Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh's Another Year (top); Jacki Weaver in David Michod's Animal Kingdom (bottom)
I'm not sure what's more interesting about the National Board of Review's list of 2010 award winners, those who won – especially surprises such as Best Actress Lesley Manville for Another Year and Best Original Screenplay for Buried -- or those who were snubbed.
In the former group, David Fincher's The Social Network was the big winner, bagging four awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Jesse Eisenberg as troubled Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin.
In the latter group you'll find Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful, Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, Peter Weir's The Way Back (was it not screened?), John Cameron Mitchell's Rabbit Hole, Nigel Cole's Made in Dagenham, and Aaron Schneider's Get Low, all of which were completely ignored by NBR voters.
Additionally, Christopher Nolan's Inception and Tom Hooper's The King's Speech failed to win a single award, though both were included among the year's top 11 films, while Nicole Holofcener's Please Give and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer were to be found only among the year's top ten (English-language) independent films.
Ryan Reynolds, Buried
As for those movies that did get shortlisted, the most curious inclusions were: Clint Eastwood's unenthusiastically received Hereafter among the year's top 11 movies; Oliver Schmitz's South African drama Life, Above All among the top six foreign-language movies; and Chris Sparling's aforementioned original screenplay Buried, about an American contractor (Ryan Reynolds) buried alive in Iraq.
The Best Debut Director(s) mention to Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington for the Afghanistan War documentary Restrepo was somewhat of a surprise. I believed Winter's Bone Debra Granik would be the winner until I paid closer attention to the award's title: "Best Debut (not "Breakthrough") Director." Winter's Bone is Granik's second feature, following Down to the Bone (2004).
Another curious choice was the selection of Sofia Coppola's controversial Venice Film Festival winner Somewhere for the Special Filmmaking Achievement Award for writing, directing, and producing the existentialist drama about a movie star's empty life (Stephen Dorff is the star) and his budding relationship with his young daughter (Elle Fanning). Somewhere was nowhere to be found among the NBR's top eleven films or its top ten independent films.
Note: Hereafter may have failed to impress most critics in the United States, but Clint Eastwood has an ardent National Board of Review following. Since Mystic River in 2003, every single one of Eastwood's films have been included on the NBR's top ten list.
Additionally, Eastwood himself won Best Director honors last year for Invictus and was chosen as Best Actor for Gran Torino the year before. In 2004, he won the NBR's Special Achievement Award for producing, directing, acting in and composing the score for Million Dollar Baby.
This year, the National Board of Review mostly opted for less well-known names in the acting categories. Whereas NBR Best Actor/Best Actress award recipients in the last ten years have usually been people like Sean Penn, Annette Bening, Javier Bardem, Julia Roberts, George Clooney (twice), and Helen Mirren, NBR 2010 winners turned out to be Jesse Eisenberg and Lesley Manville, neither of whom is what you'd even remotely call a household name in the United States.
Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg was shortlisted instead of higher-profile star turns such as Colin Firth's King George VI in The King's Speech, Jeff Bridges' eye-patch-wearing cowboy in True Grit, and James Franco's adventurer in 127 Hours. (Franco, at least, had his Howl recognized in the Freedom of Expression category.)
As a desperately lonely, middle-aged single woman in Mike Leigh's British comedy-drama Another Year, Manville beat the likes of Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right (my original prediction), Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, and Natalie Portman in Black Swan, among others.
Both Eisenberg and, especially, Manville have been mentioned as potential Oscar contenders. In addition to looking good in their For Your Consideration ads, the odds are that their NBR victories will be matched by Oscar nominations.
In the last ten years, eight NBR Best Actors (out of eleven winners; George Clooney tied with Morgan Freeman last year) and all ten Best Actresses have gone on to be shortlisted at the Oscars. Of those, four actors and four actresses came out victorious.
Things are a little iffier for Jennifer Lawrence following her NBR Breakthrough Performer win for her Ozark Mountains teenager in search of her missing father in Debra Granik's Winter's Bone. Ellen Page (Juno) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), to name two, landed Oscar nominations after their NBR Breakthrough victories, but Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), on the other hand, failed to be shortlisted.
Veteran Jacki Weaver's win for the Australian crime/dysfunctional family drama Animal Kingdom was one more offbeat choice in the NBR's Best Supporting Actress category – former winners include Lupe Ontiveros (Chuck & Buck), Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Station Agent), Catherine O'Hara (For Your Consideration), and Gong Li (Memoirs of a Geisha).
Five of the NBR's Best Supporting Actress winners earned Oscar nods. Only one of those, Penélope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona in 2008, went on take home the Oscar statuette.
Weaver may or may not get an Oscar nomination – it all depends on how much more love she gets from US critics groups and perhaps the Golden Globes, which should then make Academy members take a good, hard look at Animal Kingdom. But one thing is all but certain: on Dec. 11, she'll go home carrying the Australian Film Institute's Best Actress award. (In case you're wondering, a lead role can become a supporting one – or vice-versa – depending on which side of the Atlantic and/or Pacific you are.)
Christian Bale was the sole expected NBR winner in the acting categories. In fact, for his drug-addicted former boxer in The Fighter Bale – who lost weight and thinned his hair to play the part – will quite likely get an Oscar nomination as well in a field that remains wide open. After all, Academy members love that sort of physical transformation.
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Film: The Social Network
Top Ten Films (In alphabetical order):
The King's Speech
Toy Story 3
Top Foreign Language Films (In alphabetical order):
I Am Love
Life, Above All
Top Ten Independent Films (In alphabetical order):
The Ghost Writer
Let Me In
Youth in Revolt
Best Documentary: Waiting for 'Superman' by Davis Guggenheim
Top Documentary Films (In alphabetical order):
A Film Unfinished
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
The Tillman Story
Best Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Best Dir.: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Best Actress: Lesley Manville, Another Year
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Best Ensemble Cast: The Town
Best Original Scr.: Chris Sparling, Buried
Best Adapted Scr.: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Breakthrough Performance: Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Debut Dir.: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, Restrepo
Production Design Award: Dante Ferretti, Shutter Island
Spotlight Award: Sylvain Chomet and Jacques Tati, The Illusionist
Special Filmmaking Achievement Award: Sofia Coppola, for for writing, directing, and producing Somewhere
William K. Everson Film History Award: Leonard Maltin
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Fair Game, Conviction, Howl