The National Board of review has announced its annual list of year-end bests, moving in a drastically different direction than yesterday’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, crowning Spike Jonze and his film Her with its top two honors.
The NBR generally tends to favor showy titles, big names, big budgets, and audience-friendly fare, which makes it entirely surprising that Gravity–a film right up the NBR alley–walks away with only a special achievement award here. If Gravity‘s finds little success with the LAFCC later this week, its chances at its previously-expected Oscar glory might plummet, though I have faith that the HFPA will eat the film up in its dramatic categories.
Gravity could also prove to have been a mid-season fluke. Its existence as a massive box-office success helmed almost entirely by an Oscar-winning actress (one of the most powerful in Hollywood, mind you) might have bogged the film down with unrealistic expectations that were entirely ahead of themselves just before awards season.
Gravity is, compared to other films in the race, a crowd-pleasing stroke of surface entertainment. It delves beyond the surface if you’re willing to look, but seeing through to its thematic/metaphorical structure isn’t necessary to enjoy the film. It’s still a lock in key technical categories.
The one thing that’s remained consistent throughout the precursor awards is an outpouring of love for Ryan Coogler and his Fruitvale Station. Though it seems to be sweeping minor categories (directorial debuts, breakthrough performances), it’s becoming clear that there’s a passionate push behind the film that extends into other areas, as Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer have been recognized by the Film Independent Spirit Awards and NBR, respectively.
So far, Coogler’s film has received honors and nominations from Sundance, Cannes, the Gotham Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the NYFCC, the Satellite Awards, and now from the NBR. It would be a huge mistake to discount Fruitvale Station‘s chances in the Oscar category for Best Picture.
Sarah Polley adds another win to the ongoing tally for her documentary Stories We Tell, which is now poised as the frontrunner in the Best Documentary Feature category.
Last year, the National Board of Review honored Kathryn Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty with multiple awards (including for her Direction and Jessica Chastain’s lead performance), though it fell just short of Oscar glory thanks to an ugly political agenda aiming for its demise. Whereas the critics circles tend to exist in their own world (somewhat exemplified by the NYFCC’s love for American Hustle), the NBR usually takes a few steps further, throwing in random mass-appealers (Lone Survivor this year) year after year, or pushing an unexpected film to the forefront of the discussion.
Will the NBR’s push for Her extend the film’s reach into big categories at the Oscars? Maybe. We’ve only just witnessed the opening of the gates, and Her is now positioned for a healthy run.
Top 10 Films (in alphabetical order):
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
Saving Mr. Banks
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Film: Her
Best Director: Spike Jonze, Her
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Best Actress: Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, Nebraska
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises
Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
Best Foreign Language Film: The Past
Best Documentary: Stories We Tell
Best Ensemble: Prisoners