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NBR: Carey Mulligan Pushes Meryl Streep Aside & Fave Clint Eastwood Returns

Up in the Air with George Clooney Vera Farmiga: NBR top pick also with Supporting Actress winner Anna KendrickUp in the Air with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. As the United States remains mired in one of its worst economic crises ever, the National Board of Review (NBR) selected Jason Reitman's socially conscious romantic comedy-drama Up in the Air – the story of a frequent-flying, company-downsizing expert – as the year's Best Picture. Additionally, the film was singled out in the following categories: Best Actor for George Clooney (tied with Morgan Freeman in Invictus), Best Supporting Actress for Twilight and The Twilight Saga: New Moon actress Anna Kendrick, and Best Adapted Screenplay (Reitman & Sheldon Turner; from Walter Kirn's novel). As Clooney's fellow frequent flyer, Vera Farmiga (The Departed) didn't win anything, but she's a likely Best Supporting Actress Academy Award contender.

NBR winners: 'Up in the Air' soars to the top while 'Precious' goes mostly unappreciated

The fact that on Dec. 3 Jason Reitman's audience-friendly, socially conscious comedy-drama Up in the Air was named Best Picture of 2009 by the National Board of Review (NBR) should come as no surprise.

On the other hand, the fact that Lee Daniels' socially conscious drama Precious earned only one mention – Breakthrough Performance by an Actress for Gabourey Sidibe, who plays the film's abused, pregnant, illiterate teenager – was a major upset.

One of the best-received movies of the year, Precious was nowhere to be found among either the year's Top Ten Best Films (or rather, Best Runner-Up Films) or Top Ten Best Independent Films. And instead of Mo'Nique, the NBR picked Up in the Air performer Anna Kendrick as Best Supporting Actress.

Indeed, Up in the Air turned out to be the NBR's top winner: in addition to its Best Picture and Anna Kendrick victories, Jason Reitman's film earned mentions for Best Actor George Clooney (tied with Morgan Freeman for Invictus) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Reitman & Sheldon Turner).

'Invictus': NBR once again honors fave Clint Eastwood

Also as expected, InvictusClint Eastwood's “inspirational,” socially/politically conscious sports drama set in mid-1990s South Africa – fared nearly as well as Up in the Air.

In addition to Morgan Freeman's co-win for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela, NBR favorite Clint Eastwood (see further below) was named Best Director while the film itself received an NBR Freedom of Expression mention – along with two highly political documentaries: Anders Østergaard's Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, and Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

Now, why exactly Invictus merited a Freedom of Expression award is a puzzling question. Here's wondering whether NBR voting members can answer it in logical fashion.

As for Clint Eastwood, although this is the first time he has won the NBR's Best Director award, he and his films have been frequently honored in the recent past.

Recent Clint Eastwood wins

Mystic River (2003) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) were named Best Picture, while Eastwood himself was chosen Best Actor last year for his own Gran Torino (which also earned Nick Schenck the Best Original Screenplay award). And back in 2004, Eastwood took home a Special Achievement Award for producing, directing, acting in, and composing the score of Million Dollar Baby.

All this after he was given a Career Achievement Award in 1999.

Curiously, Eastwood's Oscar-winning 1992 Western Unforgiven – not exactly a socially conscious movie – didn't win any NBR awards. The closest it got to that was being listed as one of the year's Top Ten films.

More National Board of Review winners: 'A Prophet' & Carey Mulligan

Among the other NBR 2009 winners was Best Foreign Language Film A Prophet / Un Prophète, Jacques Audiard's tough prison drama starring Tahar Rahim, and a likely Oscar candidate in that category.

Besides, Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner The White Ribbon / Das Weiße Band and Sebastián 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 of dolphins and their vicious slaughter at a Japanese fishing village, was named Best Documentary, while Pete Docter's blockbuster Up was the Best Animated Feature.

The NBR's Best Actress winner was Carey Mulligan, who plays a 1960s London teenager about to lose her virginity with the help of a man more than twice her age (Peter Sarsgaard) in Lone Scherfig's An Education. Mulligan will probably both win a bunch of critics' prizes in the coming weeks, and land 2010 Golden Globe and 2010 Oscar nominations when the times comes.

