"Zero Dark Thirty" named best film by National Board of Review

A graduate of Juilliard, Jessica Chastain burst onto the film scene in 2011 with a flurry of features which -- owing to the viscissitudes of release schedules -- hit movie screens all at once: Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life," Al Pacino's "Wilde Salome," "Take Shelter," "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "Texas Killing Fields," and "The Help," for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Chastain told the Hollywood Reporter that, while shooting scenes in which she witnessed torture, she had to go against everything she had learned as an actress. "I'm playing a character that's been trained to be unemotional and analytically precise. My whole life, I've been trained to be emotional," she said. "During those scenes, anything I felt -- it was like wearing a straitjacket."
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Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" continued to gather awards momentum as the National Board of Review named the Osama bin Laden hunt docudrama the best film of the year.

The board is the second notable group to name "Zero Dark Thirty" best film, following the New York Film Critics Circle. The early honors suggest the film may be the Academy Awards frontrunner, four years after Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" triumphed at the Oscars.

The film took three awards Wednesday from the National Board of Review, which also named Bigelow best director and Jessica Chastain, who stars as a CIA agent, best actress.

The group also gave a boost to "Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell's comedic drama about a mentally unstable former teacher (Bradley Cooper) attempting to reorder his life. Cooper was named best actor and Russell was awarded best adapted screenplay. (Best original screenplay went to Rian Johnson for the thriller "Looper.")

Leonardo DiCaprio won best supporting actor for his performance as a wealthy slave owner in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." Best supporting actress went to Ann Dowd for her performance as a fast-food manager terrorized by a prank caller in "Compliance."

The board also lauded Ben Affleck, director and star of the Iran hostage crisis drama "Argo," for special achievement in filmmaking. Best ensemble went to the cast of Tom Hooper's musical adaptation of "Les Miserables." The group is also highlighting John Goodman with its "spotlight award," noting the actor's work this year in "Argo," ''Flight," ''Paranorman" and "Trouble With the Curve."

The National Board of Review, a group of film academics, students and professionals founded in 1909, is one of the first groups to announce its picks for the year's best movies. The Los Angeles Film Critics announce their choices on Sunday. The Golden Globe nominations come Dec. 13, and the Oscar nominees will be announced on Jan 10.

The National Board of Review has some pedigree in picking films that have gone on to win best picture at the Oscars, though not in recent years. Last year, it selected "Hugo," while the academy chose "The Artist." In 2010, it selected "The Social Network" while the Oscar went to "The King's Speech."

In addition to individual awards, the board also lists its top 10 films, in no particular order: "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," "Lincoln," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Looper," "Les Miserables," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Promised Land."

The awards will be handed out at a gala on Jan. 8 in New York at Cipriani's, to be hosted by Meredith Vieira.