The National Board of Review Gives It Up For “Hugo”


It took them a while but, earlier today, the folks who made up the National Board of Review (nobody’s quite sure who they are) finally announced their picks for the best of 2011.  And the winner is — Martin Scorsese’s Hugo!  As anyone who was on twitter earlier today knows, this was something of a surprising result and most of the self-appointed film experts out there seemed to be convinced that the NBR would honor either War Horse or The Artist.  Seeing as it took the NBR longer than usual to announce the winners, I’m assuming that the voting was fairly close.  The NBR is usually considered to be a precursor to the Academy Awards so, if nothing else, this result would seem to bode well for Hugo‘s chances to pick up a best picture nomination.  Here are the winners with the occasional editorial comment from me:

Best Film:

(I loved Hugo, though my favorite film of the year remains, at this point, Hanna)

Best Director:
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actor:
George Clooney, The Descendants

(I may be the only person in America who thinks that The Descendants is overratedCertainly, the members of the NBR disagree with me on that point.)

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

(This was kind of surprising since I think the conventional wisdom was that Meryl Streep would win everything for The Irony Lady.)

Best Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

(I have a feeling that Plummer’s going to be the sentimental favorite at the Oscars.)
Best Supporting Actress:
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay:
Will Reiser, 50/50

(Yay!  This film has been strangely underrated as an awards contender but it deserves a lot more attention.)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Animated Feature:

(Another yay!)
Breakthrough Performance:
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Bleh.  On twitter, I already went into a rant about how too many of my fellow film bloggers have allowed themselves to be co-opted into a conspiracy to both  force The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake down our throats and to try to make us forget about the original trilogy and the fact that Noomi Rapace gave a brilliant performance as Lisbeth.  I’ll hold off on going into that again until it’s time to review the remake but seriously, people — the Hollywood establishment is not going to give you a promise ring, I don’t care how much you kiss their ass.)

Debut Director:
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Best Ensemble:
The Help

(Believe it or not, I still need to see this one.)

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

(Oh. My. God.  So.  Hot.)

NBR Freedom of Expression
Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression:

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

(This is probably my favorite award to be given out by NBR.  Seriously, the Harry Potter franchise provided me — and so many others — such a blessed escape whenever life seemed overwhelming.)

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

The Artist (Can’t Wait To See It)
The Descendants
Drive (Yay!)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Bleh)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Yay!)
The Ides of March (One of the worst films of the year)
J. Edgar (Bland and forgettable but well-made)
Tree of Life
War Horse
(Going to see it but I feel obligated to do so and I resent it, to be honest)

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)

50/50 (Yay!)
Another Earth
(Whatever, this was a terrible movie)
Beginners (A good film that deserves to be seen)
A Better Life
Cedar Rapids (Likable but nothing spectacular)
Margin Call
(Need to see it)
Take Shelter
We Need To Talk About Kevin
(Looking forward to it)
Win Win

6 Quickies In A Row: American, Buck, Exporting Raymond, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Resurrect Dead, and Senna

As part of my continuing effort to get caught up on reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen so far this year, allow me to offer up 6 very quick reviews of 6 very different documentaries that I’ve recently seen.  Two of these documentaries — Buck and Senna — are still playing in theaters.  The other four — American, Exporting Raymond, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Resurrect Dead— are all available On Demand and on DVD and Blu-ray.

1) American: The Bill Hicks Story(dir. by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas)

This heartfelt documentary about the life of the late comedian Bill Hick and it shows why his defiantly anarchistic humor is even more relevent today as it was during his heyday.  Here, his story is told through the use of cut-and-paste animation and it’s surprisingly poignant.  I didn’t know a thing about Bill Hicks before I saw this film but I was crying by the end of it.

2) Buck (dir. by Cindy Meehl)

Buck is a portrait of both the real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman and the various ranchers and horse owners who come to his various “clinics.”  The documentary covers Brannaman’s own abusive childhood and shows how he managed to turn the worst circumstances into something good.  The film works best when it just allows the charismatic Buck to talk about his life and his beliefs.  It’s less succesful when Hollywood phony Robert Redford pops up to talk about his feelings towards Buck.

3) Exporting Raymond (dir. by Phillip Rosenthal)

This is an interesting documentary in that it manages to be both entertaining and annoying at the same time.  Phillip Rosenthal was the creator of one of the most oddly durable sitcoms of all time, Everybody Loves Raymond.  In this documentary, which was directed by Rosenthal, we watch as he goes to Russia and deals with the resulting culture clash as he tries to adapt Raymond for Russian television. If you’re like me and you’re fascinated by all the behind-the-scenes production aspects of television and film,  then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this documentary.  Unfortunately, Rosenthal himself is a bit too self-satisfied and, often times, he comes across like an almost stereotypical “ugly American.”  There’s something annoying about watching a wealthy, American television producer going over to a country that’s perpetually on the verge of self-destruction and then bitching about how ugly all the buildings look.

4) The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (dir. by Morgan Spurlock)

In The Greatest Move Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock sets out to make the “Iron Man of documentaries,” a documentary that is completely and totally funded by product placement.  The documentary itself becomes about Spurlock’s attempts to find the corporate sponsors needed to make his documentary and the results are often hilarious and the film does succeed in getting you to think about how we are constantly bombarded with advertisements.  At the same time, this is also a good example of a “Who cares?” documentary.  Spurlock shows us how advertising works but he never really convinces us that it’s as big a problem as old toadsuckers like Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky seem to think.  In many ways, Morgan Spurlock is a more likable version of Michael Moore in that he primarily makes documentaries for people who already agree with him. 

5) Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (dir by John Foy)

This is a fascinating documentary about the mysterious Toynbee Tiles.  The Toynbee Tiles are, to quote Wikipedia, “messages of mysterious origin found embedded in asphalt of streets in about two dozen major cities in the United States and four South American capitals.”  That message is:

IN Kubrick’s 2001

These tiles first appeared in the 1990s and they’ve remained a perplexing unsolved mystery.  Nobody’s sure what the mysterious message means, who wrote the message, or even how the tiles were embedded into the asphalt.  This documentary is about not only the mysterious tiles but also the men who have, over the years, become obsessed with them and how that obsession has gone on to effect their own perception of reality.  The movie even offers up a plausible theory of who is responsible for the tiles.  Seriously, this is one of the most fascinating documentaries that I’ve ever seen.

6) Senna (dir. by Asif Kapadia)

Senna tells the life story of Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian formula one racer who was the world champion for three years before his own tragic death during a race.  I have to admit that I don’t know much about Formula One racing and, as a result, I had some trouble following Senna.  But Senna, seen in archival footage, is a charismatic and sometimes enigmatic figure and the racing footage is both exciting and, occasionally, frightening.