LA Film Critics Association Awards: Big Night for 'Moonlight,' Other Indie Darlings

Supporting acting winners Mahershala Ali and Lily Gladstone gave emotional acceptance speeches, director winner Barry Jenkins spoke about the importance of "representation" and career achivement honoree Shirley MacLaine brought down the house with her remarks.
Scott Feinberg
'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins accepts the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's best director award.

The team from the Los Angeles-set musical La La Land was seated at the table directly in front of the podium at the 42nd annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards on Saturday night, but there was no confusion about which film was the favorite of the L.A. critics. That would be the Miami-set indie Moonlight, which — as was announced back on Dec. 4 — won for best film, director (Barry Jenkins), supporting actor (Mahershala Ali) and cinematography (James Laxton).

Each award presentation at the LAFCA Awards, which took place in a ballroom at Century City's InterContinental Hotel, was preceded by a rationale written and delivered by one of the organization's 56 members. After hearing all of the praise lavished on Moonlight, and seeing the massive standing ovation with which its best film award was greeted, I imagine that the folks at its table wished the ceremony had taken place a few days prior, since Oscar nomination voting, which might have been swayed, had closed 24 hours earlier.

Moonlight, though, should do fine when Oscar noms are announced on Jan. 24, just like a number of other LAFCA honorees, such as best music winner La La Land. But several honorees widely thought to be on-the-bubble in the Oscar race certainly could have benefited during the voting period from the sort of exposure and celebration they received on Saturday. I'm talking about best actress winner Isabelle Huppert (honored for her performance in Elle, for which she previously won Gotham and Golden Globe awards, and another film, Things to Come, which also accounted for half of her New York Film Critics Circle Award), best screenplay winner The Lobster (collected by the film's star Colin Farrell), best documentary winner I Am Not Your Negro, best film editing winner O.J.: Made in America and best production design winner The Handmaiden.

Other LAFCA honorees simply haven't registered with the Academy as they have with critics, so this almost certainly was their one shining moment — among them, best actor winner Adam Driver (Paterson), best supporting actress winner Lily Gladstone (Certain Women), best animated film winner Your Name and best foreign film The Handmaiden, which wasn't even South Korea's submission for consideration for the best foreign-language film Oscar.

Highlights of the ceremony included an emotional Ali dedicating his award to Tarell Alvin McCraney, who wrote the semi-autobiographical play that inspired Moonlight, and Jenkins, who lived through similar experiences and adapted the play into a screenplay: "I'm up here receiving an award for, essentially, their pain." Also wiping away tears was Gladstone, who confessed, "Right before I was cast, I was pretty close to throwing in the towel on acting," and who urged others, "Don't give up!" I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck delivered a powerful speech about the importance of critics of color that elicited a standing ovation from Sony Classics co-chief Michael Barker. Jenkins, meanwhile, accepted the best director prize by noting, "This room, from up here, looks like this theater that I run [since 2002] at the Telluride Film Fest, the Werner Herzog Theatre," and adding that he's regularly seen Barker in that capacity but this season has had to get used to calling him "Michael" instead of "Mr. Barker." And Jenkins closed the night by crediting critics for enabling a little movie without famous names or faces to open huge at the box office, and emphasizing, "Representation does matter ... if you do not see your face, it is as if you do not exist."

LAFCA dedicated its ceremony to the late writer Curtis Hanson, whose partner Rebecca Yeldham and their son were in attendance. It presented its New Generation Award to Krisha director Trey Edward Shults and his aunt Krisha Fairchild, and gave a special citation to TCM and the Criterion Collection in recognition of their new streaming service FilmStruck. And it bestowed a lifetime achievement award to the legendary 82-year-old actress Shirley MacLaine, who collected it from her Bernie co-star Jack Black after he warned, "You do not f— with Shirley MacLaine." MacLaine, who famously is a bit 'out there,' began her acceptance speech by saying, "That's the nicest reception I've received in 500,000 years!" She then proceeded to read a number of the worst reviews she ever has been given by critics ("She doesn't just phone in her performance; she never even picks up the receiver"), before thanking them for the important role they play, which she likened to a friend who tells you what you need to know, even if you don't want to hear it.