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National Board of Review Top 10 & Awards 2016

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He already has an Oscar nomination for acting where his brother has none, but he may soon add a win to his name.

The NBR has spoken once again. And I, their most devoted follower, have heard them.

Let’s get right to it.

Best Film: Manchester By the Sea

I’m just in a holding pattern as far as this film is concerned. I’ll see it as soon as possible. When that is I don’t know.

Does this make it the frontrunner for Best Picture? Not quite. The NBR winner and the Oscar winner haven’t perfectly synced up since 2008. They often pick the film which many will say should have won, or looked like it was a threat to win until the last minute: The Social Network, Hugo, Mad Max: Fury Road, and so forth.

That said, it’s all but a lock for a nomination now, and at the moment I can only think of one other film with the traction to overtake it, which we’ll get to shortly.

Top 10:

  • Arrival

I have no firm opinion on this one. I’ve seen it, yes, but it’s the kind of film which depends so much upon a twist (or a revelation, if you prefer) as to make me ask: is it a good film bolstered by the element of a surprise, or a great film which has just revealed the depths of its complexity. I cannot say for sure.

  • Hacksaw Ridge – #40: 76 – ***

The battle scenes in Hacksaw Ridge are so visceral, so effective in turning the battlefield into a nightmare-scape straight out of a horror film, that they almost overshadow the very real flaws of the rest of the film. It doesn’t begin well, with the scenes of Desmond Doss’ (Andrew Garfield) early life being, by turns, mawkish, awkward, and sluggish. It picks up when his religious beliefs and his determination to serve come into conflict with the demands made of him by his officers and fellow soldiers, but sags again at the very end with a closing image so over-the-top it borders on parody. In the end, it is a good film, but it falls decisively short of greatness.

  • Hail, Caesar! – #56: 70 – ***

For my money, this is one of the Coens’ least memorable films. It has amusing sequences and the recreation of 50s Hollywood is appreciably lush, but it adds up to nothing. Burn After Reading (also a Top 10 film) made its shaggy-dog story part of the whole point. Here, there’s not really a point, it’s just a series of sketches which the normally savvy brothers have failed to weave into a solid whole. On its own, it’s a pleasant trifle and I enjoyed it for the most part, but there’s just nothing there.

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The surprise hit of the late summer.

  • Hell or High Water – #14: 84 – ***½

I suppose, given that it played at Cannes, I should’ve seen this coming more than I did. Instead, I, like most others, I’d assume, saw the trailer and thought, “Hey…that actually looks decent.” And it was. It’s a very solid modern western with ever-relevant themes about the economy, bolstered by very well-drawn characters, good acting, and all-around solid film-making. Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham all do fine work, and if I can’t quite call it one of the year’s absolute best (though I’d like to see it again), I can certainly understand why it played so long at the theater I worked at. It’s the kind of film that thrives on word of mouth, the kind of film people want to tell each other about. And that’s always a lovely thing to see.

  • Hidden Figures

This is one film I admit I’ve slept on. It looked okay from the previews, but okay in a way that didn’t inspire great excitement. And to be fair, based on some of the testimony I’ve heard, that’s about the kind of film it is. But I’m hoping it resonates with me that little bit more and earns my active appreciation. And in any case, a film about women of color (truly about them) should be welcomed. So I’m cautiously looking forward to this.

  • La La Land

This is clearly going to be one of the big deals of the year. I don’t think I need to say anything more on that score. I liked Whiplash, I like a good musical, and I can like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling an awful lot in the right context. So I bet I’ll like this.

  • Moonlight – #13: 84 – ***½

So I saw it. Twice, in fact. And I’m not going to be a contrarian and say I don’t get the acclaim, because I do. I don’t think the film works as well as it could, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Certainly it’s well directed, very well acted across the board (it’s a close second for my own Ensemble award), and has moments of real emotional truth and power; the scene where young Chiron asks “What’s a faggot?” feels quietly, painfully accurate. But there are lapses in the writing as well; Juan (Mahershala Ali, very good but underused) is a little too good to be true, and the film as a whole (especially the final act, which is definitely the weakest) seems to be building up to more than it really delivers. It’s still a very good film and worth seeing, but even in this year it’s not one of the very best.

  • Patriots Day

This really wasn’t that big of a surprise. The NBR put Lone Survivor in their Top 10 in 2013, and they tend to like films with a politically conservative tinge to them (though not always; they’re an unpredictable bunch). I’ve seen Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, the two previous Berg/Wahlberg collaborations, and they’re both solid *** films from me (Deepwater is #46 on my annual list as of this writing). I have to imagine this will be about the same. Berg can stage chaos and action quite well, but his writing tends to be comparatively one-dimensional. We’ll see.

  • Silence

So they got to see this after all (well, I assume). No way I won’t be seeing this, but I’m keeping my expectations tempered because, as great as the trailer looks…the book is kind of a slog. Maybe it’s just me, but I have to wonder how Scorsese’s going to get 160 minutes out of this (it could be worse; early rumors had the running time as 195 minutes). I’ll just have to find out.

