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Gotham Winners: ‘Marriage Story’ Wins Big as Gerwig, Awkwafina Steal the Show Backstage

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig's Laura Dern sweaters were the highlight of a lively backstage scene at this year's ceremony.

The 2019 Gotham Independent Film Awards honored the best in independent cinema this year. From blockbuster success stories like “Hustlers” to festival darlings such as “The Farewell” and “Uncut Gems,” this year’s nominees kept with the Gothams’ tradition for highlighting top Oscar contenders (“Marriage Story”) and indie film underdogs (“Waves”).

The Gotham Awards nominations were led by “Marriage Story,” “The Farewell,” “Uncut Gems,” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” all four of which earned three nominations. The latter three were A24 releases. “Marriage Story” was produced and distributed by Netflix. Films such as “Clemency,” “Diane,” and “High Flying Bird” received two nominations each. Nominated television series include Ava DuVeray’s Netflix limited series “When They See Us” and Hulu’s breakout freshman comedy series “Pen15.”

It was a huge night for Netflix with six wins, including four for “Marriage Story.” The Noah Baumbach film won Best Feature. Other Netflix winners include Best Documentary (“American Factory”) and Best Television Series – Long Form (“When They See Us”). A24 won two prizes thanks to Best Breakthrough Actor (Taylor Russell from “Waves”) and Best Actress (Awkwafina for “The Farewell”).

In addition to award wins, Netflix was the toast of the evening in a handful of acceptance speeches. Baumbach, accepting his first award of the night for Best Screenplay, thanked the streaming giant for saving the Paris Theater, New York City’s last single-screen movie house. The New York audience gave Baumbach’s thanks a roar of applause. “Marriage Story” opened at the Paris Theater on November 6 and held its New York City premiere there.

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Baumbach got more serious later in the ceremony after picking up the Best Feature trophy. “I’ll get a little more specific, in that I would like to also thank [Netflix’s chief content officer] Ted Sarandos and Netflix for supporting this movie unconditionally,” the filmmaker said. “This was my 10th movie. I’ve worked for probably about nine companies who distributed my movies, but it does feel like what I always sort of dreamed of when I started as a filmmaker: that I would have a home and a place. And I want to thank you for that, Ted.”

Sarandos was also toasted by Ava DuVernay during her speech as the recipient of this year’s Director’s Tribute. The director worked with Netflix on the production and distribution of her documentary “13th” and limited series “When They See Us.” DuVernay said that not since her first indie “I Will Follow” has she been afforded the creative freedom that Netflix gives her. “Marriage Story” star Laura Dern, the recipient of the Actor’s Tribute, also tipped her hat to Sarandos and drew a line between Netflix in 2019 to United Artists in the 1970s.

Backstage, Baumbach and his Best Actor winner Adam Driver were more press-shy and let their acceptance speeches do all the talking. Baumbach was reluctant to even pose for photographs, but Best Screenplay presenter Tracy Letts held onto him. Baumbach appeared in the backstage winner’s room numerous times and during his second appearance with the Audience Award he memorably said aloud, “Can I go now?” Elsewhere, Actor Tribute recipient Sam Rockwell chatted it up with Olivia Wilde, Julia Styles, and “Slave Play” writer Jeremy O’Harris, who continued to fawn over Rockwell after admitting on the Gothams stage that he has long had a crush on the Oscar winner. “I grew up on ‘Green Mile’!” he told the actor. O’Harris also beamed to IndieWire about his upcoming foray into filmmaking, with his screenplay for “Lemon” director Janicza Bravo’s 2020 title “Zola.”

Best Actress winner Awkwafina was the most energetic and appeared shellshocked by her win. “Holy shit,” the comedian said aloud while posing for photographs with her hefty Gotham Award trophy. The actress struggled to find the words when asked by reporters what the win meant to her. “It’s surreal,” she said. “I’m literally shaking. I can’t even hold the trophy.” The actress told reporters that to win for “The Farewell” was extra-special, since she drew on her own relationship with her grandmother for the part. Awkwafina might want to get more comfortable with awards attention as she’s in the thick of this year’s Best Actress Oscar race.

The highlight of the Gotham Awards press room occurred before the ceremony even started. Greta Gerwig used the backstage winners room to figure out which Laura Dern sweaters she would wear for her Laura Dern tribute. Gerwig had three different Dern sweaters to choose from and needed to pick two, one for her to wear and one for Baumbach. IndieWire recommended the red-tinted Dern sweater showing off the actress’ famous “Blue Velvet” cry. The sweaters Gerwig and Baumbach wore during their Dern presentation ended up being a highlight of the night and a viral moment on social media.

At the end of the night, the “Marriage Story” team made one last trip to the winners room. Baumbach and Driver stood side by side, and the typically stone-faced performer finally cracked a smile. He was done for the night.

The complete list of winners for the 2019 Gotham Awards is below.

Best Feature
“The Farewell”
“Uncut Gems”
“Waves”
“Marriage Story” (WINNER)
“Hustlers”

Best Documentary
“American Factory” (WINNER)
“Apollo 11”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“Midnight Traveler”
“One Child Nation”

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Laure De Clermont-Tonnerre, “The Mustang” (WINNER)
Kent Jones, “Diane”
Joe Talbot, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
Olivia Wilde, “Booksmart”
Phillip Youmans, “Burning Cane”

Best Screenplay
Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”
Tarell Alvin McCraney, “High Flying Bird”
Jimmie Fails, Joe Talbot, and Rob Richert, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story” (WINNER)
Ari Aster, “Midsommar”

Best Actor
Adam Driver, “Marriage Story” (WINNER)
Aldis Hodge, “Clemency”
Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
Willem Dafoe, “The Lighthouse”
Andre Holland, “High Flying Bird”

Best Actress
Florence Pugh, “Midsommar”
Awkwafina, “The Farewell” (WINNER)
Mary Kay Place, “Diane”
Alfre Woodard, “Clemency”
Elisabeth Moss, “Her Smell”

Breakthrough Actor
Taylor Russell, “Waves” (WINNER)
Julia Fox, “Uncut Gems”
Aisling Franciosi, “The Nightingale”
Jonathan Majors, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”
Noah Jupe, “Honey Boy”
Chris Galust, “Give Me Liberty”

Breakthrough Series – Long Form
“Chernobyl”
“David Makes Man”
“My Brilliant Friend”
“Unbelievable”
“When They See Us” (WINNER)

Breakthrough Series – Short Form
“Pen15” (WINNER)
“Ramy”
“Russian Doll”
“Tuca & Bertie”
“Undone”

Audience Award: “Marriage Story”

The 2019 selected short films and filmmakers include “Mizaru” (Sudarshan Suresh, Columbia University), “Darling” (Saim Sadiq, Columbia University), “Bob and Dale” (David Melvin Rosfeld, CUNY Brooklyn College), “Keeper of Earth and Time” (Tiantian Wang, School of Visual Arts), and    “Youth” (Farida Zahran, NYU Tisch).

Additional reporting by Eric Kohn and Leah Lu.

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