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It felt like representatives of Manchester by the Sea were presenting or accepting awards for almost all of the three-plus-hour National Board of Review’s 88th annual awards ceremony Wednesday night at Cipriani 42nd Street. That’s partly because those who got up to the podium were a bit on the longwinded side, but also partly because so many of them got up to the podium: Kenneth Lonergan (accepted best film and best original screenplay), Casey Affleck (presented best original screenplay and accepted best actor), Lucas Hedges (accepted best breakthrough actor) and Matthew Broderick (presented best film). In other words, there was no question — and had been no question from the moment this year’s winners first were announced back on Nov. 29 — about which movie the NBR, a rather opaque organization comprised of roughly 130 “film enthusiasts,” loved the most in 2016.
Unlike some years in which there were fireworks at the NBR Awards, this year’s ceremony, emceed by NBC’s Willie Geist, went rather smoothly and uneventfully. The winners were rather gracious to the other films and filmmakers with which they will compete the rest of the way to the Oscars on Feb. 26. Lonergan, in accepting best film, hailed Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land, the best picture Oscar frontrunner that was shut out of the NBR Awards, save for ceremonial inclusion on its top 10 list. Affleck, in accepting best actor, praised Barry Jenkins, who already had accepted the best director prize for Moonlight, for having a far better way with words than he.
Speaking of Moonlight, it did just fine on a night in which films and filmmakers of color were prominently highlighted. Jenkins became the first black person in the history of the NBR Awards to win best director, a fact he highlighted in his acceptance speech — “There was a time when someone like me just wasn’t considered” — following an introduction by the noted author on race Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates, who praised Jenkins for not succumbing to pressure to present black characters in a “positive” light, but rather presenting them in a “productive” light. Meanwhile, his film’s Naomie Harris was presented with the best supporting actress award by her co-star Mahershala Ali, who was passed over for the best supporting actor prize in favor of Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges (who, in turn, dedicated his win to “all those people who are physically at Standing Rock [Indian Reservation, near North Dakota and South Dakota] and all who are supporting them”).
Additionally, Hidden Figures was honored with the best ensemble award. Astronaut Yvonne Cagle presented to Octavia Spencer, Aldis Hodge and Ali, who appears in that film, too, cheering the film’s “diversity that launches discovery … inclusion that fuels inspiration … and giving voice to figures hidden for far too long.” Ezra Edelman‘s O.J.: Made in America, the 7 1/2-hour look back at the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the context in which it occurred, won best documentary. Edelman said, “People want the truth,” a possible reference to President-elect Donald Trump‘s apparent aversion to it. And The Fits‘ Royalty Hightower was presented with the best breakthrough actress award by its recipient from five years ago, Quvenzhane Wallis.
Other big winners included Arrival‘s Amy Adams for best actress, introduced as a “badass” by Chris Messina; and Silence‘s Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese for best adapted screenplay, introduced by the film’s supporting actors Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. (Adams, Cocks and Scorsese also were feted earlier in the day with a Paramount-hosted, Academy member-packed luncheon high above Manhattan in Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room; many attendees of that gathering subsequently hustled over to the 21 Club, where Lonergan and Affleck were at the center of a similar event, hosted by Manchester distributors Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions; and later to The Monkey Bar, where The Weinstein Co., which was shut out of the NBR Awards, toasted Lion lead actor Sunny Pawar, supporting actor Dev Patel and supporting actress Nicole Kidman.)
Oscar-winner Laura Poitras presented the Freedom of Expression Award to Kirsten Johnson, her collaborator on three films, for Johnson’s Oscar-shortlisted doc Cameraperson. Rebecca Miller applauded Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Iranian best foreign-language film winner The Salesman (Farhadi twice previously won this same award), as a “master of suspense.” Riley Keough called Trey Edward Shults, the director of the micro-budget indie Krisha, for which he won best directorial debut, “a remarkable human being.” And Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight was awarded best animated film.
One of the funnier moments of the night came when writer/director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg were presented with a special award, by their Patriots Day collaborator Kevin Bacon, in recognition of their work together over the course of three recent films (the other two are Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon). Berg joked, “Our next film? Mark’s actually directing me in a remake of Last Tango in Paris,” to which Wahlberg responded, “This time it’s gonna be age-appropriate casting: it’s gonna be Pete and my mom.”
And one of the heavier moments came when Lonergan, accepting the best film award at the end of the evening, said in reference to the election of Trump, “We are living in troubled times … It might be bad trouble like we’ve never seen … [Thankfully, some films] offer a way to approach the next four years.”
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