  • Sully – #39: 76 – ***

No way this wasn’t happening. The NBR adores Eastwood. They put fucking J. Edgar in their top 10, for God’s sake. So this was going to happen. And it’s not the worst film he’s made in the last decade; the scenes of the crash (sorry, “forced water landing”) and the subsequent rescue operation are quite effective, and the editing, gliding around in time as it does, is surprisingly graceful. And of course, Tom Hanks gives a solid performance as an unassuming man forced into the spotlight and forced to defend his actions on that fateful day – and, by extension, his very essence. It falters, however, in depicting the NTSB investigators as cold-blooded bureaucrats challenging Sully’s genuine heroism; it pats on the back rather too much. So it’s a film which, like Hacksaw Ridge, is worth seeing for what it does well, but does just a little too much wrong to earn an unequivocal recommendation.

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight – #8

A solid choice. It’s a frequently graceful and sensitive film, punctuated by moments of great intensity (particularly in the middle section, in my opinion the film’s strongest). It’s not my favorite direction of the year by any means, but I can understand the acclaim.

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

No comment as of yet, other than he’s by far the frontrunner for the Oscar – despite the recent resurfacing of allegations that he sexually harassed a woman who worked on his mockumentary I’m Still Here.

Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

She’s good here. I need to see the film again to flesh out my opinion, and for the time being I’ll say there are better choices they could’ve made – but she’s hardly a bad pick. I just had hoped her work in Nocturnal Animals would’ve gone over bigger. (Same for the film, which seems to have fallen off badly with the critics.)

Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water – #11 in Lead Actor

I think he’s a lead. I also, although I quite like the performance, think it’s a little too much of a Rooster Cogburn reprise to consider it really top-notch acting. But I can see why his work here went over well.

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Best Supporting Actress: Naomie Harris, Moonlight – #1

In a better year, she wouldn’t be my #1, and I’ll be a little surprised if she’s my #1 when all is said and done. But she does do a hell of a job, playing the concerned mother, the desperate addict, and the regretful reminiscer, and doing it all in a handful of scenes shot over the course of three days. Some really don’t like the performance or the role, but I think, out of what this year has offered, her work is the best.

Best Original Screenplay: Manchester By the Sea

I can’t see this losing the Oscar. This is this year’s Spotlight.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Silence

If they can make that book into a gripping film, they’ve earned it.

Best Animated Feature: Kubo and the Two Strings

I’m very conflicted about Kubo. On the one hand, it has gorgeous animation and superb voice acting. On the other hand, it has a script which collapses into mush in the third act, nearly undoing all of the good will the film has built up. I’m clearly in the minority in regards to its quality – and I can certainly see why it would be greatly admired – but I thought Finding Dory and Zootopia were sizably superior.

Best Foreign Language Film: The Salesman

Given the relatively mild reviews out of Cannes, this seems like a blah choice. But I haven’t seen it, so I can add no more.

Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America

It’ll have to be good to top the two documentaries which are currently in my top 5, but apparently it keeps you riveted for the full eight hours. So that’s something.

Best Ensemble: Hidden Figures

Now, that is interesting. They went a lot bigger for this than I expected. Definitely curious to see if this lives up to their approbation.

Spotlight Award: The creative collaboration of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg

I…don’t even know. Scorsese and DeNiro they are not, and I’ll just leave it at that.

NBR Freedom of Expression: Cameraperson

Again, I’ve heard really good things about it. I’ll definitely make sure to see it.

Breakthrough Performance (Male): Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea

Apparently, he’s amazing. The role seems meaty enough.

Breakthrough Performance (Female): Royalty Hightower, The Fits

That movie sounds damned interesting. Good for her.

Best Directorial Debut: Trey Edward Shults, Krisha

I don’t know much about this film, but it’s been popping up around the awards groups. Probably should try and seek it out.

Top 10 Independent Films:

  • Captain Fantastic
  • Creative Control
  • Eye in the Sky
  • The Fits
  • Green Room
  • Hello, My Name is Doris
  • Krisha
  • Morris from America
  • Sing Street
  • 20th Century Women

I’ve seen Green Room. I wasn’t fully able to appreciate it and haven’t rated it, but it was a rough one. Effective, yes, and extremely visceral, but not exactly fun.

The rest I want to see to one degree or another.

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Top 5 Foreign Films:

  • Elle
  • The Handmaiden
  • Julieta
  • Land of Mine
  • Neruda

Elle is fascinating. Really fucking good and thought-provoking. It’s ****, but it’s my #6 as of now. I mean to see it again, but it just didn’t quite get to the top for me. Very close, just…not quite there.

The Handmaiden is pretty damn good too: a high ***½ and my #8 on the year. A good, twisty thriller and a powerful romance on top of it. Not perfect (it could have stood some trimming or some fleshing out of the secondary characters), but quite enjoyable.

Julieta is an Almodovar. I can’t say it’s on the top of my to-see list, but it’s probably good.

Land of Mine sounds interesting: it’s the true story of how German POWs were forced to crawl on the beaches of Denmark removing the mines planted there by German forces. Many of them lost their lives.

Neruda is Pablo Larraín’s other major biopic of the year, and of course I’ll want to see it.

Top 5 Documentaries:

  • DePalma
  • The Eagle Huntress
  • Gleason
  • Life, Animated
  • Miss Sharon Jones!

No Tickled or Weiner. How unfortunate.

I did get to see The Eagle Huntress, but I think I want to see it again before rendering a verdict. It was very nice, though, albeit a little more obvious with its selective editing than I would normally like.

Well, I can’t say this year’s awards delighted me like they would’ve in a good year, but given what 2016 has brought, I’d say they’re not too bad at all.

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One thought on “National Board of Review Top 10 & Awards 2016

  1. Pingback: Predicting the 89th Academy Awards Nominees | If you want the gravy...

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