The Organization’s Gala will be held on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 in New York City

New York, NY (December 3, 2019) – The National Board of Review today announced their 2019 honorees, with top awards including The Irishman for Best Film, Quentin Tarantino for Best Director for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Renée Zellweger for Best Actress for Judy, and Adam Sandler for Best Actor for Uncut Gems. The organization has also unveiled the NBR Icon Award, an honor that celebrates the work of leading cinematic artists who have contributed meaningfully to the history, culture, and excellence of motion pictures.

NBR President Annie Schulhof said, “We are thrilled to award The Irishman as our Best Film – Martin Scorsese’s masterful mob epic is a rich, moving, beautifully textured movie that represents the best in what cinema can be. We are also excited to be presenting Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino with our inaugural Icon Award – they are the true definition of cinematic icons, each with their own exceptional body of work, and all in top form in The Irishman.”

The 2019 awards continue the NBR’s tradition of recognizing excellence in filmmaking, going back 110 years. This year 285 films were viewed by a select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics, and students, many of which were followed by in-depth discussions with directors, actors, producers, and screenwriters. Voting ballots were tabulated by the accounting firm of Lutz & Carr, LLP.

The National Board of Review’s awards celebrate the art of cinema, with categories that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, Breakthrough Performance, and Directorial Debut, as well as signature honors such as Freedom of Expression.

The honorees will be feted at the NBR Awards Gala, hosted by Willie Geist, on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at Cipriani 42nd Street. To request credentials to the evening’s red carpet, please fill out the application here by December 27, 2019.

Below is a full list of the 2019 award recipients, announced by the National Board of Review:

Best Director: Quentin Tarantino, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
Best Actor: Adam Sandler, UNCUT GEMS
Best Actress: Renée Zellweger, JUDY
Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
Best Supporting Actress: Kathy Bates, RICHARD JEWELL
Best Original Screenplay: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, Ronald Bronstein, UNCUT GEMS
Best Adapted Screenplay: Steven Zaillian, THE IRISHMAN
Breakthrough Performance: Paul Walter Hauser, RICHARD JEWELL
Best Directorial Debut: Melina Matsoukas, QUEEN & SLIM
Best Foreign Language Film: PARASITE
Best Documentary: MAIDEN
Best Ensemble: KNIVES OUT
Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins, 1917
NBR Icon Award: Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: FOR SAMA
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: JUST MERCY

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

Dolemite is My Name
Ford v Ferrari
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Richard Jewell
Uncut Gems

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)

Invisible Life
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

American Factory
Apollo 11
The Black Godfather
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)

The Farewell
Give Me Liberty
A Hidden Life
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Nightingale
The Peanut Butter Falcon
The Souvenir
Wild Rose

For 110 years, the National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to the support of cinema as both art and entertainment. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year. Since first citing year-end cinematic achievements in 1929, NBR has recognized a vast selection of outstanding studio, independent, foreign-language, animated and documentary films, often propelling recipients such as Peter Farrelly’s Green Book and George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road into the larger awards conversation. NBR also stands out as the only film organization that bestows a film history award in honor of former member and film historian William K. Everson. In addition, one of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.

Join the conversation @NBRfilm


Andy Gelb / Shawn Purdy/ Mariena Wise
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Q&A with Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Daniel Craig, and Rian Johnson

Can you talk about writing this film and bringing these characters to life?
Rian Johnson: It all started with me loving Agatha Christie growing up. I always wanted to do a “who done it.” I thought it would be really interesting; I’m a “who done it” junkie. I watch all of them that come out. I love them all. Usually when you see them today, they’re period pieces, because they’re usually Christie adaptations. The idea of doing a “who done it” set in America in 2019, and really using that to plug into America in 2019 and to draw the characters the way Christie drew the characters from British society when she was writing, to draw that out of today and right now, seemed really interesting. Tonally, you need really good actors to ride that line of going as big as we did with this movie and still having it feel grounded to work as a movie and not tip over into parody. That’s why you hire the best actors on the planet and then it all sorts itself out.

make it feel like a roller coaster ride and not a crossword puzzle

Don, can you talk about the characters and how all of their misanthropy is tempered by some sort of internal pain?
Don Johnson: Well all of them except for my character, who does nothing happily. He’s kind of the personification of the entitled family vibe. It was fun for me to do, because I have never played a character like that before, I loved how obsequious he was and how deferential he was to Jamie Lee’s character. It was fun.

