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Gotham Awards Build Oscars Momentum for Riz Ahmed and ‘Nomadland’

The little-seen awards show points awards voters toward winning movies they should sample.

Frances McDormand stars in “Nomadland.”

Searchlight

The Gotham Awards have long functioned as a bare-bones fundraiser (for the freshly rebranded Gotham Film & Media Institute) followed by a vibrant afterparty, but Monday night’s live Facebook event was especially scruffy. Live winners didn’t know what was going on as they and their fellow nominees stared into the void.

The show isn’t watched by many, but the winners do contribute momentum that steers various voting groups toward which movies matter most. This year, voters need all the help they can get.

A new arrival on the awards radar is Gotham Best Actress winner Nicole Beharie, star of Sundance 2020 debut “Miss Juneteenth” (Vertical Entertainment). More may want to check it out.

Nicole Beharie stars in “Miss Juneteenth.”

Anne Thompson

Already racking up wins is Searchlight Oscar frontrunner “Nomadland.” In addition to Gotham jury prizes for Best Feature and Best Director for Chloé Zhao, the film received four awards from the National Society of Film Critics (best picture, cinematography, director and actress Frances McDormand) and directing prizes from the New York and Los Angeles film critics. “Nomadland” also took home the Golden Lion in Venice as well as the TIFF People’s Choice award, which is considered a bellwether for the Oscars.

Riz Ahmed is also showing he has the right stuff, giving the best acceptance speech of the night for Best Actor in “Sound of Metal” (Amazon). “It’s been a crazy year for all of us,” he said, “with a lot of loss, and time to reflect. One thing we’ve all learned is we don’t get anywhere on our own. Our well being is dependent on each other. I feel the same way about what we do as actors. It’s a group sport.”

He went on to quote the late, great Irrfan Khan: “‘Surrender to the dance of uncertainty,'” he said. “It feels like a wobbly time. If we can wobble together, we may find each other dancing.”

Chloe Zhao

Anne Thompson

The Gothams identify as indie, which made this year’s tributes to the late director Joel Schumacher (“Batman and Robin,” “8MM”), and to Netflix showrunner Ryan Murphy (who was introduced by “The Prom” star Nicole Kidman) feel off-brand.

Honoring “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” stars Chadwick Boseman (his widow gave him a moving tribute) and Viola Davis made more sense. Both are in strong positions to win Best Actor (posthumously) and Actress, respectively. Director George C. Wolfe “had a glorious experience watching Viola Davis and Ma Rainey dance together,” he said. “Both women are full of fire and intensity. Viola has a purity of heart and passion and fire and rage and verbosity. Because of those qualities, all of her characters transcend. She has the ability to heal and the power to connect.”

“I am honored to be part of a legacy of autonomy and agency,” said Davis, citing August Wilson’s Century Cycle of plays. “Wilson shows you our humanity, how we loved, and dreamed, and how we get mad, our humor. It has been the joy of my life.”

Another Gothams tribute went to the cast of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is vying for a SAG Ensemble nod en route to the Oscars. It contributes to the awards agenda of Gothams sponsor Netflix, and the Gothams aren’t going to turn away its support.

Radha Blank

Anne Thompson

Two prizes were shared. Best Documentary went to Garrett Bradley’s “Time” (the Amazon pickup, which also collected Best Nonfiction Feature at the National Society of Film Critics vote over the weekend, is well on its way to an Oscar nomination). It also went tp Ramona Diaz’s less-hyped disinformation exposé “A Thousand Cuts” (PBS/POV/Frontline), starring maverick journalist Maria Ressa, who faces jail time for standing up to Philippines dictator Rodrigo Duterte. Their fellow nominees (“76 Days,” “City Hall,” and “Our Time Machine”) are also worth checking out, as the the Documentary branch voters face a tsunami of over 200 titles.

Also sharing were Best Screenplay winners, breakout writer-director-actress Radha Blank (Netflix’s “The 40-Year-Old Version”) and Dan Sallitt (“Fourteen”). “Holy shit,” said Blank, who thanked her producers “for getting me the money and getting out of my way.”

Breakthrough Actor went to Kingsley Ben-Adir, who plays Malcolm X in Regina King’s “One Night in Miami” (Amazon). The British rising star singled out for praise fellow nominee Sidney Flanigan, a New York musician-turned-actress who won Best Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle for “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.”

The Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director award went to a no-show, Andrew Patterson, for his impressive DIY debut “The Vast of Night.”

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