It was announced Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, by the National Board of Review that Spike Jonze’s “Her” was named the top film of 2013. Founded 104 years ago, the National Board of Review is a non-profit organization that fosters the film industry. Over 250 films (studio, independent, foreign-language, animated, and documentary) are viewed throughout the year by a select group of knowledgeable film enthusiasts, filmmakers, academics, and students. Frequently, in-depth Q&A's with filmmakers, directors, actors, producers, or screenwriters follow screenings. At year's end, members receive a list of all films screened, along with final ballots, which are tabulated by a certified public accounting firm in order to determine annual honorees.
"Her" is a romantic drama with an unlikely premise: that a man falls in love with his computer. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the star-crossed lover and Scarlett Johansson provides the voice for his computer. The film was written and directed by filmmaker Spike Jonze. Jonze was also named the winner for Best Director.
“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.”
Bruce Dern, the winner of the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last May, was also voted best by NBR for his portrayal of a mid-west senior that is duped by fake prize notice in the mail in Alexander Payne's new film "Nebraska." Unlike the NY Film Critics Circle, Cate Blanchett did not win Best Actress for her stunning role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." NBR gave the honors to Emma Thompson for her work in "Saving Mr. Banks."
Actor/comedian Will Forte won honors for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "Nebraska," and Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winning actress from "The Help" was acknowledge for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "Fruitvale Station."
In the writing categories, the Coen brothers won Best Original Screenplay for their film "Inside Llewyn Davis," and Terence Winter won Best Adapted Screenplay for the Martin Scorsese film "The Wolf of Wall Street."
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.”
"The Wind Rises," a Japanese animated film, that also took the NY Critics Circle, was named Best Animated Film by the NBR. "The Past" by Iran was named Best Foreign Language Film and Best Documentary was bestowed upon the film "Stories We Tell."
Breakthrough awards were given to Michael B. Jordan of "Fruitvale Station" and Adele Exarchopoulos for the French film "Blue is the Warmest Color."
The NBR named the cast of "Prisoners" as the Best Ensemble Cast, although strangely omitting any of the actors as best in their category.
Completely missing from the NBR's winner's list are the highly acclaimed films "Lee Daniel's The Butler," "American Hustle," "Blue Jasmine," "All is Lost," "Captain Phillips" and "August: Osage County." The NBR is considered the first big awards show of award season, but has not had a good history predicting Oscar winners. In the last 10 years, the NBR has chosen only two films as Best Film that went on the capture the same prize at the Academy Awards.
The NBR will celebrate the year in film at its awards gala in New York City on Jan. 7, 2014.
Here is a complete list of the NBR awards:
Best Film: "Her"
Best Director: Spike Jonze for "Her"
Best Actor: Bruce Dern for "Nebraska"
Best Actress: Emma Thompson for "Saving Mr. Banks"
Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte for "Nebraska"
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer for "Fruitvale Station"
Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen for "Inside Llewyn Davis"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter for "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Best Animated Feature: "The Wind Rises"
Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan for "Fruitvale Station"
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos for "Blue is the Warmest Color"
Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler for "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)
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"
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Whatever your movie choice this week, please remember your movie theater etiquette: silence your cell phones and no texting, please don't talk during the film and remove your children if they become a distraction to other audience members. Don't forget that laughing, crying and cheering are always approved behavior and even encouraged.
-Kay Shackleton is a film historian with special focus on Silent Films, see her work at SilentHollywood.com