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The center of the Oscar season universe this week is freezing Gotham, where many contenders traveled in advance of Monday night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards ceremony and Tuesday night’s National Board of Review Awards, as well as a host of events set up around them in the hopes of currying favor with Academy members.
The 81st NYFCC ceremony, which took place at the Tao Downtown restaurant and was emceed by the group’s president, Marshall Fine, attracted the attendance of most of its honorees — including best director winner Todd Haynes (Carol), best actor winner Michael Keaton (Spotlight), best actress winner and my tablemate Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and best supporting actress winner Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria) — as well as a coterie of notable presenters.
The NYFCC, a group comprised of 35 working film critics, this year seemed to gravitate to films set in or about their city: In addition to Carol, which also was chosen as best film, and Brooklyn, other celebrated films included Bridge of Spies, for which Mark Rylance was awarded the best supporting actor prize in absentia, and best non-fiction film winner In Jackson Heights, which focuses on that Queens neighborhood.
While the proceedings are not publicly broadcast, they do fall right in the middle of Oscar nominations voting — which began on Dec. 30 and continues through Jan. 8 — and accord honorees an opportunity to be talked up by a presenter and, if they are in attendance, deliver an acceptance speech in front of the many Oscar voters and influencers who pack the room.
In other words, some hearts, minds and votes — in races that could be very close — may have been swayed when Liam Neeson likened his countrywoman Ronan to the recently departed Maureen O’Hara; Julianne Moore hailed her Still Alice costar Stewart’s “tremendous abilities” and “authenticity”; Samuel L. Jackson reminded the room that 87-year-old best score winner Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) wrote his first score for a Western when Quentin Tarantino was just one; Bennett Miller called Laszlo Nemes, the director of best first film winner Son of Saul, a “great director and new voice”; and Tony Kushner spoke so passionately and eloquently about best adapted screenplay winner Carol (Phyllis Nagy) that people at the tables of rival films literally had their mouths open in awe.
As for acceptance speeches, Keaton covered just about all of his campaign-trail “talking points” in his remarks, which followed his introduction by Spotlight co-writer and director Tom McCarthy. Stewart, obviously a bit nervous, made much briefer comments, and elicited some laughs with her crack, “I’ve received a lot of MTV Popcorn Awards, but this…” And Haynes, in accepting best director, and Carol producer Christine Vachon, in accepting best film, talked up each other and their 30-year collaboration.
While the NYFCC Awards and the NBR Awards were the primary reason most of the aforementioned folks came East this week, most participated as well in other activities — to which Academy members were, of course, invited.
On Saturday night, I moderated Q&As with Stewart following one screening and before another screening of Clouds of Sils Maria at Greenwich Village’s IFC Center. (Her film is being handled by IFC Films division Sundance Selects.) Attendees included the likes of Paul Giamatti — as well as more than a few fangirls who turned away from the stage in order to snap selfies of themselves with Stewart in the background. The actress was gracious throughout, genuinely surprised and delighted that people are still talking about — and celebrating her for — a film that was released in U.S. theaters way back in April.
On Monday afternoon, Open Road threw a luncheon in honor of Spotlight at the Harvard Club that was “hosted” by some of the biggest names in investigative journalism, including 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager and correspondents Steve Kroft and Morley Safer, as well as former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw. Others in attendance included media-world notables David Westin, Bob Woodruff, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Jonathan Alter, as well as Oscar voters such as F. Murray Abraham and Bob Balaban. Brokaw moderated a mid-meal Q&A with Keaton, McCarthy, co-writer Josh Singer and actors Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James (who’s juggling his promotional duties with eight performances a week of Broadway’s Something Rotten). At the end, Brokaw told the panelists, “We wish you all the best when the big one [the Oscars] comes in Los Angeles,” in response to which Keaton cracked, “The earthquake?!”
Later on Monday afternoon, Warner Bros. kicked into high gear with back-to-back events. The first was an afternoon tea, held at the STK Midtown steakhouse, in celebration of Mad Max: Fury Road, with director George Miller and supporting actor Nicholas Hoult on hand to gladhand and do a Q&A. Later, the studio counter-programmed the NYFCC Awards with a dinner celebrating Creed at Patsy’s Italian Restaurant, attended by supporting actor Sylvester Stallone, director Ryan Coogler, producer Irwin Winkler and supporting actress Tessa Thompson, who sat for a Q&A with Gayle King.
In between those events, before the NYFCC ceremony, Ronan shook hands with Academy members at a happy-hour gathering at downtown’s The Gilded Lily.
Tuesday will bring another barrage of events, including a Weinstein Co. brunch at The Monkey Bar for The Hateful Eight, hosted by Tarantino pals Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu, during which lead actor Jackson, supporting actress Jennifer Jason Leigh and supporting actor Walton Goggins will sit for a Q&A; a Paramount luncheon at The Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center for The Big Short, during which co-writer/director Adam McKay, co-writer Charles Randolph and producers Dede Garner and Jeremy Kleiner will be Q&A’d; the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual luncheon at Scarpetta, which will be attended by Stewart, Coogler, Miller, McCarthy, Nemes, Haynes, Nagy, Lachman, Vachon, Where to Invade Next director Michael Moore, Heart of a Dog director Laurie Anderson, Meru co-director Jimmy Chin, Son of Saul lead actor Geza Rohrig, Sicario director Denis Villeneuve, Amy director Asif Kapadia, Room director Lenny Abrahamson and The Martian’s director Ridley Scott, lead actor Matt Damon and screenwriter Drew Goddard, among others; and an early evening reception for Haynes hosted by his Far from Heaven collaborator Moore at The Modern.
Things in New York largely will culminate on Tuesday evening at Cipriani 42nd Street with the 87th annual National Board of Review Awards — about which I’ll have much more to report on Tuesday morning — and then the whole circus will head back to Los Angeles in time for this weekend’s AFI Awards, BAFTA Tea, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and the Golden Globe Awards, as well as another storm of tie-in Q&As and events. ‘Tis the season.
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