It's Complicated with Meryl Streep: Indirect NBR winner thanks to Nancy Meyers' ensemble comedyIt's Complicated with Meryl Streep. The National Board of Review (NBR) has all but ignored Meryl Streep and her Nora Ephron-directed (co-)star (with Amy Adams) vehicle Julie & Julia. Yet Streep is, albeit without being singled out, an NBR winner, as she's at the very center of Nancy Meyers' adult-oriented ensemble comedy It's Complicated, the NBR's Best Ensemble pick. At the box office, it has been a banner year for the two-time Academy Award winner (Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Best Actress for Sophie's Choice, 1982) and shoo-in 2010 Best Actress Oscar contender (for Julie & Julia). Also in the It's Complicated cast: Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Zoe Kazan, Lake Bell, Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, Hunter Parrish, and Caitlin FitzGerald.

Meryl Streep ensemble

Somewhat surprisingly, Meryl Streep wasn't specifically named for anything – but she's part of the Best Ensemble-winning It's Complicated cast, which also includes Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, and Rita Wilson. Nancy Meyers directed.

Woody Harrelson topping the Best Supporting Actor category for Oren Moverman's 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.

Kathryn Bigelow's Gotham Award winner The Hurt Locker was mentioned twice: it was named one of the year's Top Ten Films and Jeremy Renner was the Breakthrough Performance by an Actor honoree.

Out of the NBR

Among the high-profile films totally ignored by the National Board of Review were the following:

  • Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia.
  • 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.
  • Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.

Also, curiously (500) Days of Summer, The Hurt Locker, and The Messenger were included on the NBR's Top Ten (runner-up films) list, but not on the Top Ten Independent Films list. Apparently NBR voters wanted to name as many movies as possible.

NBR Awards vs. the Oscars

In the last decade, nine of the NBR's Best Picture winners have gone on to receive an Academy Award nomination in that category; of these, three won Oscars: Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999), Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men (2007), and Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire (2008).

The one NBR Best Picture winner that failed to land an equivalent Oscar nomination was Philip Kaufman's Quills back in 2000.

Last year, three of the NBR's four acting winners went on to earn Oscar nominations:

Cruz was the only one who ended up taking home the Oscar, whereas Clint Eastwood's rifle-toting, soft-at-heart Gran Torino would-be bigot turned out to be the lone NBR winner bypassed by the Academy's Actors Branch. (In truth, Eastwood surely got tons of votes, but not enough – or not enough in the first and second slots – to land a nomination).

According to its website, the NBR voting membership consists of “a selective group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, academics, film professionals, and students.”

2009 National Board of Review Awards

Best Film: Up in the Air.

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

Best Foreign Language Film: A Prophet.

Five Best Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order):
The Maid.
Revanche.
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.
Crude.
Food, Inc.
Good Hair.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education.

Best Actor (tie): George Clooney, Up in the Air; Morgan Freeman, Invictus.

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air.

Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger.

Best Ensemble Cast: It's Complicated.

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Invictus.

Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, A Serious Man.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman & Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air.

Best Animated Feature: Up.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious.

Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.

Top Ten Independent Films (in alphabetical order):
Amreeka.
District 9.
Goodbye Solo.
Humpday.
In the Loop.
Julia.
Me and Orson Welles.
Moon.
Sugar.
Two Lovers.

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
.
Invictus.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

William K. Everson Film History Award: Jean Picker Firstenberg.

Carey Mulligan in An Education: Best Actress NBR winner is front-runner for Academy AwardsCarey Mulligan in An Education: Following her three back-to-back Best Actress wins – courtesy of the British Independent Film Awards, the National Board of Review (NBR), and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association – the 24-year-old Westminster-born Carey Mulligan is already a front-runner for a) more year-end movie awards in the U.S. and the U.K. b) the 2010 Academy Awards and BAFTAs. In Lone Scherfig's early 1960s-set British drama An Education, Mulligan plays an adolescent who begins an “educational” relationship with a man (Peter Sarsgaard) about twice her age. Besides Mulligan and Sarsgaard, An Education also features Dominic Cooper, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Sally Hawkins, Matthew Beard, Cara Seymour, Rosamund Pike, Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Ellie Kendrick, and two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Best Actress for Howards End, 1992; Best Adapted Screenplay, Sense and Sensibility, 1995). About a Boy author Nick Hornby wrote the An Education screenplay, based on Lynn Barber's memoirs.

