It took some time for the good-natured ribbing to begin at Wednesday evening’s National Board of Review Awards, held in Manhattan at Cipriani’s Midtown location, an impressive high-ceilinged former bank well-suited to hosting dozens of stars. But it was clear early on that the jittery charms of Josh and Benny Safdies’ “Uncut Gems” were poised to dominate the evening, thanks to an energetic introduction from actor Timothée Chalamet.
Though the filmmaking brothers, along with co-writer Ronald Bronstein, accepted the Best Original Screenplay award from the bonafide Safdie enthusiast in the first half of the evening, it wasn’t until their star Adam Sandler made his way to the stage that the real fun began.
Sandler, comedian king and star of such dramatic-leaning gems as “Punch-Drunk Love” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” has appeared to relish this year’s packed awards season, thanks to a film that’s earned him the best reviews of his life. Since the pulse-pounding New York City drama about an especially ill-fated jeweler premiered at the Telluride Film Festival this fall, Sandler has been everywhere, and it’s paid off: the A24-produced film has made nearly $40 million worldwide (a new high point for the siblings).
And it’s picked up some serious awards clout along the way, including a Best Picture nomination from the Gotham Awards, a Best Director win from the New York Film Critics Circle, and five Independent Spirit nominations.
No one is more tickled by his sudden emergence in the conversation than Sandler himself, who accepted his Best Actor award from long-time pal Drew Barrymore. She spoke from experience, remembering their first meeting at a random coffee shop— long before the duo had starred in “The Wedding Singer” — back when she was just eager to find a way to work together. “I, like everyone, was crazy about him and everything he did,” she said. “I don’t know what it was, it was an instinct, a foresight, my heart that I couldn’t control, but I told him, ‘I know that we are destined to work together, I know we are a match, and I believe in you so much.'”
Sandler brought his playful reputation to the stage. “I know De Niro’s nervous around me now,” he joked to the crowd after earning a rare standing ovation. “Bobby, you’ve done some good shit, you’ve done some good shit, but you know, the Sandman is here now.” He added, “If you were one of the wise few who took the three-million-to-one odds that Vegas was offering on me ever winning the National Board of Review Best Actor award, I have two words for you: You’re welcome.”
Reflecting on his life as a movie lover, Sandler ticked off some comedic favorites he loved to watch with his buddies, like “Animal House,” “Caddyshack,” and “Porky’s.” But when he turned to the movies he watched with his father, Sandler choked up. “The movies I watched with my dad [were] the ones that fucked me up,” he said. “Like ‘Marathon Man,’ ‘Midnight Cowboy,’ ‘Brian’s Song,’ ‘Papillon,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ ‘The Panic in Needle Park,’ ‘Carnal Knowledge,’ ‘Mean Streets,’ ‘Taxi Driver,’ and when the Safdies sent me this script for ‘Uncut Gems,’ I read it, and I was like, ‘oh, fuck, this is going to be a movie that my dad would like!'”
He continued, “It was so cool, and it was something I always thought I could do. I went to NYU, I used to actually pretend I was one of those New York degenerate kind of guys, like two in the morning, I used to walk around the Village and bounce around like I was a fucking tough guy and pretend I was the next James Caan. I swear to God, I thought I was going to be the next James Caan, my grandmother used to say, ‘you’re going to be the next James Caan.'” (He added that he later met Caan and joked to him about his presumed legacy, to which Caan said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that.”)
Before the awards portion of the event even kicked off, Sandler — presumably high off an uproarious evening the night before at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, where he introduced the Safdies for their Best Director win — was seemingly everywhere, taking selfies with his wife Jackie and various pals, even chatting it up with fellow season contender Brad Pitt as starstruck onlookers milled about. (During Pitt’s own acceptance speech, he paused to congratulate the “Uncut Gems” crew, especially Sandler.)
When “Richard Jewell” star Kathy Bates accepted her award for Best Supporting Actress for her turn in Clint Eastwood’s latest, she shouted out her “Waterboy” co-star. Sandler pumped his fists from the audience — and later, he’d end his own speech with a shouted “I love you, Mama!” back at Bates. Bobby Boucher lives! (And in awards season, of all things?)
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While Sandler, the Safdies, and “Uncut Gems” made off with the night’s more raucous moments, the evening was outfitted with plenty of support for “The Irishman,” including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and the newly-launched Icon Award, given to Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and an absent Al Pacino by no less than Bruce Springsteen (a movie buff, through and through), who ruminated on his long-time affection for their cinematic work. For Springsteen, the trio’s latest collaboration is “the fulfilled prophecy of a nation forged by immigrants,” the glorious culmination of work he’s admired for decades.
Scorsese, who’s been hitting the awards circuit hard in recent weeks, again reflected on the long road to making his latest epic. “Maybe because it took all these years,” he said. “It was a high-wire act, no doubt about it, but there was this incredible net I could feel.” That was thanks to Netflix, he said, who ponied up the cash for the audacious, time-spanning story of Frank Sheeran.
As the annual event pushed into the four-hour mark, it wasn’t without a few emotional moments. Presenting the Best Supporting Actor Award to Pitt, previous NBR winner Bradley Cooper lovingly spoke of his friend, who then got on stage and shared how the “Star Is Born” director helped him get sober, a choice that’s made him happier than ever. (Pitt, such fun this season, also joked about how much he enjoys attending events like the NBR Awards “carrying something other than George Clooney.”)
Later, Salma Hayek spoke at length about her long-time friend, Best Actress winner Renee Zellweger, honored for her transformative work in the Judy Garland biopic “Judy.” For Zellweger, much of the season has been about reflecting on what she referred to as a “wild and wonderful ride” over her decades in Hollywood, one with as many ups as downs, and one that has finally delivered her back into awards season accolades. A visibly moved Zellweger took the stage already teary, thanking Hayek for helping “plant the seed” for her to slow down and re-evaluate her career nearly a decade ago during the kind of “fateful run-in” she wished had happened to Garland herself.
Quentin Tarantino’s long-time muse Uma Thurman presented her frequent collaborator with the Best Director award, musing that, besides her parents and children, it is the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” filmmaker who has had the most impact on her life. Tarantino thanked his “Kill Bill” star, and spent his latest acceptance speech honoring his other collaborators, ending it by looking skyward to shout out his late editor, Sally Menke, who cut all of his films through “Inglorious Basterds.”
The NBR is made up of film enthusiasts, industry professionals, academics, and filmmakers. The group is one of the first organizations to announce its end-of-the-year selections, and its picks were announced in December. Check out the full list of winners right here.