Here we go. Tomorrow, the National Board of Review officially kicks off the Oscar season with their annual awards. In the past, the NBR has been an excellent indicator of the Best Picture nominees. Usually, four out of five nominees can be found within NBR’s top ten list. As well, NBR’s top film is virtually a lock to be nominated.

Let’s take a quick look at years past. Last year, “Good Night and Good Luck” snagged the top prize. The year before it was “Finding Neverland” with “Mystic River” and “The Hours” before that. Sounds like a pretty good track record to me. Of course, when it comes to matching up with the eventual winner, the evidence is lacking. You would have to go back to 1999 when “American Beauty” captured top honors.

The acting awards don’t necessarily correlate, but the winners are usually among the nominees. Furthermore, they become instant frontrunners. It should also be noted that the NBR likes to award actors for multiple films, such as Julianne Moore for “The Hours” AND “Far From Heaven.” This could come into play once again this year.

So without further adieu, let’s get to the predictions.

NBR’S BEST PICTURE 2006 – The Departed

TOP TEN FILMS OF 2006

1. The Departed
2. The Queen
3. Dreamgirls
4. Breaking and Entering
5. United 93
6. Little Miss Sunshine
7. Little Children
8. Babel
9. The Illusionist
10. Notes on a Scandal

Best Actor: Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland”

Best Actress: Gretchen Mol, “The Notorious Bettie Page”

Best Director: Stephen Frears, “The Queen”

Best Supporting Actor, Adam Beach, “Flags of Our Fathers”

Best Supporting Actress, Cate Blanchett, “Babel” and “Notes on a Scandal”

Analysis:

For Best Picture, NBR usually goes with a film that is widely acclaimed by critics. “The Departed” fits that bill, although it could easily be “The Queen” as well. Furthermore, NBR loves Martin Scorsese. Both “Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator” cracked the top three in previous years. In years past, NBR has consistently ignored some big films, such as “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Lord of the Rings,” so we think big studio offerings like “Flags of Our Fathers” and “The Good Shepherd” will get passed over. But there are usually one of two surprises sprinkled in the list. We like the underrated magician period piece “The Illusionist” and Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering.” Both of Minghella’s previous two films were in the top three.

As for the other categories, there seems to be a trend of splitting Picture and Director, so we’ll predict that to be the case again this year. NBR often tries to go creative in one of the acting categories, usually Best Actress, so we’re going out on a limb and predicting Gretchen Mol in an early 2006 release that hardly anyone has seen. The obvious choice, of course, is Helen Mirren (“The Queen”), but we think NBR will want to make a more bold statement.

Check back in tomorrow to see how we did. The Oscar picture is starting to come into focus. Excitement is in the air.P.S. I Love You movie download