The National Board of Review: The Name of the Campaign Game is ‘Compliance’

5 Dec

The National Board of Review’s selection of Compliance’s Ann Dowd is certainly an interesting pick. Just last week, Dowd was likewise nominated for a Spirit award for her performance, so good for her; however, I also wonder if there isn’t some blurring of leading/supporting players in order to make that happen. In the film, which carries the familiar Magnolia Pictures banner (per Dallas’s own Mark Cuban), Dowd plays the manager of a fastfood restaurant who believes she is helping police investigate one of her own employees, played by Dreama Walker. Though Walker’s pretty face is plastered all over the poster–and Dodd’s image is likewise nowhere to be found, the fact is that Dowd is top-billed on the IMDb, and she appears to be very much the lead in what is by all accounts a riveting indie slice of the evil that men–and women–do.

Well, Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is looking more and more like threat to a pair of much ballyhooed Oscar hopefuls, Argo and Lincoln, as Bigelow’s latest scored a pair of important wins in Wednesday afternoon’s National Board of Review voting on the heels, so to speak, of her victory earlier in the week with the New York Film Critics Circle. If Bigelow’s streak continues, she could very well become the first AND second woman to claim Academy Awards for Best Director, which, actually does not show a whole lot of progress on the part of the Academy. To clarify: of the three women who were nominated for Best Director before Bigelow won for 2009’s The Hurt Locker, none have earned nods for follow-up films. That list, btw, includes: Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, 1975), Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003).

Furthermore, Bigelow shouldn’t get too comfy with her new frontrunner status because, simply, most directors don’t win Oscars for back-to-back projects:  John Ford, Oscar’s only 4-time Best Director champ, won for 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath (presumably snatching victory away from Alfred Hitchcock whose Rebecca won Best Picture) and then came back for more with 1941’s How Green was My Valley. Per the IMDb, Ford completed Tobacco Road and The Long Voyage Home during the interim.  Also, Joseph L. Mankiewicz collected back-to-back Oscars for directing–and writing–Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950), the latter of which also won Best picture honors.  The last director to snare a second Oscar was Clint Eastwood, who waited 12 years–and directed eight features–between Unforgiven (1992)  and Million Dollar Baby (2004). (To clarify, while Zero Dark Thirty is Bigelow’s first feature film since The Hurt Locker, she worked on a failed TV pilot entitled The Miraculous Year in 2003.)

Here are the National Board of Review winners in most categories:

  • Best Picture – Zero Dark Thirty
  • Best Actress – Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Actor – Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Best Supporting Actress – Ann Dowd (Compliance)
  • Best Supporting Actor –  Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
  • Best Original Screenplay – Rian Johnson (Looper)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Best Animated Feature – Wreck-It Ralph
  • Special Achievement in Filmmaking – Ben Affleck (Argo)
  • Breakthrough Actress – Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)\
  • Breakthrough Actor – Tom Holland (The Impossible)
  • Best Ensemble – Les Misérables
  • Best Directorial Debut – Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Best Foreign Film (Amour, France)
  • Best Documentary – Searching for Sugarman
  • Best Foreign Film – (Amour, France)
  • Spotlight Award – John Goodman (Argo, Flight, Paranorman, and Trouble with the Curve)
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Central Park Five
  • NBR Freedom of Expression Award:Promised Land

I have to say that this looks like a mess to me.  It appears as though the NBR was determined that every actor/filmmaker should have a trophy as is the case today with the “everyone is special, and everyone gets a ribbon/award just for participating” mind-set that ensures no one, including losers, goes home feeling like a loser.  Hmmmm…Ben Affleck’s Argo craps out as Best Picture and Best Director? Give him an award for “Special Achievement in Filmmaking.”  John Goodman doesn’t garner enough votes to earn Best Supporting Actor in spite of a highly prolific year? Let’s hand him the “Spotlight Award” whatever that is.

If all of the above were not enough, the National Board of Review, which predates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scientists, has long released a “10 Best List.” Here, after Zero Dark Thirty, are the board’s 9 runners-up in alphabetical order:

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Lincoln
  • Looper
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Promised Land
  • Silver Linings Playbook

Lots of praise and lots of pretty Dreama Walker, but not a lot of Nancy Dowd who may very well play the leading character in Compliance.

Even with all that, the board wants everyone to be a winner, so there are separate “Best Of” lists for foreign films, documentaries, and even independent films, which is good news for Bernie, Compliance, and Moonrise Kingdom, all of which made the indie cut while other “specialized” fare, such as Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which are currently in the running for Spirit Awards (aka the Independent Spirit Awards), are being lumped with some of the more mainstream offerings.  How confusing can this get?

Meanwhile, I have to say I was aggravated–when I wasn’t underwhelmed–by  writer-director Rian Johnson’s time-travel yarn Looper, starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt (improbably as younger and older versions of the same character) though both actors have done this sort of twisty concoction before–only in much better films: Willis in Twelve Monkeys (1995)  and  Levitt in Inception (2010). Looper starts out intriguingly enough, but in spite of its razzmatazz,  the storytelling is sloppy. My take for Best Original Screenplay would have been Moonrise Kingdom. For that matter, while I have not  yet seen The Impossible, Moonrise Kingdom‘s young Jared Gilman would have certainly been my pick for the “breakthrough” actor of the year.

Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio’s appearance as Best Supporting Actor kind of confuses me, but only until I remember that Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is coming to us from the Weinstein Brothers, perhaps the craftiest Oscar strategists of all time, and they no doubt want to keep DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx–as the title character–from competing against each other.   More compliance.

Thanks for your consideration…

The National Board of Review:

Kathryn Bigelow at the IMDb:

Compliance at the IMDb:

Magnolia Pictures:


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