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The National Board of Review, a nonprofit organization comprised of filmmakers, academics, media professionals, students and film enthusiasts, dished out its 85th annual awards on Tuesday night in frigid New York. The massive restaurant Cipriani 42nd Street was filled with big-name presenters and winners — the latter of whom were selected and announced back on Dec. 4 — many hoping to make a strong impression on any Academy members in the room as the Oscar nomination voting periods nears its finish at 5pm PT on Wednesday.
At the festivities, which were hosted by Good Morning America‘s chipper Lara Spencer and ran for more than three hours, there were no major unscripted fireworks — unlike at Monday night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where a critic allegedly heckled a winner. But there were a number of memorable moments at the podium, from Spotlight Award co-recipients Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio finishing each other’s sentences, to presenter Meryl Streep slamming the awards season as “really ridiculous” and describing Walt Disney as a racist and a sexist, to 77-year-old best actor winner Bruce Dern getting his moment in the sun at long last.
And the profile of Her, the winner of best film and best director, certainly grew, as well.
The festivities kicked off with the presentation of awards to several people who also were honored at the NYFCC ceremony.
Fruitvale Station‘s young writer-director Ryan Coogler was presented with best directorial debut by Lee Daniels’ The Butler‘s director Lee Daniels, who called the 27-year-old “a shooting star.” Coogler, whose film is about a young black man who was murdered by white cops in San Francisco, noted that he easily could have been that man and that when he made the film, at 26, “statistically speaking I wasn’t even supposed to be alive, coming from where I come from.” He closed by telling the NBR, “I’m forever indebted to you guys.”
Then 1987 best supporting actress NBR winner Olympia Dukakis presented the best documentary prize to Sarah Polley, whose Stories We Tell chronicles her unusual family history. Polley called it “a film I may not have made if I knew anyone was gonna see it.”
And Time film critic Richard Corliss presented the best animated feature award to Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki, in absentia. Prior to introducing the producer Frank Marshall to accept the honor for The Wind Rises on Miyazaki’s behalf, Corliss quipped, “As an emissary from the New York Film Critics Circle, I’m pleased to see such a glamorous and well-behaved group here tonight.” Marshall, for his part, said that working on Miyazaki’s last few films, especially in light of the filmmaker’s recent announcement of his retirement, was “one of the high points of my career.”
Best adapted screenplay was presented to The Wolf of Wall Street‘s Terence Winter by Steve Buscemi and Edie Falco, both of whom starred on The Sopranos, on which Winters was a writer and executive producer, “back in the day,” as Falco put it; Buscemi also is the star of Winter’s Boardwalk Empire. Referencing the bitterly cold weather in Gotham, Winter said from the podium, “My first writing teacher told me it would be a cold day in hell if I ever won an NBR Award. Well, I woke up today and checked the temperature!”
The William K. Everson Film History Award was awarded to AFI founder and Kennedy Center Honors overseer George Stevens Jr. by his friend Tom Brokaw. Brokaw called the 81-year-old, who recently received an honorary Oscar, “my very dear friend and a great American artist.” Stevens noted that the NBR provided him with “my first recognition” 50 years ago for a documentary that he made about John F. Kennedy.
Fruitvale Station, meanwhile, picked up another honor when its leading man, Michael B. Jordan, was presented with the male breakthrough performance award by his costar Melonie Diaz. During a long but charming acceptance speech, the 26-year-old recounted his roller coaster of a career since making his acting debut 10 years ago on The Wire as Wallace (as in, “Where’s Wallace at?”), acknowledging “all my friends in L.A. whose couches I slept on” after his time on The Wire ended and he moved west seeking additional work (and living on a “7-11 diet”), as well as the late man he portrays in the film (“Through cinema he lives forever”).
Much less verbose were the brothers and Inside Llewyn Davis writers-directors-editors Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, who were presented with the best original screenplay honor by the film’s star Oscar Isaac. After remarking with wonder, “We each get one?!” Ethan uttered a few short words of thanks before saying, “I have more to say but I can sense that Joel is dying to speak,” prompting howls of laughter. Joel, in fact, had little to add, other than his own thanks.
The best ensemble award went to the cast of Prisoners, via the film’s Quécquois-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who said, “I could talk about them for hours — in French.” Although Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis were not in attendance, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Terence Howard and Maria Bello were. Bello spoke for the four of them, thanking “our father” Villeneuve for bringing them together and bringing out their best work.
Another French presenter came next. Berenice Bejo awarded best foreign language film to Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of the French-language drama The Past, in which she stars. Bejo said, “What you managed to show of me in this movie is one of my best performances,” and Farhadi noted that it was at the NBR Awards two years ago that they first met; she was present on behalf of The Artist and he on behalf of A Separation, two films that both went on to win Oscars that year.
