What do National Board of Review Awards mean for 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. Indeed, there is almost a complete disconnect between our predictions as to what will prevail at the Oscars versus those films and performers on the NBR list, save for Best Actress winner Julianne Moore (“Still Alice“). 

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“Boyhood,” which won over the Gotham critics Monday and is our frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars, merits only a mention on the top 10 list issued by the NBR. But fear not fans of this film; that is all the recognition that “12 Years a Slave” received from the NBR last year. 

Going its own way, the NBR named “Her” as Best Picture and feted its helmer Spike Jonze as well. “Nebraska” won both male acting awards for lead Bruce Dern and supporting player Will Forte.  Emma Thompson claimed Best Actress for “Saving Mr. Banks” while Octavia Spencer took the supporting prize for “Fruitvale Station” which also won breakthrough awards for star Michael B. Jordan and helmer Ryan Coogler. The Coens won the original screenplay prize for “Inside Llewyn Davis” while Emmy champ Terence Winter (“The Sorpranos”) took the adapted award for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” 

Of these NBR winners, only three even went on to contend at the Oscars and none won. “Her” lost Best Picture to “12 Years a Slave”; Dern lost Best Actor to Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Winter lost Adapted Screenplay to “12 Years a Slave” scribe John Ridley

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In 2012, the NBR named “Zero Dark Thirty” as the Best Picture of the year and cited that film’s director, 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. 

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. 

Three years ago, “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. 

In 2010, “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”). 

And 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. That is what happened with “American Hustle” last year, which earned 10 Oscar nominations. 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. In 2010, 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.

Last  year, they snubbed three Best Picture nominees: “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Philomena.” In 2012, they did not embrace “Amour and “Life of Pi.” In 2011, it overlooked “The Help,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Moneyball.” In 2010, “Black Swan” and “The Kids Are All Right did not make the cut, nor did “Precious” in 2008. 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.

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