The National Board of Review is always the first canon fire out of the gate. They can’t really predict the Oscars in terms of winners, but they can tell us a few things that are good to know heading in. What they do best is give a “prestige hit” to movies that are borderline. Some can leap into the fray just from that prestige hit. Human beings respond to winners and losers — so much so that quality can matter less than buzz and heat. In other words, if a group shuns or snubs a film that can sometimes have a cascading effect on a movie. Conversely, an unexpected win for a film or contender can give them a halo effect that can carry them through the season. It’s funny, but it’s human nature and it’s unavoidable.
Let’s go through the categories:
Best Picture – Oscar’s Best Picture winner is usually going to be among the top ten films named by the NBR for Best Picture. That means our winner is somewhere in this mess:
Best Picture: The Post
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
THE DISASTER ARTIST
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
I’ve crossed out the ones that literally have no chance to win. Those remaining, with the exception of Downsizing, have been included in the conversation from the beginning. Oddest omissions would be: Shape of Water, Darkest Hour and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I, Tonya — in short, the films that led out of Telluride, with the exception of Downsizing and Lady Bird. While those movies weren’t necessarily pegged as potential winners, seeing them not make the NBR’s list today is odd and messes with the head. Also, their lack of appearance here does diminish them somewhat in the minds of many awards watchers and voters, no doubt.
On the other hand, the NBR doesn’t ever match the Academy’s eventual nominees. Their list has rarely been a good barometer for finding those. But it does seem to indicate that our winner is one of the above. Now, we have to start matching the remaining titles with how the guilds vote.
Slumdog Millionaire was the last film to win Best Picture at the NBR and go on to win the Oscar. But The Post’s showing here could launch Spielberg into the Best Director race, though many were already predicting that.
Marshall Flores tells me that it’s only happened twice since 2000 that the Best Picture winner was left off their list — A Beautiful Mind and Return of the King. Since both were juggernauts, it seems odd they were left off. Not since the preferential ballot has been implemented has the winner not showed up there. But since many were already predicting Dunkirk, that doesn’t really mess with the overall plan.
All hail Greta Gerwig, who does look like she has a much better shot at earning both a DGA nod and an Oscar nod, which would make her only the 5th woman in Oscar history to do that. The Best Director winners at the NBR are again hit and miss with Oscar:
With only three of the above making it in, ultimately. All but Spike Jonze made the DGA five, however. So this is great for Greta Gerwig.
The Acting Categories
Not much we didn’t know except that Gary Oldman didn’t get in for Darkest Hour, Tom Hanks did. That maybe means something, maybe it doesn’t. Best Actor doesn’t have a great matching record with NBR:
And so ditto Streep:
The Disaster Artist benefits from a prestige hit here and seems very likely to make the cut. Original went to Phantom Thread and ditto, even in a competitive year like this one.
One thing to always remember about this race: we only know what we know. We don’t know anything more than that. We are always advised to take it all with a grain of salt until we know what the big guilds are going to do. All of this with the critics coming up is to nudge the race or the buzz or the hype in one direction or another. I would lay today’s results out like this:
Got a boost:
Lady Bird’s Greta Gerwig
The Disaster Artist
Shape of Water
Call Me By Your Name
And now, onward to the New York Film Critics on Thursday.