Annie Schulhof’s (she is the NBR Board President) National Board or Review announces their year end awards today.
My expectation is that she will honor one of the following with Best Film: AMERICAN SNIPER (WB), UNBROKEN (Universal) or SELMA (Paramount). All three of those films open on Christmas day. It comes down to free advertising for the organization as the studio promotes their film as the “National Board of Review’s Best Film” in print, television, and internet ads. That amount of press exposure generated is very much needed by the struggling non-profit; they have lost over $200,000 the past four to five years and cut its student grant giving from $102,500 in 2012 to $29,000 in 2013.
Choosing a yet to be released film has been a trend over the past couple years–HER (Dec. 18, 2013) and ZERO DARK THIRTY (Dec. 19, 2012)–because they have not had a sponsor since 2008 (Gala held in 2009). If they finally have a sponsor for their January 2014 gala, then perhaps they can afford to give the award to BOYHOOD or BIRDMAN that was released earlier this year. Until then, expect the yet to be released method to continue… Ms. Schulhof needs to convince a company that they will get enough media exposure for their NBR gala sponsor buck.
Ms. Schulhof also gets a big ego boost by awarding a performance that no one is talking about or is lagging in the award pundit polls. Expect something along the lines of Bill Murray for Best Actor for his performance ST. VINCENT or John Lithgow in LOVE IS STRANGE or Ralph Fiennes in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. So you can never say the NBR’s Best Actor, Actress, or Supporting, but rather Best Performance that Annie Schulhof hopes to push towards an Oscar nomination.
You can also expect BLUE RUIN to make her Top Ten List. It is a great film, but one of the producers is an NBR member that attended Wesleyan University (Ms. Schulhof loves her young men from Wesleyan!), so it is assured to do well today.
The same goes for Joe Berlinger and his film WHITEY: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA V. JAMES J. BULGER.
He and HBO’s Shelia Nevin’s are the organizations two major film members. Berlinger became a member after his film CRUDE came out in 2009. In 2011 the NBR had a screening at HBO (seats 125) of Berlinger’s PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY. After the screening he voiced his concern to Ms. Schulhof about there being only 15-20 people (and not all voting members) at the screening. She assured Mr. Berlinger that she’d personally make sure members saw the film. PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY won the NBR’s Best Documentary that year. Two notable documentaries that did not make the NBR’s Top Five Documentaries: Steve James’ THE INTERRUPTERS and UNDEFEATED (A Weinstein Co. film that won the Oscar).
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: An unexpected NBR Top Five Doc that same year was a 40 minute IMAX movie, BORN TO BE WILD. The writer/producer, Drew Fellman, is the son of Warner Bros. Executive Dan Fellman. It has been widely reported that Ms. Schulhof is friends with Dan Fellman. Ms. Schulhof pushed hard for members to see BORN TO BE WILD (released in April 8, 2011), even adding three additional screenings during award season. It’s always good to have the NBR President in your corner.
Anyway, I don’t expect WHITEY to win (because it’s a so-so documentary–no one would believe it is the best doc with CITIZENFOUR in this year’s competition), but I do expect it to make Ms. Schulhof’s Top Five Documentaries. Why? Quid pro quo.
In September, Mr. Berlinger did Ms. Schulhof a solid. On June 30, 2014, CNN reported that the Schulhof Company, Quadriga Art, was being fined $25 million by the New York State Attorney General’s Office for deceptive charitable fundraising. Ms. Schulhof’s husband resigned from the family company. The news of the Schulhof scandal became known by several NBR members, and questions started to arise because she is driven to and from NBR screenings by a Quadriga Art employee (the car may also be owned by Quadriga Art). Ms. Schulhof, who had spent the majority of the year in LA, returned to New York in late August/early September for award season, and wanted to reassure members that she was very much in charge, despite the scandal. So she marched award winning documentarian Berlinger out for a WHITEY screening and Q&A, two months after the film’s summer release. It was rumored that she requested that he state to the NBR screening members attending that he is an NBR member to reinforce the point that he was in her corner. He even mentioned to me in an email that he loves Annie Schulhof–and who wouldn’t when she’s pushing your films for awards!
I realize trying to figure out how Annie Schulhof is going to vote or the films that she is pushing today is fleeting because her motivates are not to award excellence, but rather something else. Sometimes her vote is financial in nature–getting studios to buy tables at $13,500 a pop. Or she holds a grudge against a studio or filmmaker–it was discussed often that she was mad at Harvey Weinstein for years and she would not give a Weinstein Co. film a major award. Matter of fact, when someone during the Awards Committee mentioned Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, Ms. Schulhof replied that will not happen. That changed a couple of years ago when The Weinstein Co. started buying tables. And guess what happened? The Weinstein Co. film SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK won Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Also, as mentioned above, she pushes for a friend or member’s film.
It really is her vote, not the NBR’s, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they don’t understand Ms. Schulhof’s unabated power and control over the organization–there are literally no safe guards by the NBR Board of Directors to stop her. How do I know this? Well, I was the NBR’s Creative Director for almost seven years.
Anyway, here are my Annie Schulhof NBR predictions:
BEST ACTOR: Ralph Fiennes, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
BEST ACTRESS: Rosamund Pike, GONE GIRL
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: J.K. Simmons, WHIPLASH
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Meryl Streep, INTO THE WOODS
BEST DIRECTOR: Angelina Jolie, UNBROKEN
BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT: Jeremy Saulnier, BLUE RUIN
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE: IDA
BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Jack O’Connell, UNBROKEN and STARRED UP
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Paul Webb, SELMA
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Gillian Flynn, GONE GIRL
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: THE LEGO MOVIE
BEST ENSEMBLE: INHERENT VICE
CREATIVE INNOVATION IN FILMMAKING: Richard Linklater, BOYHOOD
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: ROSEWATER