Daniel, can you talk about your character and the way he carries himself and his accent?
Daniel Craig: I was just lucky to get a script that was as richly and as well drawn out as this one. I read it and I saw it. I think it has a lot to do with Rian and I sharing a love for “who done it” films. I grew up watching the same movies as he did and watched them religiously over and over again. I kind of understood the language that Rian was using. So we looked it up and it was a gentle southern language. I inhabited the character immediately in one reading, I talked about this the other day, about as actors and how arrogant we are, we go and change this and that during our first read-through, as though we know for sure… but that did not happen when I read this script. I just read it and said to myself, “I know who this is.” I want to play it. I sort of then picked a few people, Tennesse Williams, his voice has a high pitched accent and was not very suited. Then I landed on Shelby Foote, the historian, who has this beautiful Mississippi rolling accent. He speaks slowly, but has this incredible speed of thought. He talks about things with authority and I nailed it with a great accent coach. We sat for a few hours a day for months on end. Then when we got to set, and Jenny our costume designer, whom I’ve worked with before and is great to work with, gave me the physical material and we paired the two together.

Did you have to change anything in the language so that the characters and the house functioned in the plot together?
RJ: These guys clicked into it really easily. The only thing we would adjust on set were expository scenes. I wanted to be really tuned in if the actors could not follow the through line of what was happening in any given scene. I wanted to make sure every scene was clear to everybody, because I figured if it was clear to you guys then it would be clear to the audience. That’s where ninety percent of the work on a script like this goes into is making it feel easy for the audience, making it feel like a roller coaster ride and not a crossword puzzle at the end of the day. That was the main way we did tweaks on set.

Knowing that you’re in a “Who Done It,” do you play up to that and twirl your spiritual mustache a bit?
Jamie Lee Curtis: When I first had a phone call with Rian, the only questions I had were about tone. I had done a few different types of things, I just wanted to know where he was on the scale of tone. Because it does not matter where he is. I’ll go to whatever place he wanted. He said he wanted it to be heightened reality. Very much real, but with a slight accent of heightened reality. For me as an actor, the only question is how to tell the truth. It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t care what it is. Also I’m just like Don, I’m not a fan of the genre, I don’t care about the genre, I don’t watch those movies. There are other movies that I enjoy very much, but I’m not a particular fan of this genre, but it doesn’t matter. That is the beauty of this collaborative medium. It doesn’t matter if I’m a fan or not. As an actor, it’s simply my job to tell the truth. If you’re telling the truth through Linda’s point of view, she’s in grief. She loved her father. I think she may be the only one in the family who really loved him and she lost him. That was my truth, and the rest of it was just dross as we say. It was just hilarious. 

Q&A with Laura Dern, Adam Driver, and Noah Baumbach

Can you talk about conceiving this story and your writing process?
Noah Baumbach: It was inherent in the title that we are asking, “Does anyone really know what the story of a marriage is, and if that story has an end of sorts, does it mean it wasn’t a marriage?” I was really trying to come up with a way to write a love story, and I wanted to find a new way into a movie love story and within this material I kept finding all these other embedded genres in it. It gave us opportunities to expand in ways that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before in material I’ve written. There were the thriller aspects, the screwball comedy and horror, legal procedural and a musical. It gave us and the actors a real opportunity to push at the boundaries of the material.

Noah’s writing is just flawless

What were your first impressions of the character when you got the script?
Adam Driver: The first time I read it, we had talked about Noah being interested on making a movie that on a structural level plays with audiences allegiances; maybe you’re following someone and then something happens. This maybe changes your perception of them and then you kind of like this person. Noah doesn’t sacrifice structure or an idea for the life-blood that is happening throughout the scenes. There is the thing of, “how do you tell a love story through the lense of a divorce, how you tell the story of a relationship at the end of it,” but kind of in a way start at the beginning. My first impression after reading it, and after months if not a year of these conversations, was how impressively all of these ideas fit into this very lean script, where the stakes were high in every scene. There wasn’t something you could pull out and the film would survive without it. It all seemed urgent and coming from a very immediate place, so I was impressed with that and then also with how rare an opportunity it was to get something like this. 

Laura Dern: I don’t know that I can add much to that experience of reading this for the first time, except to say that Noah’s writing is just flawless so that any actor finds it as a gift of a lifetime. There is a humility in the storytelling that allows every craftsman and woman involved to know their place in the storytelling. Whether the production designer or the actor playing the role, there is a fluidity in the narrative, there’s a heartbeat and a rhythm to the language. We all were a tribe to tell this story for Noah. It was like a composer working with all of these different players to come up with this language that Noah made out for us. Not only did Noah build this family early on with having these conversations for quite a while before we read the script, but we felt that all the way through. I still feel that way even through the press: hanging out with my family. It’s an incredibly rare gift to feel that feeling of a hundred people coming together with not just this common cause or this energy and awareness of the story, but really the rhythm of the language. That I had never seen before. You describe it as like working on a play, but its an amazing experience on a film to work like that.

