What do the National Board of Review Awards tell us about the Oscars?

The National Board of Review has a spotty record at crystalballing the Oscars. However, this year could prove to be different.

Two days after the New York Film Critics Circle named “Zero Dark Thirty” as the Best Picture of the year, so did the NBR. And it cited that film’s helmer Kathryn Bigelow as the Best Director too. 

Three years ago, the NBR feted Bigelow but snubbed her film “The Hurt Locker” in favor of “Up in the Air.” While that comedy-drama by Jason Reitman was shut out of the Oscars, Bigelow’s film about a bomb disposal squad won Best Picture and she became the first woman to win Best Director. 

RELATED: “Zero Dark Thirty” sweeps NBR Awards

RELATED: Complete list of winners

This year, Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”) might seem like a surprise choice for Best Actor until you consider that  “Lincoln” leading man Daniel Day-Lewis, who won over the NYFCC, remains without a lead acting prize from the NBR. While he claimed the1986 supporting award for his performances in both “My Beautiful Launderette” and “A Room With a View,” Day-Lewis did not prevail with the NBR for either of his Oscar-winning roles in 1989’s “My Left Foot” (Morgan Freeman won for “Driving Miss Daisy”) or 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” (George Clooney won for “Michael Clayton”). 

That win for Clooney started a streak at the NBR that saw him also pick up this prize in 2009 for “Up in the Air” and last year for “The Descendants.” He did not repeat at the Oscars either of those years either. 

Last year, “Hugo” won Best Picture from the NBR while its helmer Martin Scorsese claimed his third Best Director prize from this New York based awards group. Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) was named Best Actress. Christopher Plummer (“The Beginners”) claimed Supporting Actor while “The Descendants” also won Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley) and Adapted Screenplay (Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash). Original Screenplay went to Will Reiser for “50/50.” Of these, only Plummer and the “Descendants” scripters went on to win Oscars. 

Two years ago, “The Social Network” swept the NBR, winning Best Picture, Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg), Best Director (David Fincher) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Aaron Sorkin). Best Actress went to Lesley Manville (“Another Year”) while Christian Bale (“The Fighter”) and Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”) took the supporting prizes. Only Sorkin and Bale prevailed at the Oscars. 

That year’s big Oscar winner — “The King’s Speech” — was almost completely shut out of the NBR kudos, only meriting mention on the list of runners-up for Best Picture. Eventual Oscar champ David Seidler was bested for Original Screenplay by Chris Sparling (“Buried”). 

In 2009, “Up in the Air” won three other awards from the NBR besides Best Picture — Best Actor (George Clooney) Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner) — before being grounded by the Oscars. Long-time NBR favorite Clint Eastwood won Best Director for “Invictus” and that film’s star Morgan Freeman tied for Best Actor with Clooney. The inclusion of “Hereafter” in 2010 and “J. Edgar” last year on the top 10 list confirms that the NBR love affair with Eastwood is still going strong.

Because the NBR is one of the first awards of the season, their members often don’t see late entries into the derby that eventually figure into the Oscar race. Last year, as with the New York Film Critics Circle, the NBR voters did not see “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” which landed a Best Picture bid. Two years ago, they missed out on “Blue Valentine” and “Rabbit Hole” which reaped Oscar bids for leading ladies Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman respectively. 

And sometimes the NBR members just don’t take to films which end up being Oscar contenders.

Two years ago, they snubbed Best Picture nominees “Black Swan” and “The Kids Are All Right.” In 2009, “Precious” did not make the top 10 with the NBR but did contend at the Oscars. In 2003, the NBR chose to honor “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” with only the Ensemble award while it went on to sweep the Oscars, with a record-tying 11 wins including Best Picture. And in 2001, the NBR completely snubbed “A Beautiful Mind” which was the Academy’s choice for Best Picture.

2 thoughts on “What do the National Board of Review Awards tell us about the Oscars?

  1. The NBR doesn’t reflect much as to whether their picks win Oscar gold, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt. A lot of their choices become nominees it seems at the very least.

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