NBR goes heavy on ‘The Post’ & A24 Films; November awards season check-in.

Awards season is off and running. The Gotham Awards went down last night. The Indie Spirit noms came out last week. Those two collectives focus on honoring the independent, small-budget films of the year. Many films that pop up there also go on to hit big with Oscar, but many simply aren’t eligible for various reasons. The National Board of Review, a mysterious and secretive NY-based collective of film enthusiasts that’s been citing the best in the field since 1909, weighed in today. The NBR, like any precursor, shouldn’t be considered too heavily when predicting Oscar, but it is one of the first major groups to have their say and citations from them can give a film a boost as other critics groups and industry guilds have their say over the coming weeks. There are always some films that make the NBR’s top 10 that don’t go on to receive a Best Picture nomination (Sully, Silence, Patriots Day, and Hail, Caesar! last year) and 4 of the last 5 NBR Best Director winners missed out on Oscar noms (Barry Jenkins bucked the trend last year). On the other hand, only 3 times since 1990 has the NBR Best Film winner missed out on a Best Picture nomination. It’s worth talking about a little bit for any serious awards nerd.

So let’s do that.

And if you’re interested, here’s a spreadsheet of my actuals Oscar prefix with analysis, that I updated weekly: OSCAR PREDICTIONS 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Post‘ named Best Film, and more.

In a bit of a surprise, considering reviews of the film are still embargoed, Steven Spielberg’s The Post took the NBR’s top prize. An unseen wildcard over the last few weeks as awards discussion heated up, a film about The Pentagon Papers from one of the most acclaimed directors ever certainly seems to have Oscar DNA, especially in a time when a certain orange man is making freedom of the press a talking point. But some bad buzz came with the film a while back due to nobody seeing even an image of it and some mumbling that it was having problems in the editing room (that buzz appears to have been completely made up by thirsty bloggers). A historical Spielberg drama hit big with Oscar as recently as two years ago (Bridge of Spies).

What’s most surprising here isn’t that The Post won Best Film, but that its two lead performers (Tom Hanks & Meryl Streep) won Best Actor & Best Actress, respectively. Streep, with her 20 Oscar noms, was always assumed to be a contender this year and now we have verification of that. Hanks on the other hand is genuinely surprising to see cited here, considering word suggests it’s really “Streep’s film” and juggernauts like Gary Oldman and Daniel Day-Lewis were competing with him. Despite stellar recent work in films like Sully and Captain Phillips, Hanks hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since Cast Away in 2000. Can he continue the momentum all season? Winning NBR by no means guarantees an Oscar nom, just ask Oscar Isaac and Sean Penn.

The twitterverse is already buzzing that The Post could be the first film since Silence of the Lambs to win the “big five” Oscars (Picture, Director, lead Actor, lead actress, screenplay). It’s a little early for such speculation but The Post certainly looks like a force to be reckoned with.

A nice day for A24 Films’ three-headed pony.

A24 Films, a NY-based company and probably the premiere indie studio right now, won the big Oscar last year with Moonlight. They appear to have 3 strong players this year and the NBR put all of them in their top 10, as well as citing them elsewhere. Lady Bird, an exceptional coming-of-age film and surprising commercial hit, saw Greta Gerwig named Best Director by the NBR. What a pleasant surprise that is, considering it’s her directorial debut and she’s just the second woman to win it in NBR’s 109 year history. The Disaster Artist, James Franco’s dramedy about the making of cult midnight disaster/classic The Room, scooped up Best Adapted Screenplay for Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber. It’s looking like a real Oscar player in a weak adapted screenplay field and also for Franco’s lead performance. The Florida Project, Directed by Sean Baker, saw Willem Dafoe scoop up Best Supporting Actor. The veteran seems like a great bet to hit with SAG & Oscar as well, and any citations help a really small film like this. Add in a trio of early-year acclaimed films in It Comes At Night, A Ghost Story, and Good Time it’s been a nice stretch for A24.

Surprising inclusions, and exclusions, in the NBR top 10.

The NBR always goes against the grain a bit, but this year’s crop of 10is particularly strange. Their top 10, in alphabetical order:

  • Baby Driver (TriStar Pictures, dir. Edgar Wright)
  • Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
  • The Disaster Service (A24 Films, dir. James Franco)
  • Downsizing (Paramount, dir. Alexander Payne)
  • Dunkirk (Warner Bros, dir. Christopher Nolan)
  • The Florida Project (A24 Films, dir. Sean Baker)
  • Get Out (Universal, dir. Jordan Peele)
  • Lady Bird (A24 Films, dir. Greta Gerwig)
  • Logan (Fox, dir. James Mangold)
  • Phantom Thread (Focus Features, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

Let’s start with the films that ARE in the top 10. Baby Driver, while a smash commercial hit and critical darling, wasn’t something I thought would pop up anywhere outside sound categories. It’s unapologetically escapist, seemed to be relatively forgotten about, and features a certain actor in some hot water right now. It’s cool to see such a popular film get a citation, but don’t expect to hear its name much throughout the season. Alexander Payne has always been a juggernaut when it comes to awards, but Downsizing was ripped apart by critics on the festival circuit. I assumed it was dead on arrival. Perhaps not?

There’s been talk all year about how hard Fox would campaign Logan, and it appears to be paying early dividends. Despite the narrative surrounding Wonder Woman and the general acclaim the trio of Marvel movies received, Logan was always the best awards bet when it comes to this year’s superhero crop. It’s style is much easier for cynics and film purists to digest. Paul Thomas Anderson films will always be contenders, but it’s still a bit surprising to see it cited here considering its first screenings were less than a week ago. PTA also won Best Original Screenplay from the NBR.

The rest of the top 10 were all assumed to be strong awards players yesterday, and they still will be tomorrow. While these early awards so more about what they nominate than what they don’t nominate, I’d still like to discuss a trio of films that AREN’T in the NBR top 10.

Everyone has said all year that Gary Oldman (playing Winston Churchill) is winning Best Actor for Darkest Hour. But neither he nor the film were cited by the NBR. I wouldn’t panic. It’s a more traditional player, something that’ll do better with industry guilds than critics, and should have no problem capturing the older vote and the British vote (still important even as the Academy continues to diversify). As for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water, I’m starting to have a bit of pause when it comes to calling them Best Picture frontrunners. Both missed out with the NBR, and the Gothams/Indie Spirits as well, despite being eligible indies. They both played really well on the festival circuit and have vocal admirers, but perhaps the early hyperbole is a bit much. We’ll see. Again, it’s still early.

List of NBR Winners

  • Best Film: The Post
  • Best Director: Greta Gerwig
  • Best Lead Actor: Tom Hanks (The Post)
  • Best Lead Actress: Meryl Streep (The Post)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Scott Neustadter & Michael Weber (The Disaster Artist)
  • Best Animated Feature: Coco
  • Breakthrough Performance: Timothée Chalet (Call Me By Your Name)
  • Best Directorial Debut: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
  • Best Foreign Film: Foxtrot
  • Best Documentary: Jane
  • Best Ensemble: Get Out

Check back soon for more commentary as awards season continues.

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