The National Board of Review chose Zero Dark Thirty as its best film, but it was the selection of a few out-of-the-box nominees that are most compelling — including a supporting actress nomination for character actress Ann Dowd’s work in the indie thriller Compliance.
Zero Dark Thirty, which also claimed the group’s best director prize for Kathryn Bigelow, can count this — along with the same wins at the New York Film Critics Circle on Monday — as a serious momentum-builder in the race for the Oscars. But ever since it began screening last week, the film has been heralded far and wide as a heavyweight award season player. Academy voters, it’s fair to say, are already aware.
For someone like Dowd, whose film is lesser known and doesn’t have the same marketing machine behind her, this is a critical victory, a massive “CONSIDER THIS” sign pointed directly at her. If they haven’t already, the Screen Actors Guild nominating committee, Golden Globe voters, and Academy members would be wise to check out her work in the film, in which she plays a well-meaning fast-food manager who is manipulated into thinking one of her employees (Don’t Trust the B‘s Dreama Walker) is guilty of a crime.
Jessica Chastain also won best actress for Zero Dark Thirty, a role that is making her a formidable force in the lead actress Oscar race. But otherwise, The National Board of Review — made up of film scholars, student filmmakers, and fans — tended to skew away from obvious frontrunners.
Bradley Cooper won best actor Silver Linings Playbook, instead of Daniel Day-Lewis — who is far and away considered an Oscar lock for Lincoln. And Leonardo Di Caprio claimed the award for best supporting actor, the first major prize for Django Unchained, which had its debut screening only last Saturday.
The group also recognized Rian Johnson’s time-travel mindbender Looper as best original screenplay — which, like Dowd’s win — should encouraged Writers Guild of America and Academy voters to give it serious consideration. David O. Russell won adapted screenplay for Silver Linings Playbook, as the group again turned away from an obvious Oscar frontrunner in that group — Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln.
Among the snubs were Life of Pi and The Master, with no nominations whatsoever.
Few will ever make the Oscar shortlist, but the NBR’s compilation of the 10 best indie films makes — apart from the exclusion of the excellent Middle of Nowhere — a fantastic alternate-universe Best Picture list: Arbitrage, Bernie, Compliance, End of Watch, Hello I Must Be Going, Little Birds, Moonrise Kingdom, On the Road, Quartet, Sleepwalk With Me.
Here’s the full list:
Best Film: Zero Dark Thirty
Top 10 Films
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Silver Linings Playbook
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Actor: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Actress: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, Compliance
Original Screenplay: Rian Johnson, Looper
Adapted Screenplay: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph
Special Achievement in Filmmaking: Ben Affleck, Argo
Breakthrough Actor: Tom Holland, The Impossible
Breakthrough Actress: Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directorial Debut: Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Foreign Language Film: Amour
Top 5 Foreign Language Films
The Kid With a Bike
Documentary: Searching For Sugarman
Top 5 Documentaries
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
The Invisible War
Only the Young
William K. Everson Film History Award: 50 Years of Bond Films
Ensemble: Les Miserables
Spotlight Award: John Goodman (Argo, Flight, Paranorman, Trouble With the Curve)
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Central Park Five
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Promised Land
Top 10 Independent Films
End of Watch
Hello I Must Be Going
On the Road
Sleepwalk With Me
For more on the best awards movies of the year