Saturday, March 2, 2024

Takeaways From The 2023 National Board Of Review (NBR) Winners For The Oscar Race

One of the fun things about Oscar season is that each awards body leading up to the Academy Awards has its own identity, set of preferences, and peccadillos to factor into the equation when making predictions. Take the National Board of Review (NBR), which released its slate of awards yesterday. In terms of strict, one-to-one “reliability” in predicting Oscar winners, they’re a mixed bag in how much they can help us with our Oscar predictions: in the past thirteen years, their Best Picture winner and the eventual Oscar winner have matched only once, with 2018’s “Green Book.” And while a win at NBR is excellent news for an Oscar campaign, it’s not quite a guarantee for a nomination, as Adam Sandler (“Uncut Gems“) and Amy Adams (“Arrival“) can both attest.

But by recognizing ten films each year (plus ten independent and five international films), the NBR separates the top tier of contenders from the also-rans. Their taste, which is generally populist but not overly so, has significant overlap with that of the Academy: a strong showing from an offbeat film suggests it may have broader appeal, while a crowd-pleaser missing the top ten, while not fatal (see “CODA“), is enough to raise some eyebrows. Now and then, they throw a curveball (such as “Red Rocket” making the top ten in 2021), but that only serves to keep things interesting. It’s not a perfect barometer for a movie’s Oscar chances, but it can still tell us some things worth keeping an eye on. With that in mind, let’s unpack yesterday’s results…

Signs Of Strength For “Killers Of The Flower Moon,” “The Holdovers” & “Poor Things”
Two very different films were the day’s big winners – and for once, we’re not talking about Barbenheimer (Both “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were in the NBR’s top ten list, but with the exception of a special prize for “Barbie” cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, that was all they received). “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Martin Scorsese’s over three-hour epic of colonial greed and poisonous love, won three awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. While it’s too early to pencil it in for your Oscar pick just yet – “The Irishman” was the NBR’s pick for Best Picture in 2019 on the way to getting blanked by the Academy – it does suggest “Killers of the Flower Moon” is sitting comfortably in second place behind the current frontrunner for Best Picture.

Meanwhile, Alexander Payne’s sweet-and-sour Christmas story, “The Holdovers,” took home three awards in addition to being one of the NBR’s top ten films of the year. Besides Best Supporting Actress (which, along with Best Actress, we will talk about shortly), Paul Giamatti was named Best Actor for his performance as the curmudgeonly Mr. Hunham, and David Hemingson won Best Original Screenplay. Again, this is no guarantee of anything, but it sure seems like Giamatti is set to avenge his infamous snub for “Sideways,” and Hemingson is a serious contender for Best Original Screenplay.

As for Best Adapted Screenplay, that went to Tony McNamara, one of two NBR awards given to “Poor Things,” which also placed in NBR’s top ten (Mark Ruffalo won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the caddish lawyer Duncan Wedderburn). Yorgos Lanthimos’ filthy, whimsical adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s novel may have won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Still, after being ignored by the New York Film Critics Circle (as well as some social media controversy drummed up in bad faith), some questioned the mass appeal of a Frankenstein woman developing from a preverbal state into a sexually liberated free spirit. By winning two very competitive awards from this not-especially-adventurous organization, “Poor Things” has offered a strong rebuttal.

Two Acting Categories Have Solid Frontrunners
When Lily Gladstone chose to campaign for Best Actress instead of the less competitive Best Supporting Actress for her heartbreaking work as Mollie Burkhart in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” she got the usual round of frustrated reactions from award pundits angry that she didn’t make their jobs easier (See: Michelle Williams). But you can’t say it hasn’t worked out for her: in addition to winning Best Actress from the New York and Atlanta Film Critics Circles, she now has another win from NBR. The race is not locked up yet – it will be a surprise if Emma Stone doesn’t catch up in time – but for now, Gladstone is the undeniable frontrunner for Best Actress.

Back in Best Supporting Actress, another great performance is accumulating well-deserved plaudits. Every time Da’Vine Joy Randolph has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress this year for her performance as a grieving cook in “The Holdovers,” she’s won (Her only loss was to “May December’s” Charles Melton at the Gotham Awards in a non-gendered supporting category). It’s unlikely she’ll sweep all the way to the Oscars, considering the raves Danielle Brooks has received for “The Color Purple,” but it’s clearly going to be a contest between the two women of color.

A Late-Breaking Surprise And Two Shockers
Firmly entering the Oscar race is “The Iron Claw,” Sean Durkin’s film about the tragic Von Erich wrestling family, which was included in the top ten and even picked up Best Ensemble in a year with no shortage of stacked, sprawling casts. Having skipped the festival circuit, “The Iron Claw” spent most of the year as one of the Oscar season’s biggest question marks, but for now, we seem to have an answer: it’s a fringe Best Picture nominee with the potential for more nominations including a possible Best Actor nomination for Zac Efron.

Two other December releases were conspicuous in their absence. “American Fiction,” the buzzy satire that won the People’s Choice Award in Toronto, has been tipped as a dark horse Best Picture contender to win the Academy’s top prize, but it was nowhere to be found on Wednesday. Even harder to explain is the omission of “The Color Purple,” an immense, prestigious, crowd-pleasing musical that should sit firmly in the NBR’s wheelhouse (also considering their history with rewarding Warner Bros. titles). Early reactions have been mostly enthusiastic, with Fantasia Barrino and Danielle Brooks receiving raves for their performances – and while it’s certainly possible the NBR saw the film and wasn’t as impressed, it raises the question of whether they got screeners in time for most of the votes to accumulate. It’s a curious situation, but no one involved needs to press the panic button: the NBR is, after all, a bit unconventional in their choices and one-stop amongst many as the season rolls on.

What did you think of yesterday’s NBR winners? Do you think any of them will repeat their wins at the Oscars? If so, which ones? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account and check out their latest Oscar predictions here.

You can follow Joe and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @HoeffnerJoe

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