fall

Best Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel, The Tragedy of Macbeth

This all seems pretty cool to me. LOVED the Ciaran Hinds perforamnce. I thought Pig was really well-directed. Loved Summer of Soul. The rest I’m excited to see. The only real thing of note to me here is A Hero in Screenplay. Curious to see if that starts carrying over elsewhere or not.

Otherwise, this was a really exciting NBR list. It’s making me pretty stoked to see all the ones on here I haven’t until now.

Next major Oscar happening is Monday after next is Golden Globe nominations. Could have sworn six months ago they said they weren’t even having a ceremony this year and now all of a sudden they are. When I picture how that all went down, it’s basically a comedy sketch: “We won’t have a ceremony until we can fix all the problems inherent in our system.” “This is how much money we’re gonna lose if we don’t do it.” “We’re cured!” I’m sure they did more than that, but to go from ‘we need wholesale changes’ to ‘we’ve done the work’ a few months later… that has ‘your piece of shit ex has come crawling back, saying they’ve changed’ vibes. I’m just saying. You didn’t have to make the big fuss about cancelling your ceremony. You could have just done the work. This way it just looks like they did what they thought people wanted to hear to get off their backs and then waited until the coast was clear to come on back for more of the same, only with some minor changes and more buzz words that sound good. Guess we won’t know until we see what happens. But that’s what we have to look forward to next.

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