The National Board of Review will give its Best Picture award tonight to JC Chandor’s Sidney Lumet-like thriller “A Most Violent Year,” a movie that won’t be nominated for the Oscar. The movie’s stars also won NBR awards this year– very good actors whom we like a lot– Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain– but they also probably won’t be nominated. The movie’s buzz is limited to this fan group that pays high fees to mingle with stars.
The NBR is rife with problems, as I’ve noted in the past. But there’s one that stands out: a member of their inner circle and Board of Directors is also the co-president of a film company that’s been winning NBR prizes for the last few years. That’s David Laub, who runs Oscilloscope Laboratories, and is a protege of Annie Schulhof, head of the NBR.
Tonight, the NBR gives Oscilloscope 2 of the 5 mentions for Best Documentary with “Art and Craft” and “The Kill Team.” And that’s just the latest for Oscilloscope, which has done inordinately well at the NBR for a very new and tiny company. In 2013, Oscilloscope picked up a Best Documentary nod for “After Tiller.” They also picked up a top 10 indie listing for “Mother of George.” In 2012, their cited documentary was “Only the Young.” In 2011, Tilda Swinton won Best Actress for an Oscilloscope movie called “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which also made the top 10 list.
In 2012, one of Laub’s pals who ran Oscilloscope with him, David Fenkel, left to start another small distributor, A24 Films. Tonight, A24 picks up Best Picture with JC Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” a tie for Best Actor in “AMVY” with Oscar Isaac, and Best Supporting Actress with Jessica Chastain. Two other A24 Films– “Obvious Child” and “Locke”– made the NBR top 10 list of independent films. Last year they hit the list with “The Spectacular Now.”
Laub came to the NBR through Wesleyan University’s Jeanine Basinger. She runs the Wesleyan Film Archives, including the archives of Clint Eastwood. NBR gives Wesleyan $15,000 a year of its members’ money (NBR members pay huge annual dues, that’s their only qualification) so Basinger can administer those archives. And just about every year, if he has a movie or doesn’t, NBR gives Clint Eastwood an award.
In fairness, it may not be Laub doing any direct lobbying. Schulhof, already an expert in that area, could be the culprit. One NBR insider told me: “I don’t think Laub is pushing for A24 films to win NBR awards and as Oscilloscope co-President he can’t vote for the films they distribute. I’ve never heard Laub “pushing” A24 films. That’s not David Laub. If any one was pushing the film, it would Annie.”
But to include all these A24 Films, the National Board of Review (er, fans) made some very public snubs. They excluded “Selma,” a likely big Oscar movie, and “Citizenfour,” already the winner of many awards including last night’s New York Film Critics Circle.