The National Board of Review, a scandal-plagued freak show composed of wealthy fans and no actual reviewers, have issued their annual list. It’s the usual disgrace. They snubbed “Precious,” even though the film’s screenwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher, used to be on their board. More on that below.
Clint Eastwood, of course, has won for “Invictus.” Eastwood is the NBR poster boy. They give him something every year; “Letters from Iwo Jima” was a Best Picture. Last year, he was Best Actor. “Gran Torino” was on the top 10 list. “Mystic River” won a few years ago. You get the picture. In 2004, Eastwood got a Special Award for directing, starring in and producing “Million Dollar Baby.”
This is how it works: The group’s Jeanine Basinger, who teaches at Wesleyan University, has written extensively about Eastwood, produced a PBS show about him and brought his archives to her school. The actor has said in interviews: ‘You just don’t say ‘no’ to Jeanine Basinger.’ Basinger was front and center the other night at the Eastwood tribute at the Museum of the Moving Image dinner. Her protege, David Laub, has been added to the board. Basinger’s position is solidified. Most galling about this is that she usurped the place of the group’s only respected member, Columbia professor and film journalist Annette Insdorf.
Then there’s George Clooney, who is the NBR’s other pet. Giving him best actor for “Up in the Air,” their best picture, was easy. Clooney already has a Best Picture for “Good Night and Good Luck,” which was, conveniently, a Warner Bros. movie. The NBR loves Warner Bros. as much as they do Eastwood and Clooney. Choosing “Up in the Air” as Best Picture is safe and conforms to their Clooney love. Giving Anna Kendrick Best Supporting Actress over M’Onique, Julianne Moore, Patty Clarkson and Penelope Cruz is utterly ridiculous. They don’t care.
And let’s not forget: Clooney is also the star of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which picked up a Special Award this year. To review: Clooney is attached to a Paramount film (”Up in the Air”) and 20th Century Fox (”Fantastic Mr. Fox”). Each studio will have to buy one or two tables at the NBR’s event. Ka-ching! More about their finances in my next report.
Who are ‘they’? The NBR is still run by Annie Schulhof, who maintains a close friendship with Warner’s Dan Fellner. She loves Warner Bros., that’s clear, as much as she does Eastwood and Clooney. If Schulhof can find an intersection of all of them, even better.
Schulhof presides over a group of five or so insiders. A larger fee-paying group ($600 a year, plus $600 to go to the annual dinner), votes overall. But Schulhof and her Politboro make the final decisions, and also decide who gets the “special” awards and citations.
What’s most upsetting this year: the absence of Lee Daniels‘ “Precious.” It’s not a total surprise. The NBR is not a multicultural organization. They completely ignored “Dreamgirls” in 2006. Snubbing “Precious” fits in with Schulhof’s track record perfectly. Let’s just say it: They do not like black movies, period. To make up for it, they threw Gabby Sidibe a bone with Breakthrough Performance. This is what they did to Jennifer Hudson from “Dreamgirls.” It’s pathetic. But the Oscars remedied this. She wound up winning Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.
But here’s the really weird thing: “Precious” screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher used to be on the board of the NBR. He resigned last year. And when he did, sources say that Schulhof decided to ban him and the movie from competition. How utterly bizarre.
The sop: The NBR will say it gave Morgan Freeman a tie for Best Actor. It helps that he was in a) a Clint Eastwood movie and b) a Warner Bros. film.
That’s it for now. I’ll tell you more when we get close to their January event. But just to let you know, one board member has nothing to with film but is a certified sex therapist from California. That’s Daniel Goldstine. Another is a friend of the group’s attorney, who himself is the son of the group’s previous attorney.
More to come …