Below you'll find my thoughts on this year's winners at the National Board of Review.
Top Ten Films:
(In alphabetical order)
BURN AFTER READING
THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
THE DARK KNIGHT
The Eastwood love ran deep this year with the NBR. I should have expected it, and even though I had a feeling both Changeling and Gran Torino would make their Top 10, I didn't actually think it would happen. And there was more Clint where that came from in other categories (we'll get to those in a sec). I am particularly proud of my Defiance pick though, as not many had predicted it. I can at least understand the NBR's love of Eastwood, but they have an unhealthy obsession with Zwick that I can't fully comprehend. Burn After Reading seems to be their "weak" pick in most people eyes, and although I liked the film, I tend to agree that it does stand out from the other films. And based on it's win total, it is probably safe to assume that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button came in 2nd in the Best Picture voting. Beyond that, I am a little surprised to see The Wrestler here, as the NBR tend to be very traditional with their picks. Anyway, that was a nice surprise, along with The Dark Knight (they tend to have an aversion to fantasy films as well). The big omissions where most definitely Revolutionary Road and The Reader. And I think we can finally (and thankfully) stop talking about Australia as a viable contender now.
Best Film: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
I wasn't expecting Slumdog to win this, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. This really is the year's safest of the big Oscar movies, and the NBR loves to stay firmly in the middle of the road. I wouldn't make too much of it though. I fully expect Slumdog to take quite a few high profile critics awards, and garner a slew of Oscar nods in the process, but traditionally the NBR rarely ever accurately predicts Best Picture. This film is the definition of a critic's darling, and unless most every film fails to gather awards steam, then it is probably destined to stay that way. Milk and Benjamin Button still feel like the Oscar fronrunners to me.
Best Director: DAVID FINCHER, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I expect a lot of voting bodies to split their top two prizes this year, seeing as how there isn't really a consensus pick this year in eaither category. This gives a nice boost to Benjamin Button though, and at this point David Fincher looks like a good bet for his first Oscar nod.
Best Actor: CLINT EASTWOOD, Gran Torino
This is where things start to get interesting. We know that the NBR has a blatant track record of rewarding Clint no matter what he puts out, but even I'm a little taken aback by this win. The NBR screening of Gran Torino was just this week though, so it was probably freshest in the voters' minds, and thus....a win. Eastwood certainly becomes a more formidable contender now, not that I haven't been predicting him for months, but this does finally solidify his love from the older voters, the most dangerous of contingency within the Academy.
Best Actress: ANNE HATHAWAY, Rachel Getting Married
Here was my personal favorite win of the day. I think Hathaway deserves every accolade thrown her way this season, and even if she doesn't pick up many more, an Oscar nod is feeling more and more right as the days go on. I thought Kate Winslet would grab this award, but it is particularly suspicious that Revolutionary Road was shut out completely today, not just here. It may have been just a smidgen too raw for the voters though. I fully expect Gold Globe nominations for the film all around come next Thursday.
Best Supporting Actor: JOSH BROLIN, Milk
I'm not as surprised as most with this win for Brolin, since I never expected Heath Ledger to win every critic's award. This is probably the first of many that will be spread amongst the contenders. Ledger's got the Oscar on lock though, so I don't see the harm in spreading the wealth.
Best Supporting Actress: PENELOPE CRUZ, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
This is a little disheartening, but a perfectly safe and predictable choice for the NBR. Cruz will earn an Oscar nod for her work in VCB without a doubt (not that she shouldn't, but there is better work to choose from this year), but a win will more than likely come from somewhere unexpected. Hopefully the upcoming critic's awards will thrust someone else into the frontrunner's slot.
Best Foreign Language Film: MONGOL
This could have gone multiple ways, and it is still anyone's game obviously.
Best Documentary: MAN ON WIRE
I don't see Man On Wire losing many of these precusor awards.
Best Animated Feature: WALL-E
Best Ensemble Cast: DOUBT
I predicted this, and a SAG ensemble nod looks just as likely, if not for the win as well.
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: DEV PATEL, Slumdog Millionaire
I currently have him slotted for an Oscar nod, and this does little to derail my feelings.
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: VIOLA DAVIS, Doubt
I can't believe Sally Hawkins didn't win this, but leave it to the NBR to hand their Breakthrough Actress award to a woman who is decades into her career.
Best Directorial Debut: COURTNEY HUNT, Frozen River
Love this pick. Great film. Great direction. So underrated.
Best Original Screenplay: NICK SCHENK, Gran Torino
I'm utterly baffled by this win. There's not much more I can say, except that I wouldn't expect it to continue.
Best Adapted Screenplay: SIMON BEAUFOY, Slumdog Millionaire and ERIC ROTH, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ties never clear anything up, not that this category needed any clearing up though I guess. I see these two films battling it out for the Oscar when it is all said and done. I haven't yet seen Benjamin Button, but the weakest part of Slumdog was easily it's script in my opinion, so you can probably guess which way I'm leaning.
Spotlight Award: MELISSA LEO, Frozen River and
RICHARD JENKINS, The Visitor
Two wonderful films. Two wonderful performances. Both pose sizable threats to upset in their respective categories. I'd watch them carefully.
The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: TRUMBO
Top Five Foreign Language Films:
(In alphabetical order)
EDGE OF HEAVEN
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
ROMAN DE GUERRE
WALTZ WITH BASHIR
Top Five Documentary Films
(In alphabetical order)
THE BETRAYAL (NERAKHOON)
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED
William K. Everson Film History Award: MOLLY HASKELL and ANDREW SARRIS
Top Ten Independent Films
IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS
RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
SON OF RAMBOW
WENDY AND LUCY
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELON
Tell me I'm not the only one who likes these winners more than the normal Top 10. Any love for the magnificent Snow Angels is good enough for me though.