The musical numbers in the film are completely surprising, and, somehow, they completely work. Can you discuss how you thought to include them?
NB: It spoke to the flexibility I was talking about earlier that I found. I feel like all of our jobs is to be open to those possibilities. I’ve seen it in past movies, things I wanted, the big ideas that the movie could not accommodate in the end. But here those ideas did work, for ways I both understand and don’t. Working with Randy is a privilege and one of the beautiful things about this job is you get to work with people you’ve grown up with who have meant so much to you. We both really loved the work of Georges Delerue, the french composer who did so many beautiful scores, like that of Truffaut and Godard, and how that music embraces and honors the characters for their struggle and loves them. But it can also be surprising how the same music can play at different moments and mean something different. It does not shift and it doesn’t play the scene: It’s a kind of response or memory. With the opening sequence was a way of scoring the everyday. On the one hand it’s a highly romantic thing, but it’s also about the ordinary moments, and those ordinary moments are going to continue throughout the movie. Even though the divorce overtakes these peoples lives, it doesn’t change the fact that they have to get their hair cut and get their kid dressed for school. All those moments that you see in the beginning are going on, but they’re different now. They’re the same and they’re different. I felt Randy understood that implicitly. I sit next to him at the piano at his place at the Palacaides. He plays and we talk. I talk non musically, but emotionally and he finds this musical language for these things. He will do things that I will take home with me and put into the cut. The pieces continue to grow and they inform the movie. Having those themes early on, because I cut in order, helped me cut the movie going forward. The movie has a musicality that helps me go forward. The more I do this the more I try to have all the collaborators involved as early as possible. I don’t write all these scenes if I don’t know these actors have their parts. I don’t write Nora’s monologue or have her saying, “sorry I look so schlepy– I had an event at my kids school.” Laura Dern delivering that line makes it brilliant. Otherwise it’s just fine as a line. Randy is just a wonderful collaborator in that way. 

There is that fantastic scene where Scarlett tries to be amicable and then things fall apart into catastrophic collapse. How do you put yourself through that, Adam, and how many takes can you do in a day?
AD: We shot the sequence over the course of two days. We blocked it out and had rehearsal before the movie started. We rehearsed it in a room, similar to a play, in L.A. We taped it out on the floor, just like a play, and we ran through it by saying it to get used to each other, and then we rehearsed it the day of, if not the day before. At that point we had a couple of weeks of knowing each other. You have to know it, and thats easier with Noah’s language, because it’s so well written, so you’re not memorizing lines, you’re memorizing ideas and thoughts. Then we rehearsed it on the day. We blocked everywhere we were going to go. With Noah’s scripts, the lines are very similar to a play– there’s no changing the lines, but the intention is up for grabs. You can adjust as much as you want. I knew this from doing runs of plays, you do a play for four months, eight shows a week and always at the end, it has evolved into a better version than where you started, either through repetition or a new idea or the actors are doing something new, or something in your life has happened to you that influences your performance. Noah has compressed that into a day. You are given a lot of opportunities to run it, you can play with intention and either Noah or you will come up with an idea, sometimes just the act of doing over and over again wears you down and makes you more available. You look at a light on the set that somehow opens you up to a new idea, which only comes from good writing. Only good writing gives you enough places of your imagination to help you reimagine it. This is because there is no right way to do a scene. There are infinite possibilities. It makes sense on the page, but sometimes theres an emotional truth that makes even more sense than on the page. We started at the beginning of the day and went through to the end of the day. We did a lot of takes to make sure there was no regret. The second day, we realized it was hard to just jump into the second part, so we would have to run it from the beginning through to the end. There was just one camera that we were pushing around. Noah set very clear blocking and lines. Being within that is very freeing to me, because you know what your base is. What happens, you never push for emotion, because it never comes. You always rely on the text, which was very strong and very beautiful, and then I relied on my scene partner Scarlet, and even the crew. You could feel the focus in the room, and when you have a director who’s there with you who you feel is acting the scene with you, who’s not vacant or a spectator, you feel very free to not waste time in getting hung up on your own insecurity. You have to say it and mean it, and if the environment is comfortable to do that, then the conscious and unconscious part of acting that is most exciting for me takes over. You’re not processing anything. You’re just trying to mean it as much as possible. Inevitably, maybe something will happen if you’re there with your partner and the people in the room.  

