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Licorice Pizza , Will Smith hit Oscars stride among 2021 National Board of Review winners

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  • Will Smith
    Will Smith
    American actor
  • Rachel Zegler
    American singer and actress
  • Paul Thomas Anderson
    Paul Thomas Anderson
    American film director, screenwriter, and producer
  • Aunjanue Ellis
    American actress

Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza and Reinaldo Marcus Green's King Richard offered up a delicious serve of awards season goodness among the National Board of Review list of the best films of 2021.

At the end of the busiest week of awards season thus far, the NBR named Licorice Pizza as the best of 2021 among its annual slate of year-end winners, which also included honors for King Richard's cast and West Side Story's leading newcomer Rachel Zegler.

Among the acting winners were Will Smith, who won Best Actor for his portrayal of the film's titular father to tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, while Zegler earned her first ever major film award for her leading turn in Steven Spielberg's critically lauded big-screen update of the Stephen Sondheim classic.

Supporting trophies went to King Richard standout Aunjanue Ellis as the tennis stars' mother, as well as Ciarán Hinds' work in Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical historical drama Belfast.

The NBR's picks join those of the Gotham Awards (which Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter steamrolled on Monday) and the New York Film Critics Circle, which is set to reveal its 2021 award winners throughout the day on Friday.

National Board of Review Licorice Pizza for Best Film Will Smith for Best Actor for King Richard; and Rachel Zegler for Best Actress for West Side Story
National Board of Review Licorice Pizza for Best Film Will Smith for Best Actor for King Richard; and Rachel Zegler for Best Actress for West Side Story

MGM; Chiabella James/Warner Bros.; Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios National Board of Review winners 'Licorice Pizza' for Best Film, Will Smith for Best Actor in 'King Richard,' and Rachel Zegler for Best Actress in 'West Side Story.'

Established in 1909 by theater owners fighting the revoking of exhibition licenses by New York City officials, the NBR is now comprised of film enthusiasts, academics, and other movie professionals working inside the industry. In recent years, it has evolved into a vital stepping stone (and visibility booster) on the path to potential Oscar glory for would-be contenders.

The group has boosted late-breaking projects into the race at large, like 2013's Her, 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, and Riz Ahmed's NBR-winning performance in Sound of Metal just last year — all of which went on to generate Academy Awards heat.

Over the last 20 years, only two of the NBR's top-film winners have missed out on a Best Picture Oscar nomination: 2014's A Most Violent Year and 2020's Da 5 Bloods. Last year, NBR acting winners like Ahmed, Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman), Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), and Supporting Actress Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn (Minari) all made pit stops at the NBR prior to bagging Oscar attention.

See the full list of the 2021 National Board of Review winners below.

Best Film: Licorice Pizza

Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson — Licorice Pizza

Best Actor: Will Smith — King Richard

Best Actress: Rachel Zegler — West Side Story

Best Supporting Actor: Ciarán Hinds — Belfast

Best Supporting Actress: Aunjanue Ellis — King Richard

Best Original Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi — A Hero

Best Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen — The Tragedy of Macbeth

Breakthrough Performance: Alana Haim & Cooper Hoffman — Licorice Pizza

Best Directorial Debut: Michael Sarnoski — Pig

Best Animated Feature: Encanto

Best Foreign Language Film: A Hero

Best Documentary: Summer of Soul

Best Ensemble: The Harder They Fall

Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel — The Tragedy of Macbeth

NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Flee

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

Belfast
Don't Look Up
Dune
King Richard
The Last Duel
Nightmare Alley
Red Rocket
The Tragedy of Macbeth
West Side Story

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)

Benedetta
Lamb
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds
Titane
The Worst Person in the World

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

Ascension
Attica
Flee
The Rescue
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)

The Card Counter
C'mon C'mon
CODA
The Green Knight
Holler
Jockey
Old Henry
Pig
Shiva Baby
The Souvenir Part II

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Oscars analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's movies and performances.

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