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Mary J. Blige, Kumail Nanjiani, and More Made the First IndieWire Honors a Night to Remember

IndieWire Honors: The seven honorees got personal as they accepted their awards.

Issa Rae, Abbi Jacobson, Sterling K. Brown, Mary J. Blige, Diane Kruger, Kumail Nanjiani, James Franco. Issa Rae, from left, Abbi Jacobson, Sterling K. Brown, Mary J. Blige, Diane Kruger, Kumail Nanjiani and James Franco at the IndieWire Honors

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One comment kept getting repeated at the inaugural IndieWire Honors ceremony last night in Los Angeles: “This is so IndieWire.” It began with the venue — No Name, a hush-hush spot resembling a kind of gothic speakeasy where attendees are discouraged from taking too many photos, lest they give away its secrets — and continued with everything from the drink menu (New Fashioned Franco, Sparkling Kruger) to host Nick Thune’s jokes (“The venue has asked if anyone has an iPhone 4 — they’re just suggesting an upgrade”).

Indeed, the event bore only a superficial resemblance to most year-end soirées. The honorees — Mary J. Blige, Kumail Nanjiani, Sterling K. Brown, James Franco, Diane Kruger, and Issa Rae — had all been announced in advance, so there was no tension over whose names were sealed inside any envelopes. Guests weren’t seated in an auditorium or dining at luxe tables in a hotel ballroom; they were congregating near the bar and a long wooden table inside the dimly lit room. There was nothing separating the host, audience, and awardees — everyone was mingling throughout.

The first award of the evening was unannounced: the Harold Ramis Film School Comedic Storytelling prize, which went to Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City.” After stressing the importance of comedy in times like these — “I don’t know about you, but I’m much more comfortable getting my nightly bad news from Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee than Wolf Blitzer” — Trevor Albert, Chairman of Harold Ramis Film School at the Second City, presented the actor, writer, and producer with her prize.

“I haven’t gotten an award ever,” she said. “Anything that has any affiliation with Harold Ramis is really just incredible — my parents would be extremely proud of this, and so am I.” At the conclusion of Jacobson’s brief acceptance speech, Thune humbly suggested that she find a role for him to play on “Broad City.”

That short-but-sweet speech set was followed in kind by the rest of the honorees. “I want to say I’m very excited to get the Creative Independence Award, but I did not make my movie alone — there were a lot of people,” Nanjiani said as he came onstage. Chief among his collaborators was his wife, co-writer, and “partner in everything,” Emily V. Gordon, whose illness when she and Nanjiani were dating gave “The Big Sick” both its title and its plot. “I think at least 20 percent of this is yours,” he joked. “I know you have two master’s degrees, but I think this makes us even.”

Kruger, who won the Lead Performance (Film) award for her starring role in “In the Fade,” was comparatively somber: “You’re shining a light on all the victims and survivors of terrorist attacks, so thank you,” she said. Directed by Fatih Akin, the film centers around a woman whose husband and child die in a terror attack; Kruger also won Best Actress laurels at Cannes.

Dana Harris and James IsraelIndiewire Honors, Inside, Los Angeles, USA - 02 Nov 2017

Dana Harris and James Israel at IndieWire Honors

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Brown’s speech, meanwhile, contained more levity than the show he’s become so well known for over the last year. “It’s been a joy to make you laugh week in and week out on ‘This Is Us,’” said the actor, who was there to accept the prize for Lead Performance (Television). It was only the second-most exciting thing to happen to him in recent weeks, however, as Brown (who also won an Emmy for his performance in the wrenching drama) recently celebrated the birth of his son — at home. “I caught him,” he said. “I caught him, I didn’t drop him, and he’s still alive.” Fans of “This Is Us” know you have to take good news where you can find it.

The pace remained brisk from there, with IndieWire’s Editor in Chief Dana Harris and Publisher James Israel remaining onstage to hand the celebrated guests their deep-blue statuettes — and, in the case of Thune, a Best Host certificate he printed at home but forgot to add his own name to. Oops.

Franco, the multi-multi-hyphenate whose eventful year includes both “The Disaster Artist” and “The Deuce,” took note of his fellow honorees’ brevity while accepting the Vanguard Award (Film). “I wrote a little speech, but everyone’s been talking for like one minute,” he said to laughter from the room before delivering a truncated version of his prepared remarks. This was fitting, as his long list of extracurriculars includes a former IndieWire column on out-there movies that caught his interest; writing some of them under the name Semaj, he joked, may have helped him prepare for his dual roles on his celebrated HBO drama.

“I like to think that I had easy training for playing twins on ‘The Deuce’ by writing as Semaj,” said Franco before adding a personal note about his brother Dave, who was in attendance and co-stars in “The Disaster Artist”: “I finally made a movie that wasn’t too weird for him to say no to, and I’m really happy to have made it with him.”

Blige, whose name elicited the loudest response from the crowd, was all gratitude. “Breakout actress? I did not see this coming,” said the “Mudbound” star, who plays Florence Jackson in Dee Rees’ acclaimed post-WWII drama. “When we shot this movie I was in hell, so I gave Florence all my hell, all my heaven, all my everything.”

Rae’s experience was just as personal, as was her acceptance speech for the Vanguard Award (Television). “I started on the internet and created a web series because I wanted to continue to talk shit about how I wasn’t seeing people of color,” said the creator and star of HBO’s “Insecure.” “To create a show that’s wholly black and for people to feel so connected to it is such an honor.”

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