Spike Jonze‘s “Her” was named the top film of 2013 by the National Board of Review on Wednesday, giving the unconventional love story a major prize at the beginning of awards season.
The selection came as a shock, as NBR voters bypassed presumed frontrunners “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity,” both of which made the group’s list of Top 10 films. And it gave a big boost to Jonze’s tale of the unlikely romance between a man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his intuitive operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
“Spike Jonze is one of the most talented and visionary filmmakers working today,” said NBR president Annie Schulhof in a statement. “In ‘Her,’ he explores the age-old themes of love and human connection in a completely fresh and innovative way.”
Other films on the group’s Top 10 list included “Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Nebraska,” “Fruitvale Station” and the relative surprises “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Prisoners” and “Lone Survivor.”
David O. Russell‘s “American Hustle,” which on Tuesday was named the year’s best film by the New York Film Critics Circle, was conspicuously missing from the NBR list. So were Paul Greengrass‘ “Captain Phillips,” Woody Allen‘s “Blue Jasmine,” “Lee Daniels‘ The Butler” and “August: Osage County,” among others.
“Dallas Buyers Club” was relegated to the list of top independent films, which also included “Mud,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Short Term 12” and “The Spectacular Now.”
The last film screened for the NBR, Martin Scorsese‘s three-hour “Wolf of Wall Street,” made the Top 10 list and was also honored as the year’s best adapted screenplay. “Inside Llewyn Davis” won the award for original screenplay.
Lead-acting awards went to Bruce Dern for “Nebraska” and Emma Thompson for “Saving Mr. Banks,” while supporting prizes went to Dern’s co-star, Will Forte, and to Octavia Spencer from “Fruitvale Station.”
In the foreign-language category, NBR voters threw in a couple more curveballs, leaving out the Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”
But that film’s star, Adele Exarchopoulos, was given the breakthrough performance award, along with “Fruitvale Station” actor Michael B. Jordan.
In the last decade, the NBR and the Oscars have only agreed on the year’s best movie twice, with “No Country for Old Men” in 2007 and “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008.
Otherwise, the NBR has selected a string of Oscar contenders that fell short, including “Zero Dark Thirty” last year, “Hugo” the year before and “The Social Network,” “Up in the Air,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Finding Neverland” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” in previous years.
But in a year in which a number of films are fighting for between five and 10 Best Picture slots, it’s worth nothing that every NBR winner for the last 13 years has at least been nominated for the top Oscar.
Although it often gets lumped in with critics’ awards because of the timing of its announcement, the National Board of Review is not made up of film critics. It is “a select group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts and professionals, academics, young filmmakers and students” in the New York area, and a group that owes its high profile in the awards race to the fact that it has been picking the year’s best films since 1930.
Until the New York Film Critics Circle moved up its announcement a couple of years ago, the NBR was typically the first body to announce its awards.
The NBR will hold its awards gala in New York City on Jan. 7.
Best Film: HER
Best Director: Spike Jonze, HER
Best Actor: Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA
Best Actress: Emma Thompson, SAVING MR. BANKS
Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, NEBRASKA
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, FRUITVALE STATION
Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Best Animated Feature: THE WIND RISES
Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, FRUITVALE STATION
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, FRUITVALE STATION
Best Foreign Language Film: THE PAST
Best Documentary: STORIES WE TELL
William K. Everson Film History Award: George Stevens, Jr.
Best Ensemble: PRISONERS
Spotlight Award: Career Collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: WADJDA
Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award: GRAVITY
(in alphabetical order)
12 YEARS A SLAVE
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
SAVING MR. BANKS
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Top 5 Foreign Language Films
(In Alphabetical Order)
BEYOND THE HILLS
Top 5 Documentaries
(In Alphabetical Order)
20 FEET FROM STARDOM
THE ACT OF KILLING
Top 10 Independent Films
(In Alphabetical Order)
AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
IN A WORLD…
MOTHER OF GEORGE
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
SHORT TERM 12
THE SPECTACULAR NOW