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

The National Board of Review has a spotty record at crystalballing the Oscars. And this year doesn’t look to be that much different. There is a disconnect between many of our predictions as to what will prevail at the Oscars versus those films and performers expected to top the winners list of the NBR on Dec. 4. 

Sure, “12 Years a Slave” is forecast to win over both groups, but while that film’s helmer Steve McQueen is predicted to take home the Oscar, we foresee Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity“) nabbing the NBR award

Likewise, while the Oscar race for Best Actor is between “12 Years” leading man Chiwetel Ejiofor and Robert Redford (“All is Lost“), our pick for NBR honors is Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club“). 

Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine“) does lead the Best Actress race at both kudos. Indeed, she may be poised to sweep all the precursor prizes on her way to the Dolby Theater. 

However, supporting players Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Lupita Nyongo (“12 Years a Slave) are far ahead of their Oscar rivals — Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”) and Oprah Winfrey (“The Butler“) — in our NBR predictions. (Explore all of the NBR charts here.)

Last year, the NBR named “Zero Dark Thirty” as the Best Picture of the year and cited that film’s helmer Kathryn Bigelow as well. While the film contended at the Oscars, losing to “Argo,” Bigelow was snubbed. Back in 2009, the NBR feted Bigelow for helming “The Hurt Locker” but went with “Up in the Air” for the top award. That comedy-drama by Jason Reitman went on to lose all six of its Oscar bids while Bigelow’s film about a bomb disposal squad won Best Picture and she became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. 

Last year, Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook”) was named Best Actor by the NBR but ended up losing the Oscar to “Lincoln” leading man Daniel Day-Lewis who remains without a lead acting prize from the NBR. While he claimed the 1986 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 in 2011 for “The Descendants.” He did not repeat at the Oscars either of those years either. 

In 2011, “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. 

Three 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 (Clooney) Best Supporting Actress (Anna Kendrick) and Best Adapted Screenplay (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” in 2011 on the top 10 list confirmed that the NBR love affair with Eastwood was 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. In 2011, 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. Three 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.

In 2010, 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.

Who do you think is going to win Best Actor at the NBR? Vote below using our easy drag-and-drop menu. 

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