Before this year, the National Board of Review served as the unofficial kickoff to awards season. A nonprofit organization made up of "a select group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, filmmakers, academics, and students," they normally were the first organization to bestow prizes on the best films and performances of the year -- until this year, when the New York Film Critics Circle decided to jump in front of them. People don't much respect the NBR -- mostly because it's neither a critics organization nor made up entirely of film professionals -- but their picks help solidify the front-runners for the Oscars. Not since 2000 when they went with "Quills" has their Best Film not ended up nominated for the Academy Award. They're making their selections tomorrow. Let's make our prediction today.
The one movie we know that won't win NBR's Best Film is "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." It's not because it's a bad film, it's because no one's seen it -- including the National Board of Review. (The film supposedly won't be ready for screening until Friday.) That's too bad because otherwise we'd be tempted to consider it. "Extremely Loud" has all the things the group usually goes for: stars, serious subject matter, mainstream appeal, a certain patina of quality. This is not an organization that goes for divisive highbrow fare for their Best Film, so that probably disqualifies "Melancholia" or "The Tree of Life." So who will they pick?
To figure that out, we immediately looked at Movie City News's "Gurus o' Gold" panel of Oscar handicappers to check out the most likely Best Picture candidates at this point. Right now, the top vote-getters are "The Artist," "The Descendants" and "War Horse." You could make a case for all three movies being NBR's Best Film choice: "The Artist" is a popular, sentimental favorite; "The Descendants" has George Clooney (both "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Up in the Air" won Best Film); and "War Horse" is Steven Spielberg. Of those three, we can see NBR leaning toward "The Descendants" over "The Artist," although it's close. "The Descendants" is a critics' darling that audiences seem to be embracing as well -- but then again, so is "The Artist." Plus, both movies are pretty emotional, albeit in different ways. Nonetheless, emotion is definitely something NBR responds to. (They went with "Finding Neverland" and "Moulin Rouge," after all.)
Are there any other possibilities out there? "The Help" and "Midnight in Paris" are tempting, but in the last few years the National Board of Review has gone with weightier films: "Letters From Iwo Jima," "No Country for Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Up in the Air" and "The Social Network." Of those five, "Up in the Air" is the only real comedy, but it's more of a comedy-drama that had the fortunate timing of coming out just as the economic slowdown was really taking effect. The more we think about it, the more we're tempted to go with "The Help" as our sleeper pick -- or, weirdly, "The Tree of Life," just because it's the year's most capital-A arthouse film of the year. But our gut tells us that it's going to be "The Descendants" over "The Artist" -- Clooney's movie is a more "serious" film, and we have a feeling that might carry the day. Plus, as much as we love "The Descendants," it's also a movie that just feels like a National Board of Review Best Film winner.
OK, that's our pick. We can't wait for tomorrow when we find out the group picked "Hugo."