National Board of Review awards: Oscar crystal ball is cloudy

Fear not fans of “La La Land.” Even though Damien Chazelle‘s musical was snubbed at the National Board of Review awards announced on Tuesday save for a mention in the Top Films roster, its Oscar chances remain as strong as ever. Remember, the last time this group based in New York City  comprised of “knowledgeable film enthusiasts and professionals, academics, young filmmakers and students” previewed the Best Picture Oscar winner was back in 2008 with “Slumdog Millionaire.”

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Indeed, last year only two top NBR winners went on to prevail at the Oscars: Brie Larson (“Room”) in Best Actress and the Animated Feature victory for “Inside Out.” The NBR went with “Mad Max: Fury Road” for Best Picture while “The Martian” claimed Best Director (Ridley Scott), Actor (Matt Damon) and Adapted Screenplay. “The Hateful Eight” won Supporting Actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Original Screenplay for director Quentin Tarantino. And Sylvester Stallone was named Best Supporting Actor for “Creed.” Of these, Scott and Tarantino were snubbed by the academy while the rest lost their races.

Of the top 10 films of 2015 according to the NBR, three — “Inside Out,” “Sicario” and “Straight Outta Compton” — did not number among the eight that contended for Best Picture at the Oscars. And while the NBR did presage five — “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” eventual Oscar winner “Spotlight” and “Room” — of the Oscar nominees. three were MIA with this group: “The Big Short,””Brooklyn and “The Revenant.”

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Likewise, in 2014 the NBR went mad for “A Most Violent Year,” citing it for Best Picture with one of its stars, Oscar Isaac, tying for Best Actor and the other, Jessica Chastain, claiming Best Supporting Actress. The film and cast were then snubbed at the Oscars.

At the NBR, “Birdman” — which went on to take the top Oscar — tied for Best Actor (Michael Keaton), won Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and made the list of NBR’s top 10 films along with “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “Fury,” “Gone Girl,” “The Imitation Game,” “Inherent Vice,” “The Lego Movie,” “Nightcrawler,” and “Unbroken.” Only four of these 10 —  “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “The Imitation Game” — were among the eight Best Picture nominees.

Three of the other four Oscar Best Picture contenders — “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash” —   were completely shut out by the NBR as were “Foxcatcher” and “Wild.” And “Selma” won only the NBR Freedom of Expression Award.

The NBR prize for Best Actress went to eventual Oscar champ Julianne Moore, who played a woman diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.” However, the NBR named Clint Eastwood as Best Director for “American Sniper”; he was overlooked by the academy. He had previously won NBR’s directing prize for “Invictus,” in addition to an acting award for “Gran Torino” and a special achievement award for his producing, directing, acting, and music composition in “Million Dollar Baby.”

In 2013 NBR awarded Best Picture and Best Director (Spike Jonze) to the futuristic romance “Her.”   “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.

Experts’ Oscars 2017 predictions:
‘La La Land’ still far out front but watch out for ‘Fences’

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 had 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.

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.

Experts’ Oscars 2017 predictions for Best Actor:
Casey Affleck (‘Manchester By the Sea’) vs. Denzel Washington (‘Fences’)

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.

Experts’ Oscars 2017 predictions for Best Actress:
Emma Stone (‘La La Land’) still leads but Natalie Portman (‘Jackie’) is gaining

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” in 2013, 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. In 2013, 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 blanked “A Beautiful Mind” which was the academy’s choice for Best Picture.

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