National Board of Review rewards a slew of Oscar dark horses
The National Board of Review has never been the best predictor of what academy voters choose. Though the two did line up in 2008 and 2007, when the NBR chose "Slumdog Millionaire" and "No Country for Old Men," respectively, as its big winners. Last year, it picked "Up in the Air" as the best film of 2009, a film the academy all but snubbed at show time after giving it six key nominations. Before "No Country," you have to go back to 1999, when the group chose "American Beauty" as its top film, to find a correlation between the two award shows.
It is interesting though, that this group of 110 academics, film professionals and students who make up the voters picked some real underdogs in this year's race -- with one key exception. They chose "The Social Network" as best picture of the year, a move that could very well help the organization become a better predictor of the Oscar race.
What is a more far-fetched idea is the choosing of Lesley Manville as best actress of the year. She gave a very honest portrayal of a lonely single woman in Mike Leigh's "Another Year," but is up against some incredibly stiff competition from the likes of Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence, who also received a nod from the NBR, for breakthrough performance.
Jacki Weaver, and her role in the Australian flick "Animal Kingdom," was also recognized, a surprise for the little-seen Sundance fave that's grossed only $1 million domestically for Sony Pictures Classics. Weaver, a veteran Australian actor, will be up against many more high-profile contenders for the Oscar, including Melissa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter and perhaps Mila Kunis from "Black Swan."
The other stand-out surprise from the NBR is its ensemble recognition for Ben Affleck's "The Town." The R-rated Boston-based heist film was a box-office success, grossing more than $90 million at the domestic box office, and it received accolades for all its performances, particularly Jeremy Renner in his role as the Affleck character's unstable right-hand man. The film has been left off a lot of best-of lists from the prognosticators thus far, but the nod from the NBR could be a solid boost for the well-playing Warner Bros. film.
-- Nicole Sperling
Photo: Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner in "The Town." Credit: Warner Bros.