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The National Board of Review is the traditional kick-off of awards season. It starts to put to rest all of the early (and super early) predictions we’ve been making since, well, the day after the last Oscars ceremony. But the NBR isn’t some great bellwether for Best Picture, be it winner or nominees. Quite often the barely match up. What is does do, especially since they are the unofficial starter, is give the momentum a frontrunner needs to have throughout the season or give an extra shot at a dark horse or outlier. Mad Max: Fury Road winning Best Film last year definitely gave that film’s awards chances a shot of adrenalin and it eventually went on to score 10 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and winning six awards.
Taking a look at the last four match-ups between the National Board of Review and the Oscars shows us that the NBR is not where to look for your Best Picture Oscar winner. You’d have to go back to 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire to find them agree.
What can most often be said though is that within the National Board of Review’s Top 10 films you’ll find Oscar’s Best Picture. Only 2014, when A Most Violent Year won NBR, will you find a recent winner (or Top 10 mention) to miss out at the Oscars.
This year the NBR chose Manchester by the Sea as their Best Film and every pundit has the film predicted for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, so it’s pretty safe. That said, there is a scenario in which the film misses. Its bleak nature could find itself on the outside if the Academy decides the film is too cold and leans more towards uplifting or warmer material. That’s an outside possibility though, to be sure. Looking at the rest of their list is where you’ll find your Oscar Best Picture.
Looking at the rest of their list is where you’ll find your Oscar Best Picture. Right now, the momentum is behind La La Land and newly minted Gotham Award Best Feature winner Moonlight, the latter of which also performed well at the Independent Spirit Award nominations (La La Land was ineligible there). La La Land managed a Top 10 mention but failed to get any traction anywhere else, which seemed odd. They don’t have an aversion to musicals (Moulin Rouge! won here) so it’s not that. Spotlight, this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, also wound up about the same so maybe the NBR is just fearful of anointing a film that already has traction.
I wouldn’t be terribly concerned if I was on Team Jackie or Team Fences just because they missed out here. Although I was surprised to see it, both films should be able to perform well throughout the season. Something interesting that did happen today was the near omission of the Warner Bros/Clint Eastwood parade. Sully‘s Top 10 mention was the sole place it (or Live by Night) showed up. Has the love affair ended? If it did, I might accuse Peter Berg of stealing (or starting to steal) that spot. His Lone Survivor was a Top 10 film, his Patriots Day is this year. Plus, he and star Mark Wahlberg were given the Spotlight Award for Creative Collaboration (which also folds in their Deepwater Horizon from this year). Just saying keep an eye on these two. Hidden Figures showed up in the Top 10 and won the Best Ensemble prize. That’s a film that needed something early in the season if it’s going to be a player later. But then, Prisoners did the same thing in 2013 and that went nowhere. You just never know.
Here is how the National Board of Review and Oscar have matched up (or haven’t) in the last four years.