Awards season continued apace at last night’s 81st Annual New York Film Critics Circle Awards, held at Tao Downtown’s large and luxe ballroom, where some of the year’s best and brightest stars, craftspeople and films were honored by the critics group.
As the winners were previously announced late last year, the overall mood was one of celebration and joy, free of the kind of nervous expectation that often marks other awards ceremonies where the winners have yet to be determined. Consistently free-wheeling and often quite loose, the NYFCC Awards eschew tight time constraints, allowing both its winners and presenters plenty of room to breathe, chat it up and use their speeches to say, well, all sorts of things, as evidenced by the bounty of immediately quotable tidbits that should live on long after the wine has worn off.
Check out some of the highlights below.
Walton Goggins, Presenter:
Although seminal composer Ennio Morricone was not on hand to accept his special award, two other members of the team behind his most recent film, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” were on hand to handle the duties, including cast member Goggins, who fondly remembered both his time on the film and the way Morricone’s work formed such a tremendous part of it.
“It was an extraordinary experience, it was literally one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had as an artist,” Goggins said. “Seeing Quentin and his love and appreciation and his undulation of joy for this man, Mr. Morricone.”
Samuel L. Jackson, Presenter:
Fellow “Hateful Eight” star Jackson, who accepted the award for Morricone, also reflected on how his work shaped his newest feature, in addition to changing up the status quo of Tarantino’s own oeuvre.
“In bringing Mr. Morricone on board to our film ‘The Hateful Eight,’ Quentin Tarantino was not only drawing forces with the man he has called his favorite composer, he was also venturing into personally untried territory, for this is the first of his films to receive an original score,” Jackson reminded the audience.
Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”), Best Actress:
Ronan’s performance in John Crowley’s lovely period piece has been gaining some serious steam since it premiered last January at Sundance, but despite a blistering awards season push, the actress kept her spirits light at the event, noting how special it is for her (a real New York native! really!) to earn an award from a New York City-based group. Born in the Bronx, Ronan joked as she accepted her award,”‘Saoirse from the Block’ is what they called me. A lot like Miss Lopez. A little more attitude, though.”
Julianne Moore, Presenter:
“I thought I was going to get too drunk before I got up here,” Moore laughed when she took the stage to present the Best Actress award to her “Still Alice” co-star Kristen Stewart, who was on hand to accept her accolade for her lauded performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” echoing the feeling of many people in the room, where wine flowed almost too freely.
“Whenever I have the opportunity to talk about Kristen, I always like to mention that I have known her since she was 12 years old,” Moore said, swiftly getting to the task at hand after her early joke. “It’s a way to give me a frame to talk about her tremendous abilities and how obvious they were so very early on.”
Of her turn in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Moore said that Stewart is “achingly alive, palpably emotional, utterly practical, totally normal and incandescent on screen. In short, she is nothing less than what I expected of her when she was .”
Kristen Stewart (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Best Supporting Actress:
Stewart kept her own remarks short, but she couldn’t help but joke about the gravity of the event in comparison with some other awards she’s received in the past: “I’ve received a lot of MTV Popcorns and stuff like that. This is a little different.”
Tom McCarthy, Presenter:
In presenting his “Spotlight” star Michael Keaton with his Best Actor award, filmmaker McCarthy shared his thoughts on what makes Keaton’s work so exceptional. Turns out, it may just be its edge of haphazardness.
“It’s deceptive to watch Michael work, his characters and his process, it just sneaks up on you. He makes it look effortless. Sometimes, it’s haphazard,” McCarthy said. “But as we all know, great acting is never haphazard and it’s never effortless, it’s the result of real craft.”
Michael Keaton (“Spotlight”), Best Actor:
Although Keaton is officially being run as a supporting actor for his turn in the star-packed “Spotlight,” he’s still appeared on a variety of Best Actor lists, a distinction he’s more than happy to embrace.
“Look, man, I’m a blessed dude. I work hard. I deserve it. It took me a long time to get there,” a cheery and reflective Keaton said as he accepted his award, minutes after joking that maybe, just maybe the acting of gloating gets a bad rap. He’s earned it.
