The Playoffs:
The National Board of Review awards

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Well, this took us by surprise today--late this afternoon, we dropped by AICN, and they'd put up the National Board of Review awards, as follows (See! We told you it wasn't too early to start forecasting for the Oscars!), with Cleolinda's commentary below each listing (also the comments in italics), or go back to AICN for the quick version.
A note on the overall awards: The National Board of Review, in the manner of several overseas film festivals, seems to prefer to spread the love around on principle than let any one movie sweep the awards. Keep this in mind.

BEST FILM: "Moulin Rouge"
Wow, this is a surprise. Critics and filmgoers alike had mixed feelings--sometimes the very excesses were a swooning bonus and sometimes they were seen as a flaw, though overall it was viewed as a riotous near-masterpiece. It's just that we didn't expect the NBR to get that. For a lot of people, this, in a way, is the validation that no one will laugh at them for nominating Moulin Rouge for Best Picture, which it had a lot of buzz for anyway. If Moulin Rouge doesn't get one of the five Best Pic noms now, I'll eat my keyboard.

1. "Moulin Rouge"

2. "In The Bedroom" 
Under the radar, "art-house", but extremely highly acclaimed, especially for Sissy Spacek's performance. We've heard a lot of rumbling about a Best Actress nomination for her.

3. "Ocean's 11"
Yeah, it's a Soderbergher, but we're still a little surprised. The original movie was meh, to say the least. This is stupid reasoning--and therefore faultless Oscar logic--but it just doesn't seem to have enough
weight to it, enough seriousness. The way that Traffic had a much better chance than Erin Brockovich last year, for example, though the latter had its own drama.

4. "Memento"
Well, duh (read our review, link above, and see what we mean). We just can't believe, as with Moulin Rouge, that the NBR
got it.

5. "Monster's Ball"
Hasn't been released yet. You wanna talk about "serious"? A black woman sleeps with her husband's (white) prison guard. The racially charged subject matter, I felt when I first heard about it, gave this movie the potential to be one of those searing masterpieces if it worked, and to blow up in our faces if it didn't. Lately, it's been getting positive reviews. Still a bit of a surprise to find it on the list.

6. "Black Hawk Down"

Not a surprise. Ridley Scott's unintentionally timely new opus got so much advance praise that the studio did, in fact, move it forward for an Oscar-qualifying run.

7. "The Man Who Wasn't There"
Mixed reception, but it
is the Coens, and several critics felt this was more like their Oscar-winner Fargo than their lighter, loonier outings.

8. "A.I. Artificial Intelligence"
Big surprise, after the hotly mixed reviews this summer. Nice to see that the NBR is keeping the flame alive. I, for one, loved it and still had issues with the last part ("TURN OFF THE VOICEOVER!!"), but you have to give Spielberg props for trying to stretch himself as a director.

9. "The Pledge"
Directed by Sean Penn, with Jack Nicholson. Released a long time ago, which speaks to the impression it made on the critics that it still got listed. Heard it was utterly, utterly depressing, which can either be viewed as "an uncompromising artistic triumph" or "really, really depressing."

10. "Mulholland Drive"
To sum up the top ten, after a dreadful summer of paint-by-the-numbers crap, what we're seeing is a large crop of experimental, love-or-hate, passionately artistic films. This one, David Lynch's latest, has inspired a lot of passionate discussion, which is a hallmark of the films listed, I think.

BEST FOREIGN FILM: "Amores Perros"
Not the universally beloved, feel-good Amelie. Interesting. However,
E! Online notes that Amores Perros fell through a weird deadline crack--it was an Oscar nominee last year.
"Behind the Sun"
"Dark Blue World"
"No Man's Land"

A note on the acting awards: We can't seem to find an official site for the National Board of Review, nothing explaining how they choose or vote, but it should be noted that the performers they single out for acting laurels frequently are more like MVPs for the year. That is, they can reward multiple performances with one award, where the Academy can't.

BEST ACTOR: Billy Bob Thornton, "Monster's Ball" and "The Man Who Wasn't There"

Notice how both are in the top ten.

BEST ACTRESS: Halle Berry, "Monster's Ball"
Again, this goes a long way to explain why "Monster's Ball" is in the top ten, since it hasn't been released yet and we can't see for ourselves.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jim Broadbent, "Iris" and "Moulin Rouge"
Hey! He was also Bridget Jones' dad!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett, "The Man Who Cried," "The Shipping News," and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Is Her Cateness ever bad in a movie? However, the main film she had Best Actress buzz for, Charlotte Gray, is nowhere to be seen.

BEST DIRECTOR: Todd Field, "In The Bedroom"

This is really interesting here--Personally, I only know this actor (you heard me,
actor) from Eyes Wide Shut, where he was Tom Cruise's piano playing friend with the excellent name of "Nick Nightingale." And though this is his first effort as a director, you'll notice someone else won for Directorial Debut below. I read a review somewhere just this weekend of In the Bedroom, and it did specifically praise Field's direction, and the film is indeed #2 on this list. But not Baz Luhrmann for Moulin Rouge, for example? Very interesting indeed.


BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER: Naomi Watts, "Mulholland Drive"
Understandable--apparently, based on the strength of her performance in this film, she got the role in the thriller The Ring.

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMER: Hayden Christensen, "Life as a House"
Again, not surprising--this is the new Anakin Skywalker we're talking about. A lot of his defenders pointed to his performance in this film as proof that he had the chops for Star Wars.


This comes on the heels of his roles as FDR in Pearl Harbor and Howard Cosell in Ali, you'll note.


In reference to A.I., do you suppose?

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN FILMMAKING: Peter Jackson, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

What the hell does this mean? As Harry Knowles noticed, it's interesting that Fellowship didn't appear at all on the top ten list--yet it gets a "special achievement in filmmaking"? More on this if we can dig up the rules & regs for the National Board.

DIRECTORIAL DEBUT: John Cameron Mitchell, "Hedwig & The Angry Inch"

Forgive me for overusing the word "interesting," but it is--in the spirit of the top ten being so


WILLIAM K. EVERSON AWARD FOR FILM HISTORY: Martin Scorsese, "Il Mio Viaggo in Italia"

This takes on greater importance when you know that there is, in fact, a brand new Best Animated Feature Category in the Oscars this year...and you know Disney, with Pixar's Monsters Inc., would kill to take the inaugural statuette.


BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"
Again, this is as technical an award as the National Board of Review seems comfortable giving, but it confirms what many critics have predicted, that LOTR has more than just a strong shot at the technical categories.


Notable omissions (ouch):
Ali; A Beautiful Mind; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; I Am Sam; The Majestic; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Shipping News (other than Blanchett); Vanilla Sky; Tilda Swinton for The Deep End (huge buzz previous to this); Nicole Kidman for The Others (ditto, partially studio-manufactured; see Oscar Logic).

Whose Oscar stock just went way up, so to speak:
Moulin Rouge; Monster's Ball; In the Bedroom; Shrek. I wouldn't go any further than that, though--top awards or frequent mentions may be trying to tell you something; anything else could just be a difference of opinion. Also, it's very, very early in the game.

Disagree? Call us out on the message board!