Bigelow was named best director and Jessica Chastain, who plays the starring role of a young CIA officer pursuing bin Laden, was named best actress by the NBR.
Bradley Cooper took home best actor honors for his portrayal of a bipolar, former teacher in the film “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“‘Zero Dark Thirty' is a masterful film,” NBR President Annie Schulhof said in a statement. “Kathryn Bigelow takes the viewer inside a definitive moment of our time in a visceral and unique way. It is exciting, provocative and deeply emotional.”
The Hollywood treatment of the decade-long operation to hunt and kill bin Laden, based on first hand accounts, boosts the prospects for the movie to win an Oscar in February.
The film, not yet publicly released, also took the top award from the New York Film Critics Circle.
Leonardo DiCaprio won best supporting actor from the NBR for his role in Quentin Tarantino's new slavery era drama, “Django Unchained,” while Ann Dowd took the best supporting actress honors for her role in “Compliance,” as a fast-food restaurant manager duped by a prank caller scam.
The NBR, a 100 year-old US-based group of movie industry watchers and film professionals, gave its original screenplay award to Rian Johnson for “Looper,” and adapted screenplay to David O. Russell for “Silver linings Playbook.”
Hobbit, Life of Pi overlooked
“Les Miserables,” the first big movie adaptation of the popular stage musical featuring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway was named best ensemble, and the group gave its best animated feature prize to “Wreck-It-Ralph.”
Each year the board also issues a list of top 10 movies, which this year besides Bigelow's film included Ben Affleck's Iran hostage thriller “Argo,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” and “Looper.”
“Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg's biopic of President Abraham Lincoln, the mystical indie film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”
Gus van Sant's fracking drama “Promised Land,” and coming of age film “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” rounded out the list.
Absent from the list were some films that had been touted for honors ahead of awards season, including Peter Jackson's “The Hobbit,” Wes Anderson's “Moonrise Kingdom,” indie film “The Sessions” starring Helen Hunt, and Ang Lee's “Life of Pi.”
In other categories, NBR gave its best documentary award to “Searching for Sugarman,” and chose Austrian director Michael Haneke's “Amour,” as best foreign language film.
Child-actress Quvenzhane Wallis from “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and “The Impossible” actor Tom Holland each won awards for breakthrough performances.
Benh Zeitlin received the award for best debut director for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” while documentary “Central Park Five” and drama “Promised Land” were both honored with the Freedom of Expression award.
The National Board of Review was formed in New York in 1909 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting movies as an art form and entertainment.