Tarantino, Scorsese Tease Reviewers, Thank Netflix at N.Y. Film Critics Circle Awards

Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino - Split-Getty-H 2019
Steve Granitz/WireImage; Theo Wargo/WireImage

The evening was full of laughs as several big-name winners and presenters including Laura Dern, Adam Sandler, Brad Pitt and the Safdie brothers took on the art of criticism and the growing power of streamers.

Winners heralded Netflix, New York, their inspirations and the journalists who have helped define — and even haunted — their careers during the New York Film Critics Circle Awards on Tuesday night.

"I looked to the critics, who taught me about film, who were my college education," best supporting actress winner Laura Dern said during the ceremony. "All of you, particularly New York film critics, who not only championed filmmakers I was lucky to work with but myself when I was early on in my career — it meant a lot to me."

In addition to the Marriage Story and Little Women actress, Martin Scorsese, Antonio Banderas, Lupita Nyong’o, Quentin Tarantino, Bong Joon Ho, Joe Pesci, and Josh and Ben Safdie were among the night’s winners who took the stage to celebrate their projects and each other. Special honors were also given to independent film conservation advocates IndieCollect and film composer Randy Newman, who is the second composer ever to be awarded a special honor in the Circle's history.

The list of presenters was equally full of cinematic heavy hitters, including Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Spike Lee, Adam Sandler, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller and Alec Baldwin. Each lauded their respective honorees' work with a mix of reverence, exaltation and some good-natured ribbing. Sandler commanded the room while presenting best director to the Safdies, at one point less hilariously calling out his critics.

Once onstage, several of the night's honorees took a moment amid their thank-yous to acknowledge their long push-pull relationship with reviewers. With their critics in the room, Sandler, Tarantino, Scorsese and others celebrated the best and took aim at the worst reviews they've gotten over the years, as well as how the critics who wrote them have fueled, defined and haunted both their work and careers.

"Peter Rainer, writer for The Christian Science Monitor — you have never given me a positive review in 30 years," Tarantino said to waves of laughter while accepting the best screenplay honor for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. "Not to make you feel guilty, but I used to read you every weekend when you used to write for the Herald Examiner in Los Angeles. From 15 years old. I didn't agree with all the things you said, but I respected it. And not only did I read you, I still have those fucking Herald Examiners in my fucking office." 

Josh Safdie credited the press clippings of his previous work as pivotal to helping him make headway with the dealers in Manhattan's diamond district during the research process for Uncut Gems, but the film's co-director also admitted those clippings were a source of anxiety.

"In the first review I ever read of my first movie, the writer said something along the lines of that he hoped a truck would drift into the film and run me over," Josh Safdie said to laughs. "Then he clarified that he wasn't interested in that as a plot point but as a reality. He wanted me to die, so naturally after that I stopped reading the reviews, but [Ben] reads them all."

Others celebrated not just the critics but the city itself. Among them were New York natives the Safdies, as well as Scorsese and fellow director Spike Lee, who heralded what they love about the boroughs they grew up in, New York's writers and how it all inspires them as creatives. On the carpet, best first feature winner Madi Diop pointed to the Safdies, especially, as a highlight of 2019.

"Josh and Ben are being awarded tonight for best director, and I think they more than deserve it. I love their movie. It is really the most vibrant and stimulating movie I've seen in a long time," the Atlantics director told The Hollywood Reporter. "But the last two films that really marked me a lot were the films by Jordan Peele."

During her acceptance speech for best actress for her leading role in Peele's Us, Nyong'o began with her own tribute to New York — an anecdote of the time she spent in the city during her very early youth — before thanking her father and her director for their inspiration and support. "I love New York, I do," Nyong'o said. "We go way back. Fun fact? I started walking on my first birthday in Queens."

Thanking one's fellow creatives and production crew is as much a standard part of awards speeches as thanking one's studio. But Netflix's presence among the night's winners and presenters circle meant that it became somewhat of a running joke, one started by Atlantics helmer Diop. After delivering a minutes-long speech in which she championed her film subjects and those who helped make her artistic journey a reality, the first-time Senegalese director nearly stepped away from the microphone before swiftly stepping back to acknowledge Netflix, to her own and others' light-hearted laughs.

Everyone from relative newcomers to big-name winners like Joe Pesci and Scorsese and presenters — including Watchmen star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II — made passing comments that were both genuine and quippy about the streamer's role in their work.

"Thank you, Spike, and thank you, Netflix," Scorsese said to a round of laughs. "No, I really mean it. Thank you, Netflix. For 10 years, no one would go near this picture."

Scorsese received the night's longest standing ovation, followed by Pesci, who took to the Tao stage flanked by the director and Irishman co-star Robert De Niro. Nyong'o and the Safdies were also among a small handful of winners who earned particularly loud and ardent praise throughout the night.

Echoing his popularity during the Golden Globes ceremony just two nights prior, director Bong Joon Ho was a room favorite at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, earning extended applause as he ascended the stage to accept his award for best foreign-language film. Bong's work, like that of fellow winner Nyong'o, is an examination of social stratification and violence through an upstairs-downstairs tale that The Irishman producer Jane Rosenthal found a must-watch this year.

"I loved Jojo Rabbit, and I loved Parasite, and I loved what Greta did with Little Women," Rosenthal told THR before the ceremony. "Their visual style and production design — they were just such a great contemporary take on World War II, feminism and a war of the classes."

Both Us and Parasite are billed in part as horror, a genre that has had some difficulty earning awards recognition over the years. That wasn't the case at Tuesday night's awards though, with Bong's and Peele's work being celebrated for many of the same themes as their dramatic counterparts, delivered in more twisted, imaginative ways.

"The current state of polarization is scary on its own," Bong told THR on the event carpet. "But the thought that this won't improve in the future — the thought that this will only grow worse — I mean, that's what scares me the most."