What was your approach to the clothing and the movement of your character, Laura?
LD: It is all in the writing. Even the costume design was laid out. Even the red shoes and how she flicks them off was a description. We had this amazing collaborator, Mark Bridges, who I worked with a few times and love so much. I’ve worked with amazing filmmakers, but the’re not at my costume fittings. Noah was there for every conversation. Every detail and choice was important to him and it mattered. So to feel like we were not only designing, but defining how she uses her physicality to win, was pretty fascinating, perhaps especially at this time to consider a woman in her previously male dominated workplace environment, considering the take over, in order to represent a woman; to win that woman’s voice and using everything she has as a woman to beat the men, is weird and thickly layered. We met a few incredibly generous lawyers, particularly in Los Angeles, some of them who have even moved toward mediation because they know the system is so fractured. They are stealth and part of it is their physicality. I’ve never seen people at work using even their body and their physicality to win a legal case, but it’s a real thing. It was fascinating that every single detail was considered. I just wanted to add, and that Adam is describing so beautifully, is what you’re given in every moment in the space that Noah creates. It can’t be taken lightly the reverence for a set that Noah has. When you walk in, everyones checked their cellphones at the door, because this is space where we get to invent and find the story. There is a ritual and something that is a deep opportunity, where we are given this safe haven to find these characters whether its the physicality or the emotion of it, or from the painting on the wall, or days of exploring. It takes not only the auteur that he is, but the deep love for film, and the reverence that he has for storytelling that I think sets the tone for the entire cast and crew. So that you keep wanting to go on. You get so excited to keep exploring every possibility to tell this story he has laid out for us.

Q&A with Shia LaBeouf, Alma Har’el, Noah Jupe, and Byron Bowers

Can you take us to the beginning of this process, when you had bits and fragments of the story?
Shia LaBeouf: I was in an emotional rehab facility. It was court ordered that I go to a mental institution in Connecticut. I got arrested in Georgia and they sent me to this place. I got there and they said, “you have PTSD. We have a solution called Exposure Therapy for you.” It’s in the film. You go into a room and do a sort of Gestalt therapy two-step, with a therapist who walks you through your deepest darkest. You pick at your shadows. It is all recorded and then you listen back to it at night. You go over this stuff. Once a week I had access to a computer, and I was never good with grammar, so there’s this website called Grammarly. I would take my notes, transcribe them on Grammarly, and then once a week send them to Alma as good as I could get it. This went on for close to two months. Even before that, she said, “hey maybe there’s a narrative here.” We’ve been collaborating with each other on and off throughout the years. She’s got the best taste of any woman I know. There’s a whole lot of love between us. We collaborated on a bunch of auxiliary projects and we were looking for a narrative. I knew her process felt good as an actor. I would send her these pages and she would send me back notes and we wrestled this thing into something with structure, and even that changed later on. It was enough for us to go shoot, and we found this incredible young man, we found Lucas. They made it their own, relinquished all agency and were focusing on this one little thing I was trying to do. Everybody zeroed in on what their gig was and together we built something we felt was close to the truth. 

That is what broke me and made me feel like I had to make this film.

What elements came to you that you really gravitated towards in this story, Alma?
Alma Har’el: It definitely was not imagery that captured me the most at first. It was actually the dialogue and Shia’s ability to bring me into the room in the motel and I think it all started with that. The idea that we can step into his father’s shoes and writhe in both the pain he inherited from him and the addiction and anger, but at the same time have so much kindness and humor in him. That is what broke me and made me feel like I had to make this film. A lot of the imagery was actually something I was shoving down his throat. Those are things that came to me. The “no no no” thing came from youtube clips where Shia says “no no no” during Transformers. It’s one of my favorite things to watch. It tells the story of what Shia had to do on those sets in order to make things real. He’s such a talent, and is being treated, in a way, like a marionette. Hanging from that harness was something that felt haunting to me, but it wasn’t what got me to do the film. It was more like the thing I put on top. What made me want to do the film was the relationship between father and son and the way Shia wrote the script.

Noah, Could we talk about the motel scene and how it was built with your performance?
Noah Jupe: I guess this movie felt like a family to me. I think that came down to Alma a lot and the producers. The crew was really close and also me, Shia, Alma, Lucas, Byron were all hanging out all the time in the months before the shoot. We were building that relationship, friendship, and trust. I think that massively influenced how the scenes played out. We wouldn’t have got the emotion that was found if we didn’t have that safety to take risks. There were a lot of hugs on this set.

