LOS ANGELES, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- The annual movie awards season gets under way this week, when the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures announces its selections for the top 10 movies of 2001 -- a list that should provide some clues about which movies will compete for top honors at the Oscars.
The Board of Review selections have not always turned out to be the most reliable indicator of coming Oscar winners for best picture. The Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards for best picture and director have been much more reliable.
Sometimes the Board's annual list of its 10 best pictures does not even include many of the titles that will later be in the running for the Oscar and the Golden Globes.
Take last year, for example, when the Board named "Quills" best picture.
The costume drama about the Marquis de Sade failed to bag an Oscar nomination for best picture, and only two of the five Oscar nominees were also on the Board's Top 10 list, "Gladiator" and "Traffic." "Gladiator" -- director Ridley Scott's sword-and-sandals epic -- won the Oscar for best picture after finishing seventh in the NBR voting.
However, the Board's preferences overall turned out to be more closely aligned with those of the people who voted for other movie awards.
Best actor Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls") was nominated for the Oscar. Best actress Julia Roberts won the Oscar for "Erin Brockovich." Best supporting actor Joaquin Phoenix ("Quills," "Gladiator," "The Yards") was nominated for the Oscar.
"Traffic," the drug war drama, finished second in the NBR's balloting and went on to become one of the most decorated pictures or the year, winning four Oscars, including one for Benicio Del Toro for supporting actor. Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan won an Oscar and a Writers Guild of American award for writing "Traffic."
Steven Soderbergh won the Board's best director award for "Erin Brockovich" and went on to receive Oscar nominations for both "Brockovich" and for "Traffic."
"Croupier" -- which finished third in the NBR vote -- was a critics' favorite that never caught on with the commercial movie audience and failed to resonate with various awards voters last year.
"You Can Count of Me" finished fourth in the Board vote, and went on to a successful awards season, winning a best actress Oscar nomination for Laura Linney and the Writers Guild of America award for best original screenplay for writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, to go with Sundance Film Festival award for best drama.
The other entries on the National Board best picture list, "Sunshine" and "Dancer in the Dark," received wide critical acclaim, but little else in the way of award recognition or box-office glory.
The NBR's Top 10 list for 1999 contained only two titles that went on to receive Oscar nominations for best picture -- "American Beauty" and "The Insider." "American Beauty" finished No. 1 in the NBR vote and won the Oscar.
In 1998, four of the Board's Top 10 choices -- "Saving Private Ryan," "Elizabeth," "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Thin Red Line" -- went on to receive Oscar nominations. "Shakespeare in Love" won the Oscar while the Board's top pick, "Gods and Monsters," did not receive an Oscar nomination.
In 1997, five movies went from the Board's Top 10 to the list of five Oscar nominees. "L.A. Confidential" won the Board's top honor, while "Titanic" took home the Oscar -- one of a record-tying 11 Academy Awards for the all-time box-office champ.
All five Oscar nominees for 1996 -- "The English Patient," "Shine," "Secrets and Lies," "Jerry Maguire" and Fargo" -- also first appeared together on the Board's Top 10 list. "Shine" won the Board award, while "The English Patient" took the Oscar.
In each of those years, many of the filmmakers who were honored by the Board -- including Frances McDormand ("Fargo"), Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient"), Jack Nicholson ("As Good as It Gets"), Russell Crowe ("The Insider"), Janet McTeer ("Tumbleweeds") and Julianne Moore ("Magnolia") -- went on to receive Oscar nominations or awards.
The National Board of Review awards do not provide solid information about which films, actors, writers and other filmmakers will win at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild and other awards between now and March 2002, when the 74th Annual Academy Awards will be handed out. But they do provide a working list of movies that probably have a decent shot at many of the prizes offered during the awards season.
If you want the best indicator of all for the best picture Oscar, you have to look at the Producers Guild of America's annual best picture award, which has a tendency to identify the eventual Oscar winner, although there have been some exceptions.
The PGA picked "Saving Private Ryan" the year the Academy picked "Shakespeare in Love." The PGA also picked "Apollo 13" the year the Academy picked "Braveheart" for best picture.
Howard is back this year with "A Beautiful Mind," starring reigning best actor Oscar winner Russell Crowe as the tortured math genius John Forbes Nash Jr.
Whether Howard and his movie have a shot at Oscar gold remains to be seen. We'll know Wednesday whether either winds up on the NBR list.