One of the funniest portions of the evening came with the presentation of the Spotlight Award to DiCaprio and Scorsese in honor of their collaboration on five standout films over the past 11 years, the most recent of which is The Wolf of Wall Street. That film features three noted directors in acting roles — Jon Favreau, Spike Jonze and Rob Reiner — who joked about their involvement with the film (“I gained 30 pounds for the role — it worked for De Niro,” said Favreau), each other (Jonze was happy to cede the microphone to the other two, so Reiner said of him, in reference to Jonze’s latest film Her, “He can’t talk to people too well — it’s autobiographical”) and the honorees. As Scorsese stood beside the much taller DiCaprio on stage he kept popping up onto his tiptoes and smiling widely, to great laughter. He said of DiCaprio, “Leo has all the qualities I look for in a great actor,” to which DiCaprio responded, “You mean, like an Italian last name?”
Two other close friends followed: Lea Seydoux presented the female breakthrough actor award to “the greatest actress I’ve ever met and worked with,” her 19-year-old costar in Blue Is the Warmest Color, Adele Exarchopoulos. Exarchopoulos, apologizing for her “shitty English,” returned the compliment: “Without you I would never be here,” she told Seydoux, “even if you left me for that other bitch” (referring to their characters in the film).
Women’s rights champion Tina Brown then presided over the presentation of the NBR’s Freedom of Expression Award to Haifaa Al-Mansour for her film Wadjda, the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature film ever made by a female Saudi Arabian.
Entertainment Weekly editor Jess Cagle, meanwhile, presented the Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award — an honor never before given by the NBR — to Gravity‘s director Alfonso Cuaron, producer David Heyman, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber; Heyman and Webber accepted for the group.
Best supporting actor went to Nebraska‘s Will Forte following an introduction by his former Saturday Night Live costar Seth Meyers in which Meyers jokingly chided the NBR (“This in no way makes up for not honoring him for his work in MacGruber“) and complimented Forte (he called him “gracefully quiet” and said, in reference to one of Forte’s memorable SNL impersonations, “There are so many actors who do quiet well, but I would like to see them try to do Zell Miller“). Forte, who had never acted in a drama before Nebraska, said seriously, “I am so honored to be here. You don’t know what this means to me.” Then he brought on the laughs: “I’m used to getting more ‘Why did you do that?’s and ‘What the hell were you thinking?’s. Some of my work has caused my family to lose friendships. I would like to thank the NBR for helping to restore the Forte family name.”
Best supporting actress was next and was presented by Jessica Chastain, last year’s NBR best actress winner, to her costar from 2011’s The Help, Octavia Spencer, who was being honored for Fruitvale Station and dedicated her honor to her fellow supporting actresses from that film, including Diaz.
No presentation was more moving, though, than that of best actor by veteran studio exec David Picker to his longtime friend Bruce Dern, whose career was stagnant before Nebraska and who had never really received much applause for his work since his best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Coming Home 35 years ago. “I’m more than thrilled,” Dern said. “It’s been a long journey.” Choking up, the septuagenarian thanked Nebraska director Alexander Payne for offering him a chance and asking him to just be himself, as opposed to doing “all the kind of crap I’ve had to do all these years to be the most interesting third cowboy from the right.” He closed by thanking the NBR for their confidence in him: “All of you got together in a room and said, ‘Bruce Dern can play.’ “
Dern was a tough act to follow, but if anyone is up to the challenge it is Streep, who came onstage wearing one of the “Prize Winner” trucker hats that littered each table in homage to Nebraska. “I’m not the prize winner?” the three-time Oscar recipient asked as the audience laughed. “That is so weird!” She then gave a heartfelt and funny toast to best actress winner Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), a longtime friend, calling her “practically a saint” and noting that she “considers carefully what the fuck she is putting out into the culture.” Streep described Thompson as “a rabid man-eating feminist like I am” and then, a little bizarrely, lit into Walt Disney, who is portrayed in Thompson’s film Saving Mr. Banks, for being a racist and a sexist, and also dismissed the awards season as “really ridiculous.” Thompson ultimately pranced onto the stage and declared herself “nauseated with gratitude,” adding, to howls of laughter, “It’s such a cold night — it’s the only time I’ve been actively grateful for the menopause.” Noting what a strong year it has been for actresses, she mused, “I can’t think what must have given me the edge. It must have been the perm — which meant no sex for months, of course.”
Things then came to a close with the presentation of the two awards to Her. Jonze accepted the best director prize, and then Jonze and one of Her‘s producers, Megan Ellison, were invited back to the stage by Mike Myers to collect the best film honor. (Myers noted, in all seriousness, that he had named his son Spike in honor of Jonze.) Jonze and Ellison noted the absence of the film’s other producer, Vincent Landay, and called Reiner back to the stage to step in for him, noting, “He’s never seen the movie, he doesn’t know anything about the movie, and he doesn’t know Vincent Landay.” Of course, Reiner brought down the house.
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