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National Board of Review Awards: Lesley Manville & Jesse Eisenberg Unexpected Wins

Lesley Manville, Another Year
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
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
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
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Best Film: The Social Network

Top Ten Films (In alphabetical order):
Another Year
The Fighter
The King's Speech
Shutter Island
The Town
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Best Foreign Language Film:  Of Gods and Men by Xavier Beauvois

Top Foreign Language Films (In alphabetical order):
I Am Love
Life, Above All
Soul Kitchen
White Material

Top Ten Independent Films (In alphabetical order):
Animal Kingdom
Fish Tank
The Ghost Writer
Let Me In
Please Give
Youth in Revolt

Best Documentary:  Waiting for 'Superman' by Davis Guggenheim

Top Documentary Films (In alphabetical order):
A Film Unfinished
Inside Job
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 Screenplay Chris Sparling, Buried

Best Adapted Screenplay 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

Dec. 2

Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, The Social Network
Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake in David Fincher's The Social Network

The 2010 National Board of Review award winners will be announced in a few hours. Below are a few strong possibilities in the top categories, based on what's hot this year and on NBR winners of the last ten years.

When it comes to their choice of Best Film, NBR voters usually opt for mainstream (as in, not “experimental”) dramas with a strong social (or at least “serious”) message, e.g., Quills (2000), The Hours (2002), Finding Neverland, Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Up in the Air (2009).

I'd say the most acclaimed 2010 English-language release to fit that pattern would be David Fincher's The Social Network, followed by Tom Hooper's British-made The King's Speech. Other strong contenders: Danny Boyle's 127 Hours, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, and Debra Granik's Winter's Bone.

The Best Foreign Language Film will quite likely be Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful, which also has a forceful psychological/social message. Other possibilities: the box office hit The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, White Material, and Mother.

For Best Documentary, I'd bet on Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for 'Superman.' But The Tillman Story, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Inside Job, Restrepo, and Exit through the Gift Shop are all strong possibilities.

Barring a major upset, the Best Animated Feature will be Toy Story 3.

The Best Director will likely be either David Fincher for The Social Network or Tom Hooper for The King's Speech. Else, Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan or Danny Boyle for 127 Hours. (Fincher won the Best Director award for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button the year Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture. Their 2008 NBR roles could well be reversed this year.)

Breakthrough Director will likely be Debra Granik for Winter's Bone, which may also earn Jennifer Lawrence the Breakthrough Actress award. [Correction: The NBR award is for a director's first effort; thus, Granik would have been ineligible.)

Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network. Best Original Screenplay David Seidler for The King's Speech.

Other possibilities, whether original or adapted: Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter's Bone; David Lindsay-Abaire for Rabbit Hole; Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right; Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth for Fair Game; David Michod for Animal Kingdom; Nicole Holofcener for Please Give.

Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Annette Bening, Julianne Moore in Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right (top); Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter in Tom Hooper's The King's Speech (bottom)

The NBR voters have usually tended to stay within the mainstream in the lead actor/actress categories (e.g., Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, George Clooney, Annette Bening), while venturing off the beaten path every now and then in the supporting categories (e.g., Lupe Ontiveros for Chuck & Buck in 2000; Patricia Clarkson for Pieces of April and The Station Agent in 2003).

The 2010 Best Actor could well be former NBR winner Javier Bardem for Biutiful. Else, Colin Firth for The King's Speech or James Franco for 127 Hours. Or, somewhat less likely, Jim Broadbent for Another Year.

If NBR voters want to be more than a little daring – in terms of doing something completely unexpected while picking tried-and-true Hollywood names – then perhaps Michael Douglas for both A Solitary Man and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

I'd say Annette Bening, who won in 2004 for Being Julia, will be the NBR's Best Actress for The Kids Are All Right. Other strong possibilities: Natalie Portman for Black Swan, Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole, Helen Mirren for The Tempest, Naomi Watts for Fair Game.

Noomi Rapace could win on the strength of three movies – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. And if NBR voters want to be really daring, they may go for Tilda Swinton for I Am Love.

Best Supporting Actor is a wild guess – wilder than the preceding ones. If I were to bet on a name, that would be Geoffrey Rush for The King's Speech, followed by Christian Bale in The Fighter and perhaps Andrew Garfield or Justin Timberlake for The Social Network.

Best Supporting Actress is just as hard to predict, especially since there are absolutely no clear favorites at this time. My bet: Melissa Leo for The Fighter (and perhaps Welcome to the Rileys?), but Marion Cotillard for Inception, Dale Dickey for Winter's Bone, Helena Bonham Carter for The King's Speech, Amy Adams for The Fighter, Miranda Richardson for Made in Dagenham, to name five, are just as likely.

And here's wondering if Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine will get a Freedom of Expression award. Else, The Tillman Story.

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1 Comment to National Board of Review Awards: Lesley Manville & Jesse Eisenberg Unexpected Wins

  1. Ernest

    I haven't watched “Another Year” so I don't know how good Lesley Manville is. I have watched both “RAbbit Hole” and “Black Swan” and I think that Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman are brilliant.

    Either one should have won the National Board of Review award and I resent the fact that neither one did.