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NBR: Carey Mulligan & Clint Eastwood Winners

The fact that Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, which opens in the US tomorrow, was named best picture of 2009 by the National Board of Review should come as no surprise.

On the other hand, the fact that Lee Daniels' Precious earned only one mention – breakthrough performance by an actress for Gabourey Sidibe as the film's abused, pregnant, illiterate teenager – was a major upset. Precious was nowhere to be found among either the year's top 11 best films (Star Trek, Where the Wild Things Are, and Up, however, were) or top 10 best independent films (but District 9, In the Loop, and Me and Orson Welles made the cut). And instead of Mo'Nique, the NBR picked Up in the Air's Anna Kendrick as best supporting actress.

Indeed, Up in the Air came out as the NBR's top winner: in addition to its best picture and best supporting actress nods, the socially conscious romantic comedy-drama was also named for actor (George Clooney, tied with Morgan Freeman for Invictus) and adapted screenplay (Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner).

Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Invictus, as expected, also did quite well for itself. In addition to Freeman (above), who plays Nelson Mandela, the socially conscious sports drama set in mid-1990s South Africa earned NBR favorite Clint Eastwood a best director nod and received an NBR Freedom of Expression mention (along with the documentaries Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers). Now, why exactly Invictus merited a Freedom of Expression prize is a question I can't answer. Here's wondering if the NBR voting members can.

Although this is the first time Clint Eastwood wins the NBR's best director award, he and his films have been frequently honored in the past. Letters from Iwo Jima and Mystic River were named best picture of the year in, respectively, 2006 and 2003, while Eastwood himself was chosen best actor last year for Gran Torino. He also won a Special Achievement Award for producing, directing, acting and composing the score of Million Dollar Baby in 2004 and was given a Career Achievement Award in 1999.

Tahar Rahim in A Prophet
Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

Other National Board of Review 2009 winners:

Jacques Audiard's tough prison drama A Prophet, a likely Oscar candidate in the best foreign language film category, was named best foreign-language film. Michael Haneke's widely acclaimed The White Ribbon and Sebastian Silva's The Maid, which earned star Catalina Saavedra a breakthrough performer Gotham award, were both listed among the year's top five non-English-language features.

Louie Psihoyos' The Cove, about the abuse and slaughter of dolphins, was named best documentary, while Pete Docter's box office hit Up was the best animated feature.

Carey Mulligan in An Education

The best actress winner was An Education's Carey Mulligan (above), who'll probably both win a bunch of critics' prizes in the upcoming weeks and land 2010 olden Globe and 2919 Oscar nominations when the times comes.

Somewhat surprisingly, Meryl Streep wasn't specifically named for anything – but she's part of the It's Complicated ensemble, along with Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, and Rita Wilson. Nancy Meyers directed.

Woody Harrelson's win in the best supporting actor category (for The Messenger) is less likely to lead to an Oscar nod – unless critics' groups help raise his profile by sending him lots of love in the next few weeks. But then again, the supporting actor field is hardly what one would call crowded. So perhaps Harrelson has a good chance after all.

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Gotham Award winner The Hurt Locker was mentioned twice: it was named one of the year's best pictures and earned Jeremy Renner (above) the breakthrough performance by an actor award.

Among the high-profile films that were totally ignored by the National Board of Review were Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, Rob Marshall's Nine, Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, Jane Campion's Bright Star, Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces, Steven Soderbergh's The Informant!, Grant Heslov's The Men Who Stare at Goats, Tom Ford's A Single Man, John Hillcoat's The Road, Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia, and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.

Also, curiously (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, and The Messenger were included in the NBR's top eleven best film list, but not in the top ten independent film list. I'm assuming NBR voters simply wanted to name as many movies as possible; that's probably why there was no overlap.

In the last 10 years, nine of the NBR's best picture winners have gone on to get an Academy Award nomination in that category; of these, three won Oscars: Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, and American Beauty. The one NBR best picture winner that failed to land an equivalent Oscar nod was Quills back in 2000.

Also, last year, three of the NBR's four acting winners went on to earn Oscar nods: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Josh Brolin, Milk; and Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cruz ended up taking home the Oscar in the best supporting actress category. Clint Eastwood, for his kind-hearted, rifle-toting bigot in Gran Torino, was the lone NBR winner ignored by the Academy. (Actually, Eastwood surely got tons of votes, but not enough – or not enough in the first or second position in the balloting – to land a nomination).

According to its website, NBR voting members consist of “a selective group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, film professionals, and students.” Information about a few of the NFB's members can be found here.

2009 National Board of Review Awards

2009 National Board of Review Award winners: Dec. 3, 2009


George Clooney, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
George Clooney, Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air


Best Film
Up In The Air by Jason Reitman

Ten Best Films (in alphabetical order)
An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Foreign Film
A Prophet

Five Best Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
The Maid
Song of Sparrows
Three Monkeys
The White Ribbon

Best Documentary
The Cove

Five Best Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
Food, Inc.
Good Hair
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Best Animated Feature

Top Ten Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
District 9
Goodbye Solo
In the Loop
Me and Orson Welles
Two Lovers

Best Director
Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Best Actor (tie)
Morgan Freeman, Invictus, and George Clooney, Up In The Air

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education

Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress
Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air

Best Ensemble Cast
It's Complicated

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Best Original Screenplay
Joel & Ethan Coen, A Serious Man

Best Adapted Screenplay
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, Up In The Air

Spotlight Award for Best Directorial Debut (three-way tie)
Duncan Jones, Moon; Oren Moverman, The Messenger; and Marc Webb, (500) Days of Summer

Special Filmmaking Achievement Award
Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox

NBR Freedom of Expression
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

William K. Everson Film History Award
Jean Picker Firstenberg

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