Monday, December 12, 2005

NBR Says 'Good Night'

NBR stands for Never Best Roster and also for National Board of Review, a "critics' group" whose history of obsequious choices and mysterious practice really hit the fan this year, twice: the group almost disbanded when its own members called its integrity into question, and then their award announcements had to be delayed when it was revealed that some contenders had been left off the ballots. Somewhere between the Hertz of the NYFCC and the Rent-a-Wreck of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (which I refuse to even link to), the NBR putters along, occasionally siding with something interesting (Lupe Ontiveros in Chuck & Buck, Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station, Janet McTeer in Tumbleweeds), but mostly getting flummoxed by their own wheedling desires to spread the wealth and cover all their bases, if not by their own fine-tuned crosshairs on mediocrity (Shine, Quills, and last year's mouldy gumdrop Finding Neverland were all Best Picture winners, and The Last Samurai was a runner-up and a Best Director winner in 2003).

As of now, this year's NBR winners are up on OscarWatch but not on the group's own awards site (small points for the photo of Sean, though). George Clooney's overrated Good Night, and Good Luck. continues NBR's trend of picking as their Best Pictures well-intentioned and interesting movies that, at one level or another, don't quite work. (Gods and Monsters, The Hours, and Mystic River were also honorees; in their past decade of choices, only L.A. Confidential, Moulin Rouge!, and, when I'm feeling generous, American Beauty really made any sense to me.)

The nine runners-up are usually ranked for our enjoyment; they currently aren't on OscarWatch, and whether this is somebody's failing or just a new direction for the NBR is anyone's guess at this moment. That Walk the Line and Memoirs of a Geisha even qualified for the Top 10 is reason to raise an eyebrow. You can see those customary cookie-crumbling tendencies in the way Ang Lee wins Best Director but David Cronenberg gets something called the Billy Wilder Award for Excellence in Direction. Felicity Huffman has gotta be happy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman better start reinforcing those shelves. March of the Penguins is the utterly unadventurous choice for Best Documentary. Nothing is quite as goony-crazy as the award for "Outstanding Dramatic Musical Performance by an Actress" that they cooked up for Björk in 2000, but surely Phil Morrison and Bennett Miller directed better debut films than Julian Fellowes did, and in any event, nothing quite screams that this group has happed upon any newfound capacities for insight, either.



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