With documentarian Frederick Wiseman unable/unwilling to leave Paris for a 15-degree Manhattan, actress/activist Susan Sarandon was recruited to present his award, which made some sense — Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights,” for all its lack of narration or subtitles, is a loud, bold statement about real American values (democracy, equality, opportunity), issues Sarandon has always been about. In addition, she spent part of her childhood living in the Queens neighborhood portrayed in the film — something we heard far more about than the issues Wiseman pursues in the film, which Sarandon may or may not have actually seen, but certainly hadn’t digested, because the best doc winner was the last thing she wanted to talk about, or was able to focus on.
This had its upside — especially when the following presenter, Kevin Kline, took the stage to present the cinematography award to “Carol’s” esteemed Ed Lachman, and promised not to talk about himself (“like Susan”) although he then proceeded to talk about himself in a digression-riddled address that included actorly quotations in Latin (which he then promised not to continue “ad nauseam”), all to considerable comic effect, and much of it at Sarandon’s expense.
The evening was something of a “Carol” love fest — Todd Haynes is not only America’s best filmmaker but New York’s, and there was a distinct sense of honoring one’s own, as the podium was visited by screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, Lachman and the best picture winner’s three producers — Christine Vachon, who was great; Elizabeth Karlsen, who seemed to forget she was in a room full of people who probably knew as much about her movie as she did; and Stephen Woolley, who said he wasn’t going to make a speech and then did. Haynes himself delivered the most moving words of the evening, many of them directed at Vachon, with whom he has worked for most of his career.
Less awkward but just as charming was Saoirse Ronan, honored as best actress for “Brooklyn,” who parlayed her birthplace (The Bronx, a.k.a. the undeclared 33rd county of Ireland) into a coming home of sorts; Liam Neeson, who presented to Ronan, drew a parallel between the young actress and the recently deceased Maureen O’Hara, another Irish import and portrayer of strong women. And even if O’Hara was never the actress Ronan is, Neeson had done his homework.
All in all, though, people were appropriately adoring, appreciative and/or grateful — best actor Michael Keaton, for example, who emphasized several times how grateful he was, while also being quite frank about how pleased he was with himself (he was funny about it, not crowing like a birdman). Paul Haggis put an appropriately political-flavored introduction on the foreign film award to “Timbuktu,” the lovely, powerful anti-fascist drama by Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, who was not on hand. Neither was best supporting actor Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) whose Broadway colleague David Hyde Pierce gave a stirring appreciation of one of America’s finest actors — a fact well-known to theater-goers, less so to movie-goers (although now that Steven Spielberg has him, that’ll change). One of the sweeter moments was Criterion chief Peter Becker’s acceptance of a special award to his father, William, and Janus Films, two subjects about which no one needed an explanation. Not in this room.