George Clooney may have breathed a sigh of relief that he's back in the running for an Academy Award after the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (NBR) voted him Best Actor for "The Descendants," yesterday. Also gaining momentum after a New York Film Critics Circle shut-out: Tilda Swinton. As the mother-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown in "We Need to Know about Kevin," she's one step closer to the top five Academy Award nominees, where she would join Meryl Streep and Viola Davis at the very least. Parenthood, it appears, is good for an acting career; bad parenting even better.
The NBR's biggest winner was the 3-D literary adaptation "Hugo," which won both Best Picture and recognition for its director Martin Scorsese. The PG period movie set in the Paris subway, a love song to cinema, couldn't be more different from the old-guard director's early hard-edged gangster bromances. On the loser side, Bennett Miller's "Moneyball" didn't even get a base hit, without any recognition in the group's top ten films, or a toss to either leading actor Brad Pitt or potential supporting player Jonah Hill. Don't even get this New York based group started on Woody Allen. Although "Midnight in Paris" was the director's most successful movie in years, the NBR hasn't given him an award since "Hannah and Her Sisters" in 1986.
Who are the NBR? No one seems to know exactly, giving rise to a mystery somewhere between who built the Sphinx and why someone would actually marry a Kardashian when they can watch them on TV for free. The NBR do, however, throw an annual well-attended gala dinner in New York. According to their website, the group, founded in 1909, consists of "a select group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, filmmakers, academics, and students." Their predicting power is spotty — but that can be said of any number of critics groups, including the esteemed NYFCC.
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The rest of the NBR picks revealed the usual assortment of hits and snubs. Christopher Plummer is an early best actor frontrunner for his senior father coming out of the closet after forty years of marriage in "Beginners." The notoriously tetchy actor has never received an Academy Award and certainly wants one — but he won't win any popularity votes like his "Drive" rival Albert Brooks. On the estrogen side, another vote came in for "The Descendants" with a nod for breakout performer Shailene Woodley.
While the NYFCC decided not to bother to vote an animation award, Gore Verbinski's trippy "Rango" got the nod here. That begs the question: what happened to Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin," which should be at the very forefront of this category? Similarly, Spielberg's live-action "War Horse," along with "J. Edgar," "Tree of Life," "The Ides of March," "Drive" and "The Artist" made the group's top films but got no other recognition in any specific categories. Also on that list were "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2," and "The Descendants."
"The Help," not really a critics' film (or in this case "film enthusiasts") didn't crack the top ten, although it won the category of Best Ensemble. At least the NBR had the grace to recognize the money-minter "Harry Potter" series for a Special Achievement in Filmmaking, which is not quite enough to satisfy the hard-core Alan Rickman for Best Supporting Actor movement. "Shame's" Michael Fassbender got recognized with a Spotlight Award for being in nearly every movie but "Harry Potter."
The NBR Gala will be held in Manhattan on January 10th. Expect Clooney to be there, the Energizer Bunny of charm.