Vet Sylvester Stallone, Youngsters Jacob Tremblay and Abraham Attah Steal Show at NBR Awards

Jacob Tremblay - H 2016
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Jacob Tremblay - H 2016

The top prizes at Tuesday night's 87th annual National Board of Review Awards went to Mad Max: Fury Road (best film), The Martian's Ridley Scott and Matt Damon (best director and best actor, respectively) and Room's Brie Larson (best actress) — but the biggest "winners" of the night were a 69-year-old, a 78-year-old, a 14-year-old and a nine-year-old. Go figure!

The warmest audience reception, by my unscientific gauge, was accorded to best supporting actor winner Sylvester Stallone. The 69-year-old veteran had the benefit of taking the stage following an extended and moving tribute from his Creed director Ryan Coogler, and told the 29-year-old — before reflecting on the 40 years since the original Rocky — "You are the future. I am the past. I see a lot of me in you and you in me." (Others took time out of their acceptance speeches to tout Stallone, including Damon, who thanked Stallone for inspiring him and Ben Affleck to hold out to star in a film they wrote, 1997's Good Will Hunting, just as Stallone had done with Rocky; and director Scott, who is not easily impressed, but enthused, "Wasn't Sly great?!")

Scott, 78, received plenty of plaudits, as well. Damon, while accepting his award, gushed, "We had an absolute master director leading the way." Drew Goddard, who collected the best adapted screenplay prize for his script for The Martian, said, "I share this with the one man who could carry the entire world on his shoulders, Ridley Scott." And The Martian supporting actress Jessica Chastain, presenting Scott with his award, said that working with "Rid" was one of the highlights of her career, since he had shown her, when she saw Alien as a kid, that women could be big-screen heroes, too.

But two precocious youngsters — co-recipients of the best breakthrough actor prize — stole the show. Beasts of No Nation lead actor Abraham Attah was introduced by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who noted that the teen was discovered in his native Ghana; Attah smiled widely as he stepped up to the podium, to big applause, and said, "Thank you, Netflix." Not long after, Room supporting actor Jacob Tremblay was introduced by The End of the Tour's Jason Segel, whereupon the nine-year-old, who was seven when he acted opposite Larson, stepped up on a riser and said, "I just need a moment." He soon added, "This is my first award and that makes me really happy. This is really something. The mind of me is so blown!"

Emceed for the second year in a row by NBC's Willie Geist, the NBR ceremony seemed somewhat subdued. No honoree received a standing ovation, and the most "controversial" remarks were directed at Donald Trump. Presenter Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), who's been feuding with the presidential candidate in the media, said, "I'd say 'f—k him,' but this is a polite crowd," and presenter Lewis Black (Inside Out) cracked, "If Donald Trump had seen this film when he was 10, he'd be a better person today. For those of you who didn't applaud, I pray for your souls."

The NBR always is among the first awards-dispensing groups to announce its winners, usually in early December. Most of the top honorees show up to accept their award in-person — and plenty of bold-faced names who weren't tapped by the group agree to present — because the January ceremony, which draws a considerable number of Academy members, falls right in the thick of Oscar nomination voting.

In presenting best film, Nicholas Hoult, one of the stars of Mad Max: Fury Road, thanked the pic's director George Miller for reminding people that "blockbusters can still be art." Miller, for his part, marveled, "I didn't think we'd still be talking about it — it was released last summer — but we're still part of the conversation!"

Robert De Niro handed Damon his prize, noting that unlike other actors who have been by themselves for extended periods of time on screen, such as Tom Hanks with his volleyball in Cast Away, "all [Damon] had was science." Clouds of Sils Maria's Kristen Stewart presented Beasts of No Nation's Cary Fukunaga with the Freedom of Expression Award, applauding him for never trying to cater to the "fickle" tastes of audiences. The Hateful Eight's Walton Goggins accepted the best original screenplay award on behalf of that film's absent screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, whom he called "a wordsmith for the masses." Straight Outta Compton's Jason Mitchell handled the honors for Larson, with whom he's starring in the upcoming Skull Island. Larson kept her remarks brief, saying "my better half, Jacob Tremblay, put everything perfectly."

Malcolm Gladwell presented The Big Short with best ensemble, which was collected by members of the film's cast — Hamish Linklater, Adepero Oduye, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro and Jeremy Strong — along with the movie's co-writer/director Adam McKay, who said he had landed his "dream cast." Jonathan Demme awarded best first film to Laszlo Nemes for the Oscar-shortlisted Hungarian pic Son of Saul, calling the Holocaust drama "a fierce cinematic achievement" and hailing Nemes' "amazing directorial vision." Jackson handed best supporting actress to his co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh, who thanked Tarantino for giving her "the part of a lifetime" and added, "I share this award with an amazing ensemble of hateful bastards."

Doug Liman feted Sicario's Denis Villeneuve, Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Roger Deakins and Johann Johannson with the Outstanding Collaborative Vision Award. Nick Shymansky, a close friend of the late Amy Winehouse, gave best documentary honors to the Oscar-shortlisted Amy's director Asif Kapadia, saying, "Amy came back to life. I personally want to thank Asif for doing that." Black handled the best animated film prize, awarding it to Pete Docter for Inside Out. And producer Charles Gillibert quickly collected the Freedom of Expression Award for the Oscar-shortlisted French film Mustang.