All Aboard!

6 Dec

The National Board of Review, as it is now known, has been around since 1909, longer than even the Academy. If memory serves, this group used to be the first out of the gate with year-end honorees, but it now seems to jockey for that distinction with the New York Film Critics Circle which got the ball rolling on Tuesday. I’ve always thought that the NBR tends to vote conservatively, meaning well-meaning literate films that are rarely cutting edge (Driving Miss Daisy, anyone?), and maybe that was true at one time. On the other hand, this is the same group that recognized Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane while the Academy lauded How Green was My Valley. This year’s choices certainly show an independent streak.

Okay, now the NBR honor roll:


^ Forte

Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte (Nebraska) Quick! How many Saturday Night Live vets have made the leap to Oscar nominated glory? The first was Joan Cusack, from the 85-86 season, who was initially nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1988’s Working Girl and was subsequently nominated in the same category for 1997’s In & Out. Two years ago, Kristen Wiig scored a Best Original Screenplay nod for Bridesmaids. In between were the likes of  Dan Ackroyd (Driving Miss Daisy, 1989), Robert Downey Jr., another 84-85 cast member (Chaplin, 1992), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation, 2003), Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls, 2006), and a few scant others. I’m happy Forte is having this brush with success in his post-SNL career. Of course, SNL is a great training ground for actor/comedians, but long-term success often proves elusive.  In other words, Forte as McGruber, the righteous McGyver parody, is a hoot for 2-3 minutes, but the gag couldn’t be sustained for the length of a feature film. Now, Forte is well-positioned to show his true mettle and make a clean break.

Octavia Spencer

^ Spencer

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) – Spencer’s film, a fact-based account of a genuine tragedy, may very well have been the most acclaimed, non-franchise, film of the summer. Definitely not a typical warm-weather feel-good flick.  Of course, Spencer is no stranger to the wonderful world of awards per her Best Supporting Oscar victory just two years ago for the hugely popular The Help.  Fruitvale Station will be released in digital home video format at the end of this month, and on DVD sometime in January. I think seeing it at home might be the best way to experience a movie with such difficult subject matter. Anyway, I’m happy for Spencer. She deserves to be more than a one-hit wonder. I think she needs to be in as many movies as possible, and she should also avoid a reported reboot of the longrunning mystery series Murder, She Wrote, which made delightful Angela Lansbury a TV fixture for years. Let’s see if another Oscar race shelves that project for now.


^ Dern

Best Actor: Bruce Dern (Nebraska) – Earlier this year, Dern won Best Actor honors at Cannes for Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, so this week’s victory proves the earlier honor was no fluke.  Of course,  Payne has guided multiple performers to Oscar nominations, including Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen (both for 2004’s Sideways) as well as Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates (About Schmidt, 1992), and George Clooney (The Descendants, 2011).  Of course, none of those celebrated performers actually won Oscars for one of Payne’s films–nor did Reese Witherspoon (Election) nor Laura Dern (Citizen Ruth), Bruce’s daughter. Furthermore, despite tons of publicity, Paul Giamatti, the star of Payne’s Sideways, didn’t even garner as much as an Academy nomination though two of his cast mates, as noted, did.  Additionally, once upon a time, the NBR was a pretty good Oscar indicator in this category, but not so much anymore. Still, Dern is an actor through and through, a Hollywood fixture–and a previous Best Supporting Actor nominee for 1978’s Coming Home.  Nebraska, a road movie that superficially recalls About Schmidt,  is now officially the next movie on my “Must See” list. I hope the weather cooperates this weekend. Ugh, right now that’s not happening.


^ Thompson

Best Actress: Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) – The whole idea of this movie makes me uneasy. It’s no secret, of course, that P.L. Travers, whom Thompson portrays, was never a fan of the big, boisterous musical that Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) made from Travers’s Mary Poppins, and this movie purports to give Travers her due at long last, revealing her deep, personal connection to the material that made her famous as well as the behind the scenes struggles with Disney and his team. Oh, did I forget to explain that the Disney empire is also the studio releasing this entry? It’s like Disney, the conglomerate, somehow wants to apologize for making a flat-out fortune off of Travers while also dipping from the well one more time. Really? Nonetheless, word-of-mouth regarding Thompson’s performance has been quietly, and now not-so-quietly, building for awhile.  As far as that goes, I’ll take it. It’s been too, too long since Thompson has had a full-throttle film role with which to showcase her enormous talent. Oh sure, there have been glimmers here and there, but I was afraid her best work might be behind her though she was a hoot in the otherwise dreadful Beautiful Creatures which came and went in a flash earlier this year–and when I say her best work, I’m referring to her Oscar for Howards End (I guess) as well as The Remains of the Day, In the Name of the Father, Sense and Sensibility, Dead Again, and Much Ado About Nothing. Of course, for a whole generation of moviegoers she’ll always be  Professor Sybil Trelawney from the Harry Potter films.


