J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” has been named the best film of 2014 by the National Board of Review, the NBR announced on Tuesday.
The choice came as a shock, with Chandor’s slow-burn drama much lower on the awards radar than films like “Boyhood,” “Birdman” and “Selma.” But in the release announcing the selection, NBR president Annie Schulhof called the film “an exhilarating crime drama with a compelling story, outstanding performances, and an elegant cinematic style.”
The film stars Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain as a couple in 1981 New York who look to expand their heating oil business with a sizable and risky investment. While the NBR is not made up of Oscar voters and does not reflect their taste, the win could push some voters to watch the film at a crucial time in awards season, and could increase the visibility of Isaac and Chastain as contenders.
Isaac shared the NBR’s Best Actor award with Michael Keaton for “Birdman,” while Julianne Moore was named Best Actress for “Still Alice.” Chastain won the Best Supporting Actress award, while Edward Norton took Best Supporting Actor for “Birdman.”
Clint Eastwood was named the year’s best director for “American Sniper,” which was also one of the NBR’s top 10 films of the year.
The others were “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “Fury,” “Gone Girl,” “The Imitation Game,” “Inherent Vice,” “The Lego Movie,” “Nightcrawler” and “Unbroken.”
The list did not include “Selma,” “Foxcatcher,” “Whiplash,” “The Theory of Everything” or “Interstellar,” among other presumed awards contenders. “Selma,” though, won the NBR’s Freedom of Expression Award.
Among the other unusual choices, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller won the Best Original Screenplay award for “The Lego Movie,” while Paul Thomas Anderson won the Best Adapted Screenplay award for “Inherent Vice.”
“Wild Tales” was named Best Foreign Film over “Force Majeure,” “Gett,” “Leviathan,” “Two Days, One Night” and “We Are the Best!,” while “Life Itself” was named the year’s best documentary.
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.
NBR that have failed to win the top Oscar include last year’s winner, “Her,” as well as “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Hugo,” “The Social Network,” “Up in the Air” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.”
Still, every NBR winner for the last 14 years has at least been nominated for the top Oscar.
The National Board of Review, which owes much of its visibility to its place early on the awards calendar, consists not of film critics but of “knowledgeable film enthusiasts and professionals, academics, young filmmakers and students” in the New York area. It was established in 1909 and has been picking the year’s best films since 1930.
The NBR will hold its annual awards gala in New York City on Jan. 6.
Best Film: A Most Violent Year
Best Director: Clint Eastwood – American Sniper
Best Actor (TIE): Oscar Isaac – A Most Violent Year; Michael Keaton – Birdman
Best Actress: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton – Birdman
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year
Best Original Screenplay: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller – The Lego Movie
Best Adapted Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Breakthrough Performance: Jack O’Connell – Starred Up & Unbroken
Best Directorial Debut: Gillian Robespierre – Obvious Child
Best Foreign Language Film: Wild Tales
Best Documentary: Life Itself
William K. Everson Film History Award: Scott Eyman
Best Ensemble: Fury
Spotlight Award: Chris Rock for writing, directing, and starring in – Top Five
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Rosewater
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Selma
The Imitation Game
The Lego Movie
Top 5 Foreign Language Films
Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem
Two Days, One Night
We Are the Best!
Top 5 Documentaries
Art and Craft
Keep On Keepin’ On
The Kill Team
Last Days in Vietnam
Top 10 Independent Films
A Most Wanted Man
The Skeleton Twins
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors