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Unlike last year’s 79th New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony — which featured the highest of highs (Harry Belafonte‘s introduction of 12 Years a Slave left the audience stunned) and the lowest of lows (a member of the group allegedly heckled 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen during his acceptance speech) — the 80th edition, which took place on Monday night at the Tao restaurant in downtown New York, went relatively according to script.
Dozens of luminaries from the world of film — among them, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marion Cotillard, Jon Stewart, Bill Murray and Paul Schrader — were on hand to present or accept the 13 awards that the 34 members of the NYFCC — the oldest group of film critics in America, comprised of critics from daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and online publications — voted to hand out at a closed-door meeting on Dec. 1.
“This is the year of Boyhood,” NYFCC chairman Stephen Whitty, the evening’s emcee, said of the film that claimed the prizes for best film and also earned Richard Linklater best director and Patricia Arquette best supporting actress awards.
I sat at the Boyhood table with the two award winners, as well as male stars Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke and distributor/producer Jonathan Sehring of IFC Films and producer John Sloss, all of whom were overjoyed by the warm embrace of their film at the ceremony. It even got a shout-out during another winner’s acceptance speech: Laura Poitras, the director of best documentary winner Citizenfour, said, “It’s extraordinary to be here with the people who made Boyhood,” prompting cheers from the table and an excited remark of “Bam!” from Stewart, who was seated beside Linklater and would later present the best film prize.
The Boyhood folks have been hearing for months that they are the de facto Oscar frontrunners, but while they had received the audience prize at the Gotham Awards, it wasn’t until the NYFCC ceremony that they picked up their first major piece of hardware. This may be the beginning of a big week for the little picture that took 12 years to make. It is also nominated for the best picture (drama) Golden Globe that will be handed out on Sunday. But Sehring said he knows it’s a long season and a lot can still happen, so he’s not counting his chickens before his eggs. Besides, he joked, “Boyhood is so last year!”
Whitty kicked off the evening with some cracks of his own, describing his group in the terms used by film critic Armond White — the alleged heckler from last year’s ceremony who was subsequently expelled from the NYFCC — in a guest column that appeared on THR‘s website on Monday: “celebrity-worshipping awards-givers.” The joke was lost on many in the room, but played well with those who got it.
Gyllenhaal presented Cotillard with the best actress prize for her work in two films, The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night, calling himself “a fan” of her work and saying of her career, “I can’t think of a better word to use than ‘spectacular,'” adding, “Man does she have balls!” Cotillard, who said, “I almost never read reviews,” thanked the directors James Gray and the brothers Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne for “two wonderful roles that took me deeper into the word of acting.”
Wallace Shawn, best known as a comedic actor, then took the stage to honor Citizenfour, which follows NSA contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden during his first days on the run from the law, which Shawn described as “a marvelous film about a marvelous man” that “encourages people not to give up.” The film’s editor said it was “wonderful to be honored by a sophisticated audience” and its producer thanked “all the people who will be inspired by the film… to protect democracy.”
Things then took a lighter turn when comedian Nick Offerman came out to honor the young directors from The LEGO Movie, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who he described as “some kids” who “got me to do a dance and sing some songs” and “took a bunch of Time-Warner money” and made a “brain-melting mindfuck” of “an anti-establishment film.” Miller thanked the “people who believed The LEGO Movie could be more than a soulless cashgrab,” while Lord noted, “This is the most fun we’ve ever had at an Asian restaurant.”
Jennifer Kent, the director of best first film winner The Babadook, was not able to attend the event, but Rose McGowan, the actress-turned-director who debuted a film at last year’s Sundance, where the two became friends, accepted on her behalf. Noting that only 6 percent of directors are women, McGowan pleaded with the industry to “give the 6 percent a shot,” and also chided, “When they say the box-office is down, perhaps it’s because you’ve done one too many fucking superhero movies.”
The next honoree, Arquette, who was introduced by Coltrane, the yoiung man who played her on-screen son in Boyhood. He likened Arquette to his own mother and said, “I just want to take this opportunity to say thank you, Patricia, for everything.” Arquette gave him a big, long hug and then, holding a scotch (and holding back tears), told Coltrane, “Thank you for sharing with me your childhood — and your chickenpox.” She noted that a lot can happen in 12 years: “Filmmaking seems to have shifted in the time that I’ve been in it from ‘the movie business’ to ‘the business of movies.’ It makes a big difference.”
A “special award,” which is not presented every year but only when a suitable honoree is found, was then given to Adrienne Mancia, a Museum of Modern Art film curator from 1964 to 1998. Mary Corliss, a longtime colleague and friend, said, “She brought art to the masses and the masses to the museum” and “opened the eyes of America to world cinema.” Murray made a rare appearance, calling Mancia “smarter than most all of us and more fun than most all of us.” A frail Mancia joked from the podium, “Vengeance is mine!”
Kyra Sedgwick presented J.K. Simmons, her costar on The Closer for eight years, with the best supporting actor prize for his work in Whiplash, calling him “one of the greatest scene partners on Earth” and acknowledging that Whiplash meant that “the moment when his work could be quietly admired was over.” Simmons was applauded when he noted that he had spent most of his life as an actor in New York — not least on Broadway and in TV’s Law & Order — and also that he would be celebrating his 60th birthday in the city this week.
The character actor Bob Balaban, long one of the regulars in Wes Anderson‘s films, presented the best screenplay prize to Anderson, in absentia, for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Hugo Guinness, Anderson’s longtime friend, co-writer of the film’s story and allegedly its inspiration, came out to read some remarks that Anderson had sent from the set of his next film, which quoted NYFCC member Rex Reed‘s recent assessment of Anderson’s films: “I hated them all.”
Cotillard then returned to the stage to read the remarks of another person who was M.I.A., her Immigrant director Gray, who was to have presented the best cinematography prize to that film’s lenser Darius Khondji, but who had fallen ill. Anderson told Khondji, “You helped make my dream come to life.”
Taxi Driver and Raging Bull screenwriter Schrader gushed about best foreign film winner Ida, the Polish film that is among the nine shortlisted for the best foreign language film Oscar. “Ida goes where only the courageous go,” he said. Director Pawel Pawlikowski noted, “My distributors tell me whatever commercial success the film has had is because of the New York film critics.”
John Lithgow had equally admiring things to say about Timothy Spall, the veteran character actor who was tapped for the best actor prize for his work in Mr. Turner, describing him as “a prime example of my favorite kind of actor” and noting, “You could have asked any actor in the business to present this award and he or she would have felt the same way.” Spall, still recovering from the compliments, confessed, “We all pretend that awards are not important, but man, when you get one… it’s just really, really fucking lovely.”
The night came to an end with back-to-back Boyhood acknowledgments. Hawke presented Linklater, with whom he has collaborated on eight films, with best director, applauding him for “continually achieving the impossible.” Linklater, noting that he was “having quite a New York moment,” dedicated the prize to the late George Morris, a critic for the Austin Chronicle, who he said had been a close friend, and whohe now makes his films for.
Stewart then did the best film honors, deadpanning about Linklater’s vision for the film, “A couple of million dollars for a masterpiece that will live forever in cinema history? Fuck this egomaniac!”
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