The National Board of Review, founded in New York in 1909, began naming the year's best movies a few months after the first Oscar ceremony was held in Hollywood in 1929. New this year for the NBR was a top ten list separate from the actual winner — "No Country for Old Men." How many of these eleven will make it to Oscar's final five?
Looking back over the last 20 years may give us some idea of how closely (or not) the opinions of the NBR members (most of whom are not involved in moviemaking) will match up with the best picture nominees. However, the recent changes to the true decisionmakers at the NBR — the Exceptional Photoplay Committee — could mean that this year's list is more in line with that of the critics rather than Oscar voters.
Of the 100 films nominated for best picture at the Oscars over the last two decades, the NBR named 72 of them on their annual lists. While this is a respectable enough percentage, remember that the NBR doubles their chances by choosing ten movies a year versus the Academy's five. Having said that, in three of those years, the NBR not only had all five nominees but also had as their pick for best pic the one that ended up winning the Oscar - 1989 ("Driving Miss Daisy"), 1994 ("Forrest Gump"), and 2002 ("Chicago"). However, there were only four other years when the NBR choice went on to win at the Academy Awards - 1990 ("Dances With Wolves"), 1991 ("Silence of the Lambs"), 1993 ("Schindler's List"), and 1999 ("American Beauty").
That leaves 13 years where the top movie differed. Sometimes, the NBR had the best pic winner on their list but chose another of the eventual nominees as their top choice. This happened in 1992 ("Howards End" over "Unforgiven"), 1995 ("Sense and Sensibilty" over "Braveheart"), 1996 ("Shine" over "The English Patient"), 1997 ("LA Confidential" over "Titanic") and in each of the last three years: 2004 ("Finding Neverland" over "Million Dollar Baby"), 2005 ("Good Night, and Good Luck" over "Crash") and 2006 ("Letters from Iwo Jima" over "The Departed").
Then there are the years where the NBR and AMPAS do not seem to be singing from the same hymn book. Sometimes the NBR top pic does not even make the cut at the Oscars. This occurred in 1987 ("Empire of the Sun"), 1998 ("Gods and Monsters"), and 2000 ("Quills"). While the NBR did include the eventual winners on their lists those years, there are other years when they did not - 1988 ("Rain Man"), 2001 ("A Beautiful Mind"), and 2003 ("The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). The last was no surprise as the NBR had not named either of the first two parts of the trilogy though they both went on to be best picture nominees.