'Hugo' leaps into the Best Picture race with National Board of Review win

Posted by · 11:17 am · December 1st, 2011

Not so fast, “The Artist.” After Michel Hazanavicius’s silent love letter came out earlier this week in the front of the Best Picture landscape (nailing down five Independent Spirit Award nominations and winning the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Picture prize), Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” has planted a flag in the race today by claiming the National Board of Review’s prize for best film of the year.

The film also won the Best Director prize for Scorsese, and overall, I’m a bit surprised. But happily. I was worried for a moment there we might have a steamroller this season.

“The Artist” did manage to crack the NBR’s top 10 list, which also included Best Picture hopefuls “The Descendants” and “War Horse,” and somewhat surprisingly left room for Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” And the organization being the Clint Eastwood devotees that they are, “J. Edgar” naturally showed up, too.

Speaking of “The Descendants,” George Clooney finally nailed down a prize after being passed up by the Gothams, snubbed by the Independent Spirits and being ignored by the NY press. Clooney was joined by co-star Shailene Woodley in the honors, who was picked for Best Supporting Actress.

More intriguing, though, is Tilda Swinton’s win for Best Actress in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” She has a fighting chance for a nod on the outside of things, but that’s still a tough category to break into this season. Christopher Plummer rounded out the acting honors by winning Best Supporting Actor for his currently Oscar-frontrunning performance in “Beginners.” Though Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”) and Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) were both cited for breakthrough performance recognition.

There’s a little bit of everything (as usual). “The Help,” for instance, which did not, interestingly enough, show up on the top 10 list, did happen to take the Best Ensemble prize. “Margin Call” and J.C. Chandor stole another debut film prize away from Sean Durkin and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (which was actually snubbed across the board) and Michael Fassbender’s prolific year didn’t go unnoticed, as he received the Spotlight Award for all of his work.

Other notable snubs included “My Week with Marilyn,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Albert Nobbs,” “Young Adult” and, most surprisingly, “Moneyball.”

However meaningless one might deem the NBR to be, this is a big get for a film that has been poised to lead the Best Picture conversation for some time. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that the NBR winner rarely duplicates that feat with the Academy. Only “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 and “No Country for Old Men” in 2007 turned the trick.

Also worth noting: Just like with the New York Film Critics Circle, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” was not screened for the National Board of Review.

The full list of winners:

Best Film: “Hugo”

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Best Actor: George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Descendants”

Best Original Screenplay: “50/50”

Best Animated Feature: “Rango”

Breakthrough Performance: Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”

Breakthrough Performance: Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Debut Director: J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call”

Best Ensemble: “The Help”

Spotlight Award: Michael Fassbender (“A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre,” “Shame,” “X-Men: First Class”)

NBR Freedom of Expression: “Crime After Crime”

NBR Freedom of Expression: “Pariah”

Best Foreign Language Film: “A Separation”

Best Documentary: “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”

Special Achievement in Filmmaking: The Harry Potter Franchise – A Distinguished Translation from Book to Film

Top Films (in alphabetical order)
“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”
“The Ides of March”
“J. Edgar”
“The Tree of Life”
“War Horse”

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
“13 Assassins”
“Elite Squad: The Enemy Within”
“Le Havre”
“Point Blank”

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
“Born to be Wild”
“George Harrison: Living in the Material World”
“Project Nim”

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
“Another Earth”
“A Better Life”
“Cedar Rapids”
“Margin Call”
“Take Shelter”
“We Need To Talk About Kevin”
“Win Win”

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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