Dec 5, 2007

NBR 08' - We mostly got it right

Ok, so if you spend enough time in the cinema blogsphere, especially the first week of every December, you'll certainly see the yearly list of awards put out by the National Board of Review, the nearly 100 year old organization of cineastes, philes, educators and random rich people, put down by every upstart psuedo-critic you can summon. Karina Longworth, S.T. VanAirsdale, David Carr, they all took there potshots and with good reason; the Board has its share of archaic, unhip practices that, given this crowd, prove to be prime bait every time. Sure, it's absurd that the board has a list of 10 best films stacked next to a list of 10 best independent films (especially given the fact that our ballots only ask us to name the 10 best films of the year - who does the separating?). Yes, I loath many of the post screening Q&As, in which generally privileged (i.e. wealthy and long standing) members of the Board are allowed to bath in celebrity sunlight for half an hour, serving up generic, often assinine questions that are nothing if not a studio publicists dream. Many of the members are simply friends of other members who frequent enough to eventually be welcomed into the fold, with no tangible background in cinema to speak of. These are troubling notions, to a degree, but then such cliquishness, star fucking and blind favoritism finds its way into every corner of the movie industry, so really, why the fuss? Nobody freaked out this much when Elvis Mitchell named "Paid In Full" one of the best films of the year in 03' :)

I could bitch about "The Bucket List" or "Lars and The Real Girl" making the cut. I could find fault with Tim Burton winning for "Sweeney Todd". Wait. I can't. I missed those screenings, even after the Board sent out another one of its intimidating letters reminding members that it is there duty to attend ALL screenings. (All 300+!!! And go to film festivals, and try to make a name for oneself as a filmmaker and sell my body and soul to pay my rent, sort of? Tall order...)

I can assure you however that the people that run the National Board of Review, along with most of its members are terrific people, funny, smart, generous individuals who are, for the most part, sophisticated filmgoers. Do they have every right to trumpet the films they find to be particularly excellent, using the ample resources at their disposal to throw a grand party and celebrate? Absolutely.

It just seems like alot of sour grapes on the part of many bloggers, and I can't put my finger on it. Is it just because these people aren't critics that they're free to be savaged by those who are? Is it that that the average member is generally, quite rich? Really!? Karina seemed to object to "There Will Be Blood" not making the top 10? Why? It's a fascinating movie, albeit a nihilistic one, but like much of the director's work, it seems to not know quite what it wants to say, another artful and elegant, yet incomprehensible text from Mr. PTA. Cate and the "I'm Not There" crew get shut out, what gives? I dunno, but "I'm Not There" was perhaps a bit heady for the NBR crowd (full disclosure - I tried - it made my top 6, just edged out by "Zodiac", another without a feather to put in its cap) and you know what Ms. Longworth, Amy Ryan is quite good in "Gone Baby Gone", even if Craig Zobel got robbed by elder Affleck in the breakthrough director category, which the director of "The Great World of Sound" won with ease at last week's Gothams.

Of the ten films I submitted to the accounting firm which tabulates the vote, seven found there way among the twenty films named as the best, films and "independent" films of the year: "No Country For Old Men" (which, like the Board, was my top pick), "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford", "The Great World of Sound", "Michael Clayton", "In The Valley of Elah", "The Savages" and "A Mighty Heart". Although the fine folks at the NBR didn't share my appreciation for "Control", "Zodiac" or "I'm Not There" (and yes, although I'm quite fond of it, I forgot to vote for "Juno", sue me.), For my barely earned money, I think that any representation of the twenty best films of 2008 that includes those seven, along with gems like "Atonement", "Away From Her", "Honeydripper", "Once" and Starting Out In The Evening" is doing alright. Last time I checked, at least in this industry, there is no accounting for taste, and if you are blessed with it, then you're probably miserable anyway. Of course, it is ridiculous that one indiewood financed, uber arty Bradgelina project found its way to the big kids table while Mr. Winterbottom's breathtaking recounting of the death of and search for Daniel Pearl is forced to drink grape juice with the toddlers and pretend to be having a good time at Cipriani's January 15th. What makes "Into The Wild" (Paramount Vantage), "Juno" (Fox Searchlight), "Atonement" (Focus Features) "real movies" as opposed to "A Mighty Heart" (Paramount Vantage), "In The Valley of Elah" (Warner Independent), "The Namesake" (Fox Searchlight) "independent" films? They all have bona fide movie stars, established directors and corporate studio money rolling them out.

Still, the NBR does alot of good for a number of young filmmakers, including such stud short filmmakers as Ray Tintori ("Death to the Tinman") and Dee Rees (who will be in Park City this year with her stunning short "Pariah"). Okay, so maybe the NYU alums don't need that much help, especially if Spike Lee is already giving them cheese (see Dee), but really, those $5,000 grants help. I should know - the year I won the NBR's student grant, I only got $1,000. The young lady who won from SUNY Purchase the next year, who shall remain nameless, she got $5,000. How about them sour grapes. Maybe seeing all those free movies one day will add up to the other 4.