Tommy Lee Jones, No Country for Old Men
Credit: Richard Foreman

And we’re off. With today’s announcement from the National Board of Review — that mysterious yet often prescient group that always names its award winners in early December — the Oscar race has now begun. Its recipients include No Country for Old Men (pictured) for best picture, Sweeney Todd‘s Tim Burton for best director, George Clooney (Michael Clayton) and Julie Christie (Away from Her) for the lead acting prizes, and Casey Affleck (Jesse James) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) in the supporting races. Also included on the all-important NBR Top 10 Films list are The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Atonement, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bucket List, Into the Wild, Juno, The Kite Runner, Lars and the Real Girl, Michael Clayton, and Sweeney Todd.

What does all this mean to the overal Oscar picture? Last year, four of the five eventual best picture nominees were first part of the NBR Top 10 (only The Queen wasn’t). So while today’s news doesn’t necessarily sound the death knell for any particular film, it’s certainly not good news for American Gangster, Charlie Wilson’s War, or There Will Be Blood. And as always, the NBR list, which last year included head-scratchers like The History Boys, features a few surprise inclusions, like Bourne (yay!) and the upcoming Jack Nicholson dramedy The Bucket List, which seemed to be a Golden Globe contender at best. But at this point, it cemented films like No Country, Atonement, Juno, Kite Runner, Clayton, and Sweeney as movies to watch in the coming months.