There is a calibration between the dark parts and the humor in this film, and I was wondering how you were able to find your performance as Percy, Byron?
Byron Bowers: The only thing that was solid was what his character was going through. In my mind I knew what this character needed in the moment, so I was just trying to make him feel comfortable. I know he didn’t want to be there, and I was just trying to make him feel comfortable and relaxed. I told him there are worse places he could be. You get to finish, but I don’t get to finish. It’s my fourth time here. I was feeling guilty about being the son of an addict myself. My brother and sister both did extensive years of crack. Me and my cousin Mike turned out different. He was in prison at the time. They gave him ten years, and I was doing this. And I complain about this! It was a version of my real story too. I used that to help Otis get through those scenes.

Q&A with Taika Waititi and Thomasin McKenzie

The author of the book had a great line about your films: “Laughs are never free. There are always strings attached.” Can you speak about the humor in this film and its fine calibration, especially in its opening sequences?
Taika Waititi: I always thought that humor and comedy are very powerful tools and effective weapons against bullies and bigotry. For a very long time it has been effective against dictators and people who enjoy spreading intolerance and hate. Sometimes people might feel nervous that there’s a mixing of this subject matter and infusing it with humor. The power of comedy is that it opens audiences up to deeper messages that you might want to deliver. It subverts what would normally be a very dramatic experience. When you open up, you’re more alert and more focused, and then the heavier things that happen in this film are more effective and I think are more impactful. Humor is not a new thing. It’s been eighty years since The Great Dictator came out. It’s not a very controversial idea to be mixing humor with this kind of subject matter. There’s this great story about Groucho Marx in the thirties. I think it was his daughter that was with some friends to celebrate a birthday in Beverly Hills in a country club. She wasn’t allowed in the pool because she was Jewish. There was a no Jews in the pool policy at the time. Retaliating in typical Groucho Marx fashion he said, “to be fair, she’s only half Jewish, so would you consider letting her into the pool up to her waist?” When you retaliate with humor and the ability to poke holes in these ridiculous ideas, if you poke enough holes in the fabric of these ludicrous world views, then you start seeing through it. You start to see it for what it is: a sort of thin veil. It then starts to disintegrate and fall apart.

All my films are a mixture of light and dark

Thomasin, I was wondering if you could speak about your first read through and where you first saw your character fitting into this story?
Thomasin McKenzie: I think Elsa is one of the more grounded characters in the film. I wanted to make sure not to play her in a funny way and to take her more seriously in the end. Definitely in the script and the writing there is a lot of humor. Elsa is a bit mean to Jojo and kind of pushes him around a bit. There is a kind of humor in there. When I first read the script, the tone was there. It was such a perfect script; I think everyone who was attached to the film knew what they were filming immediately going into it. Sometimes you do a film and you’re not quite sure what the tone is going to be. I think everyone kind of knew. We knew what we were making and we were proud of what we were making. We knew it had an important message and we knew it was going to be something special. In creating Elsa, I definitely did as much research as I possibly could to get her background, and then when we were doing the Holocaust lesson at school, I learned a lot about the structure and the facts about World War II. What were the causes and what were the consequences. I was curious to know what was the everyday life, what was it like to live back then. I talked with a historian, who was able to fill in a lot of gaps for me. And I spent time reading, I read books like “Anne Frank,” and I also went to Terezin concentration camp where Elsa likely would have gone had she been found. Only 150 kids survived that camp. I spent a lot of time in a Jewish order in Prague and in a synagogue. I just kind of walked around; it was really pretty and well preserved. There were a lot of Jewish artifacts as well that were well preserved in Prague because the Nazis planned to used the art in a kind of museum for an extinct race, which is a really terrifying idea. It’s really just wrong. Something really special about this film is that it allows us as an audience to look at World War II in a different way. I think in terms of Elsa, I approached the role having done all the research and all the preparation which allowed me to realize that of course Elsa is the victim and she’s been put through something that no person should have to experience; but she also is just a human being. She’s like me. She’s going through puberty, she’s got a crush on a boy, she is a really talented artist and she’s strong, courageous, and witty.

This film was a book first. Could you talk about adapting it?
TW: The book is a lot darker and more dramatic, while also being less humorous. But the story is essentially the same about a boy growing up in World War II Germany, the induction into the Hitler Youth, and then his discovery that his mother is hiding a girl in their attic. Then he has to deal with what in his mind is a monster living in his house. I took that storyline and I tried, but I’m not very good at making a straight drama. It’s not really my style. I worked quite particularly to my style of filmmaking. I added humor and this imaginary buffoon friend character, Hitler. All my films are a mixture of light and dark because I think that is more indicative of the human experience day to day. I don’t think there are many are many people who wake up and think, “it’s a comedy all day long!” I wanted to mix these things because everyday life is a turn from humor to tragedy, back to humor, to horror, and to drama. That is how I’ve always shaped my film.