Susan Sarandon, Presenter:
Another daughter of New York, Sarandon took the stage to present the award for Best Documentary to “In Jackson Heights” (filmmaker Frederick Wiseman was not on hand for the ceremony, but he sent New York City Council member Daniel Dromm (who appears throughout the doc) to pick up the accolade. Before Dromm arrive, however, Sarandon couldn’t pass up the chance to look out at the room and laugh, “Wow, wow, to have actors and critics in the same room, that’s so unheard of. I’m kind of sorry I don’t read reviews, because I don’t know how I feel about any of you. Now that I can see you…”
Kevin Kline, Presenter:
In a canny bit of comedic timing, actor Kevin Kline took to the stage after Sarandon, kicking off his own presentation of Best Cinematographer with his own jab: “I promised myself I wasn’t going to talk about myself, which actors tend to do. Thank you, Susan.”
Once (somewhat) settled into the more technical aspects of his speech, Kline reflected on his experience first watching the Ed Lachman-lensed “Carol,” the night’s most lauded picture and the one that earned the craftsman his award. “It was lit by this beautiful light…beautifully and subtly muted indeterminate colors, evoking not only the 1950’s, but the art of American realist painters like Edward Hopper and George Bellows. It all looks a bit soiled and lived in and very real,” Kline remembered.
“I turned to my wife, who was watching with me, and I asked her, ‘Wow! Who shot this?’ and just as I asked that, up came the credit: Ed Lachman, And I said, ‘Well, of course.'”
Ed Lachman (“Carol”), Best Cinematographer:
Upon accepting his award, Lachman took the time to thank not just the voting body in attendance, but the very city that they hail from: “New York was my film school and continues to be my film school. It is the city where I’ve had my greatest opportunities.”
Still, even Lachman couldn’t resist making a concluding joke, telling the crowd, “I just want to ask all of you, if you see me at a press screening that I wasn’t invited to, please don’t blow my cover.”
George Takei, Presenter:
When it came time for Takei to present director Pete Docter with the award for Best Animated Film for his “Inside Out,” the beloved actor couldn’t help but get personal about his long-time affection for animated films.
“In so many ways, I am indebted to animated films. In fact, the first animated film I saw was behind the barbed wire fences of the U.S. internment camp in which I was imprisoned together with 120,000 other Japanese-Americans, simply for looking like the people that bombed Pearl Harbor. The film was ‘Snow White,’ and it transported me, a five year old kid, to another place, beyond those barbed wire fences,” Takei said. “It pulled me, and said, ‘I want to get beyond the fence where people like that can live.’ The animated film is something that instilled me the aspiration to do more beyond those barbed wire fences.”
“What studio executive is that?” as Jim Jarmusch introduced Paul Becker, who was accepting a special award for his departed father, Bill Becker, for his work with Janus Films.
Jim Jarmusch, Presenter:
“We lost Bill Becker only a few months ago, but I know, for me personally, as a big movie fan for all of my adult life, his vision and his work have changed my world significantly. Without him, all of our lives, all of us here, might be dramatically different,” Jarmusch said of Becker’s work turning the distributor into one of the world’s most essential art house labels for both new and older films.
Todd Haynes (“Carol”), Best Director:
Like so many other winners and presenters, Haynes was reflective about the influence of New York City in his own life and work when it came time for him to accept his award for Best Director for “Carol.”
“I was born and raised in LA, but it was New York that I fell in love with, from my very first visit here when I was nine years old, it was 1970, and I can still feel the force of the cab ride. Fifteen years later, it was New York where I first entered the world, in the way we only really do after leaving home or school. Though, in those years, as a gay aspiring filmmaker, there was little choice in the matter,” Haynes said. “It’s hard to imagine my career taking place outside of this place.”
Haynes left the audience with perhaps the night’s most beautiful thought, on the very nature of film itself: “Film is a strange, uncanny balancing of so many elements. A willful, communal conjuring out of the void.”