All I hope is that “Letters from Iwo Jima” is better than the very boring “Flags Of Our Fathers.”

Oscar Season Begins with Eastwood Win
Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, his as yet unreleased World War II battle epic told from the perspective of the Japanese troops, was named Best Film on Wednesday by the National Board of Review.
Flags of Our Fathers, Eastwood’s WWII battle epic told from the perspective of the U.S. troops, made the group’s cut as one of 2006’s 10 best films.
Eastwood, 75, only recently won a batch of awards, including two Oscars, for directing and producing 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. And just before that, he was in the game with 2003’s Mystic River.
The NBR honors are the first major kudos of the award-show season. After Wednesday, there will only be 80 ad-buying, DVD-distributing days left until the 79th Annual Academy Awards. As such, the road to the Kodak Theater might have gotten unexpectedly longer for Dreamgirls, the odds-on pick of pundits to claim the Best Picture Oscar.
In the eyes of the NBR, a coalition of historians, students, educators and others, the show-biz musical not only wasn’t the year’s best film, it wasn’t one of the year’s 10 best films. Its all-star actorsóBeyoncÈ Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphyówere similarly shut out.
Jennifer Hudson, the American Idol castoff who makes her film debut in Dreamgirls, was the movie’s only NBR winner, sharing an honor for breakthrough actress with Babel’s Rinko Kikuchi. The 25-year-old Hudson is considered a serious contender for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
Having better luck with NBR voters: the Oscarless Martin Scorsese, named Best Director for The Departed; Forest Whitaker, honored as Best Actor for channeling despot Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland; Helen Mirren, tapped as Best Actress for channeling stoic Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen; Djimon Hounsou, a Best Supporting Actor winner for Blood Diamond; and Catherine O’Hara, recognized as Best Supporting Actress for the latest Christopher Guest spoof, For Your Consideration.
Hounsou’s Blood Diamond costar, Leonardo DiCaprio, was passed over twiceóonce for his work in the diamond-trade thriller and once for his star turn in The Departed. DiCaprio and his Departed costars, however, were honored en masse as Best Ensemble.
Other snubees: Mel Gibson, coming up empty with Apocalypto, and everybody who worked on The Queen, save for Mirren.
The NBR isn’t a dead-on predictor of Oscar successóAmerican Beauty is its last Best Film winner to claim the Academy’s top prizeóbut it’s a pretty good gauge. Last year, all five Best Picture Oscar nominees began their award-show runs on NBR’s Top 10 list.
Unlike some other groups, the NBR doesn’t do nominations; it just announces winners. But it does its part to help make everybody a winner by lauding nearly three dozen filmsóincluding 10 overall picks, 10 indies, five foreign-language movies and five documentariesóas being among the year’s best.
In addition to the Eastwood offerings, the NBR’s main top 10 list honored Babel, Blood Diamond, The Departed, The Devil Wears Prada, The History Boys, Little Miss Sunshine, Notes on a Scandal and The Painted Veil.
Former Vice President Al Gore’s global-warming horror show, An Inconvenient Truth, was named Best Documentary; PenÈlope Cruz’s star vehicle, Volver, was honored as Best Foreign Film; and Cars pulled away as Best Animated Feature.
Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, whose Oscar momentum stalled once the reviews came out, did manage a mention on the Top Independent Films list, as did Starbucks’ personal favorite, Akeelah and the Bee.
Actor Eli Wallach, director Jonathan Demme and producer Irwin Winkler were all tapped for special honors.
The awards are scheduled to be presented Jan. 9 in New York City.
Here’s a complete look at the 2006 National Board of Review winners:
Film: Letters from Iwo Jima
Actor: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland
Actress: Helen Mirren, The Queen
Supporting Actor: Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Supporting Actress: Catherine O’Hara, For Your Consideration
Director: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Foreign Film: Volver
Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth
Animated Feature: Cars
Ensemble Cast: The Departed
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls, and Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
Directorial Debut: Jason Reitman, Thank You for Smoking
Original Screenplay: Stranger Than Fiction
Adapted Screenplay: The Painted Veil
Career Achievement: Eli Wallach
Billy Wilder Award for Excellence in Directing: Jonathan Demme
Career Achievement in Producing: Irwin Winkler
William K. Everson Film History Award: Donald Krim
Bvlgari Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: Water and World Trade Center