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As we hurtle towards December, a few awards groups have now shown their hands. The Hollywood Film Awards were presented Nov. 4 — but their winners are prenegotiated, and thus of limited value when it comes to reading the larger awards landscape. And the Spirit Award nominations, which were announced last Wednesday, and the Gotham Awards, whose winners were revealed Monday, are restricted to indie films, so they, too, don’t tell us very much about the larger awards landscape.
The National Board of Review, which joined the pack on Tuesday by announcing its honors, has hosted an annual film awards ceremony for longer than any other group except for the Academy’s Oscars. But that organization has its own issues — its membership is based almost exclusively in and around New York, plus it has a long history of questionable behavior. But the NBR does consider all sorts and sizes of films, which are chosen by a sizable group through an actual voting process. And that’s what makes Tuesday’s announcement of their picks arguably our most interesting clue to date about which way the winds are blowing.
The NBR honors films in dozens of categories — and yet several of the titles that have been regarded as frontrunners, including The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman and First Man, didn’t get a single mention. Roma‘s only acknowledgment was being listed as one of the year’s top 10 films, something that precluded it from also being on the separate list of the year’s top five foreign-language films. And, while Mary Poppins Returns landed on the top 10 list, fellow year-end releases Vice, All Is True and The Mule are nowhere to be found — although it’s not clear whether or not they screened for the NBR before the organization’s eligibility cutoff.
The NBR clearly showed considerably more love to some other films. Green Book won best film and best actor honors for Viggo Mortensen — it probably benefited from its social message and educational value, which is something the organization’s voters are supposed to consider. (Fun fact: Twenty-nine years ago, the NBR and the Academy both gave their top film award to Driving Miss Daisy, a fairly close comp to Green Book.)
The latest version of A Star Is Born won best director honors for Bradley Cooper, the best actress award for Lady Gaga and the best supporting actor prize for Sam Elliott, and it also found a place on the top 10 list. It’s not only an excellent film, but also a studio release from Warner Bros. boasting big names — two things NBR voters seem to appreciate. Meanwhile, If Beale Street Could Talk earned best supporting actress honors for Regina King and the best adapted screenplay prize for Barry Jenkins, while also cracking the top 10. (Jenkins won the best director NBR Award two seasons ago for Moonlight.)
Two filmmakers who are clearly resonating with the indie community — Spirit Award nominees and Gotham Award winners Paul Schrader (First Reformed) and Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade) — also got further wind behind their sails from the NBR, with First Reformed winning for best original screenplay, Burnham winning for best directorial debut and both of their films securing a place on the top 10 list. They joined the aforementioned titles A Star Is Born, Beale Street, Roma and Mary Poppins Returns, along with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Panther, Can You Ever Forgive Me? and A Quiet Place.
A host of other pics received NBR acknowledgment in a single category, over which I would expect few to quibble. Paul Greengrass‘ Netflix drama 22 July, about a terrorist attack in Norway, and On Her Shoulders, a documentary about this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, will each receive the NBR Freedom of Expression Award. The inspirational documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, RBG, was named best documentary. Hulu’s Crime + Punishment and Minding the Gap, as well as presumptive favorites Free Solo, Three Identical Strangers and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, were identified as the five next-best docs.
The charming and trailblazing Crazy Rich Asians won best ensemble honors. This year’s Pixar play Incredibles 2 was named best animated feature. And the magnificent Cold War, Poland’s submission for the best foreign-language film Oscar consideration, won the equivalent NBR award. The five next-best foreign-language films were identified as South Korea’s Burning, Denmark’s The Guilty and Japan’s Shoplifters — each their nation’s official Oscar entry, as well — plus France’s Custody and Italy’s Happy as Lazzaro.
Meanwhile, the lovely 18-year-old New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie, who is so great opposite Ben Foster in Leave No Trace, the latest effort from Debra Granik (whose last movie, Winter’s Bone, catapulted Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom), was awarded best breakthrough performance. Her film was also tapped as one of the year’s top 10 indies, along with The Death of Stalin, Lean on Pete, Mid90s, The Old Man & The Gun, best feature Gotham Award winner The Rider, Searching, Sorry to Bother You, Spirit Award nominations leader We the Animals and You Were Never Really Here.
Does any of this really preview anything about what the Academy — now more than 8,000 members strong — will do when its turn to vote comes around? Probably not. The NBR’s membership, reportedly totaling a couple hundred, is comprised of a “select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds.” In other words, these groups’ voters have very different backgrounds and may respond to very different things. There have been some years when the NBR and the Academy both fell for the same film, such as 2007 and 2008, in which No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire were consensus favorites, respectively; but there have been other years when they dramatically diverged, such as 2014, when the NBR awarded several of its top prizes to A Most Violent Year, and then the Academy didn’t even nominate the pic for a single honor.
The 89th annual NBR Awards will be presented Jan. 8 at Cipriani in New York.
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