An image from Spike Jonze’s Her: “Call From Samantha.” Joaquin Phoenix plays a man who apparently falls in love with his operating system. “Samantha” is voiced by Scarlett Johanssen. The cast also includes former Oscar nominees Amy Adams and Rooney Mara.

Best Picture/Director: Her (Spike Jonze) – The former whiz kid music video director turned Academy nominated filmmaker (Being John Malkovich) is back with an unconventional romance that develops between a lonely man and a virtual companion, an operating system. Or something like that. I have to say I’m a little shocked by this  choice though I’ve been reading wonderful things about the film. I confess that until this week’s win, I hadn’t thought that much about seeing it at all though I’m a huge, HUGE fan of star Joaquin Phoenix. Maybe the movie really is a good as it’s supposed to be; after all, Jonze is nothing if not a specialist in quirky fare, but the trailer reminds me of too many other things, include S1mONE, the Andrew Niccol flop from a decade ago starring Al Pacino, or even 2012’s Ruby Sparks, maybe even 2007’s exquisite Lars and the Real Girl and so on and so forth, going all the way back, I guess, to Pygmalion and Galatea. Maybe this one will surprise me. I almost think at this point that the critics groups are trying their best to generate interest in awards in a season that almost seemed a foregone conclusion a few weeks ago, and by that I mean a showdown between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity. Since such movies as American Hustle (the NYFC pick), Her , and Saving Mr. Banks have not yet opened nationally, there’s no way to gauge if these early selections will make an impact.

The NBR also recognized Ryan Coogler (Frutivale Station) for his directorial debut as did the New York Film Critics Circle, so this is turning out to be a banner week for Coogler. Good for him.  Also in accordance with the NYFC is a win for The Wind Rises as Best Animated Film, the final offering from master animator Hayao Miyazaki . (A “historical fantasy,” as it’s being billed, based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of Japanese WWII fighter planes…might be hard to market in the US in December. Just sayin’.) Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color) was honored for her “Breakthrough” performance as was Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station). Note: Exarchopoulos tied with her co-star Léa Seydoux for Best Actress honors at Cannes, where Blue is the Warmest Color also captured the fest’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

The NBR honored Joel and Ethan Coen for their original screenplay, Inside Llewyn Davis, while Terrence Winter won recognition for his The Wolf of Wall Street adaptation. Prisoners, the fall’s dark, dark crime drama took Best Ensemble honors for a cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano.  Oh, and Gravity wasn’t completely ignored per the NBR’s “Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award” and its inclusion among the year’s top films.


Top Films (in alphabetical order)

  1. 12 Years a Slave
  2. Fruitvale Station

  3. Gravity

  4. Inside Llewyn Davis

  5. Lone Survivor

  6. Nebraska

  7. Prisoners

  8. Saving Mr. Banks

  9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  10. The Wolf of Wall Street

Top 10 Independent Films (In Alphabetical Order)

  1. Ain’t  Them Bodies Saints
  2. Dallas Buyers Club

  3. In a World…

  4. Mother of George

  5. Much Ado about Nothing

  6. Mud

  7. The Place Beyond the Pines
  8. Short Term 12

  9. Sightseers
  10. The Spectacular Now

Thanks for your consideration…

National Board of Review site:


3 Responses to “All Aboard!”

  1. Vivian Rutledge 07 December 2013 at 10:52 am #

    All I can say is, Morgan and I saw Saving Mr. Banks a couple of weeks ago an Emma Thompson is fantastic!

    • listen2uraunt 07 December 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Okay, Viv, that’s good to know because I’m a big Thompson fan. Thanks for the update. I hope y’all are nice and warm.

      • listen2uraunt 08 December 2013 at 10:10 pm #

        PS to Vivian: Right now, my “Must See’ list is topped by Nebraska, Frozen, and Philomena. If I make it to all of those, I’ll be ready for Saving Mr. Banks, Her, and American Hustle.

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