Carey Mulligan & 'Up in the Air' & George Clooney back on top: Washington D.C. Film Critics

An Education lead Carey Mulligan has won her third Best Actress mention this awards season, this time courtesy of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association. Mulligan has been previously singled out by the British Independent Film Awards and, as seen above, the National Board of Review. (See further below the full list of Washington DC Film Critics winners and nominations.)

Meryl Streep and her Julia Child – see Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia – had better watch out.

Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, about a tin-hearted, corporate-downsizing expert who rediscovers his humanity, was voted Best Film of 2009; star George Clooney was the Best Actor. Both had already won in their respective categories at the National Board of Review Awards. (Clooney tying with Morgan Freeman for Invictus.)

But Kathryn Bigelow – not Jason Reitman – was the Best Director for The Hurt Locker, which recently received Best Picture and Best Ensemble honors at the Gotham Awards.

The Washington DC Film Critics concurred with the latter choice, selecting the Iraq War drama about an American bomb squad unit for their Best Ensemble prize. The Hurt Locker features, among others, Jeremy Renner, Ralph Fiennes, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Evangeline Lilly, and Anthony Mackie.

Notable Gabourey Sidibe win & 'Sin Nombre' surprise

A particularly notable Washington DC Film Critics winner was Gabourey Sidibe, the year's Breakthrough Performer for Precious. Sidibe's win is “notable” in that Best Actress winner Carey Mulligan was also nominated in the Breakthrough Performer category.

All but one of the Washington DC Film Critics' picks were expected – or at least not unexpected. The one big surprise was the Best Foreign Language Film winner, Cary Fukunaga's feature film debut Sin Nombre (lit. “Without a Name”), a Spanish-language Mexico-U.S. co-production about Mexican gangs and Honduran would-be immigrants.

One of Sin Nombre's leads, Tegucigalpa-born Edgar Flores, won the 2009 Stockholm Film Festival's Best Actor award a couple of weeks ago.

Curiously, the Washington DC Film Critics give out an award for Best Art Direction – this year's winner was Nine – but not for, say, Best Cinematography or Best Film Editing, two categories more frequently listed by award-giving critics groups.

Washington D.C. Film Critics: Winners and nominations

Best Film
The Hurt Locker.
Inglourious Basterds.
Precious.
Up.
* Up in the Air.

Best Foreign Language Film
Broken Embraces.
Red Cliff.
* Sin Nombre.
Summer Hours.
The White Ribbon.

Best Actor
* George Clooney, Up in the Air.
Colin Firth, A Single Man.
Morgan Freeman, Invictus.
Viggo Mortensen, The Road.
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.

Best Actress
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side.
* Carey Mulligan, An Education.
Maya Rudolph, Away We Go.
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious.
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia.

Best Supporting Actor
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger.
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker.
Alfred Molina, An Education.
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones.
* Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds.

Best Supporting Actress
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air.
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air.
* Mo'Nique, Precious.
Julianne Moore, A Single Man.
Samantha Morton, The Messenger.

Best Breakthrough Performance
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air.
Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles.
Carey Mulligan, An Education.
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.
* Gabourey Sidibe, Precious.

Best Director
* Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker.
Lee Daniels, Precious.
Clint Eastwood, Invictus.
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air.
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds.

Best Ensemble
* The Hurt Locker.
Nine.
Precious.
Star Trek.
Up in the Air.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Blind Side.
An Education.
Precious.
The Road.
* Up in the Air.

Best Original Screenplay
(500) Days of Summer.
The Hurt Locker.
* Inglourious Basterds.
A Serious Man.
Up.

Best Documentary
Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
Capitalism: A Love Story.
The Cove.
* Food, Inc.
Good Hair.

Best Art Direction
The Lovely Bones.
* Nine.
Star Trek.
Where the Wild Things Are.
The Young Victoria.

Best Animated Film
Coraline.
Fantastic Mr. Fox.
9.
Ponyo.
* Up.

 

National Board of Review (NBR) website.

Washington DC Area Film Critics Association website.

Vera Farmiga and George Clooney Up in the Air image: Dale Robinette / Paramount Pictures.

Meryl Streep It's Complicated image: Universal Pictures.

Carey Mulligan An Education image: Sony Pictures Classics.


         
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