"It's incredible to come to a convention of masochists," praised filmmaker Whit Stillman last night in Manhattan, "I don't know how you do it," he told current and former members of the New York Film Critic's Circle while he stood on stage to present a prize. The group celebrated its 75th anniversary and awarded its honors for the best films and performances of 2009 during a rather rousing event in Manhattan's FlatIron district.
Stillman was one of the many returning winners who came back to mark the group's anniversary. He won the best first feature award from the NYFCC for his 1990 film, "Metropolitan."
Numerous presenters and winners noted the hardships of film crtics last night. "Criticism exists," began this year's group chair Armond White, in prepared remarks, "Despite the changes in the media landscape; the squeeze of space and word-count from editors and publishers afraid of losing readers; the encroachment of the internet that has turned opinionating into a thoughtless free-for-all; despite the dismaying emphasis on film grosses rather than film content - criticism exists."
Among the warmest remarks of the evening came from "Summer Hours" filmmaker Olivier Assayas, whose film has been celebrated by critics groups around the country as one of the best movies of the past year. Humbly dedicating his prize to the late Eric Rohmer, who passed away earlier in the day in France and was mentioned a number of times throughout the night, Assayas said, "I'm not very good at receiving awards, I don't receive many awards."
There were, "Basic emotions that I had to express through the art of cinema," Assayas said, "Somehow it flew through its own wings. To me it's reassuring that you can make these small films that are driven by emotions."
Critics and guests were on their feet to salute Andrew Sarris, a longtime member of the group, a former professor of Kathryn Bigelow, winner of the top prize last night. Meanwhile, other speeches stoked laughter among attendees. Guests waited awhile for food, many loading up on champagne and cocktails for awhile before the ceremony began.
"I got the chicken like five minutes ago, so I am Mariah Carey fucked up right now," George Clooney said, when taking the stage to present the best animated film prize to Wed Anderson. Later, when accepting the best actor award for that movie and "Up in The Air," he was just a bit more serious. And then he called out a Critics Circle member.
"Of all the films that I have starred in, this is the first film that your colleague, Rex Reed, hasn’t said that I suck!" Clooney said, pointing out Reed in the crowd and then teasing him, "Now he’s started to soften a little bit. He’s starting to get a little soft in his old age. I want you to know, Rex...I will not sleep, I will not rest, I will not sleep at my home, [or] at my villa in Italy — Lake Como, Italy. I will not sleep in my villa in Lake Como, Italy, until you’re happy."
As the evening came to a close, Meryl Streep was funny and touching.
"I'm really moved by this," Streep said, "Because a lot of you -- some of you older members -- have been looking at my movies for 30 years. It's been a long time that you've been looking at the same face and I am thankful that you are willing to see it new every time."
Full list of 2009 New York Film Critics’ Circle Award Winners:
“The Hurt Locker”
Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker”
“In the Loop”
Meryl Streep for “Julie & Julia”
George Clooney for “Up In The Air” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Best Supporting Actress:
Mo’Nique for “Precious”
Best Supporting Actor:
Christoph Waltz for “Inglourious Basterds”
Christian Berger for “The White Ribbon”
Best Animated Film:
“Fantastic Mr. Fox”
Best Non-fiction Film:
“Of Time and the City”
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best First Feature:
“Hunger,” director Steve McQueen
To Andrew Sarris for his contribution to film criticism