NYFCC Awards: Bong Joon Ho Is Oscar Season’s Rock Star, Tarantino Faces His Worst Critic

"The Irishman" won Best Picture, but it's "Parasite" that got everyone on their feet.
Bong Joon-Ho, Quentin Tarantino and Song Kang HoThe New York Film Critics Awards Gala - Inside, USA - 07 Jan 2020
Bong Joon-Ho, Quentin Tarantino and Song Kang Ho
Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

The New York Film Critics Circle awarded Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” with its Best Picture prize, but it didn’t take much effort to realize “Parasite” was the true king of the ceremony. After being the hit of Golden Globes weekend in Los Angeles, Bong Joon Ho and his “Parasite” team (including actor Song Kang-ho) proved their overwhelming popularity is bicoastal by holding court at the NYFCC awards. Bong posed for photographs with Best Screenplay winner Quentin Tarantino, was name dropped by the Safdie brothers in their Best Director speech (Bong enthusiastically gave them a thumbs up from his dinner table), and received the first major standing ovation of the ceremony while accepting the Best Foreign Language Film prize for “Parasite” (Ben Stiller presented Bong the award and joked that “Parasite’s” awards season domination would extend to the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards).

“I like ‘Parasite’ winning Best Foreign Language Film because it has overcome language barriers,” Bong said, referring to the movie’s over-$100 million gross worldwide. Bong said it was surreal to be accepting an award in front of Martin Scorsese at the NYFCC since he still remembers Scorsese winning NYFCC prizes for Best Picture and Best Director in 1991 with “Goodfellas.” Bong was also gobsmacked by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci and provided one of the ceremony’s comedic highs by quoting the famous “did you fuck my wife?” scene from “Raging Bull.” Bong even gave a shoutout to the venue, Tao Downtown, as it was the first night this long awards season that he got to eat Asian food. The more Bong gets in front of a microphone ahead of the Oscars, the more he’ll find himself gaining legions of fans.

Pesci’s attendance at the NYFCC awards was a rare appearance for the 76-year-old actor who came out of retirement to reunite with Scorsese for “The Irishman.” The actor got a massive standing ovation to rival Bong’s when he walked on stage to receive the Best Supporting Actor prize. Pesci brought Scorsese and De Niro up to the podium for support.

“I asked Martin and Bob to come up with me because I’m really terrible at this stuff,” Pesci said about accepting awards. “I don’t do it properly. Anyone who works on these films knows you can’t do it alone. You want to talk about real support? I had Bob. I had a beautiful script and cast. And to top it all off I have Marty telling me everything to do, so I told him to help me accept this award.”

Pesci passed the baton off to Scorsese and De Niro as he fumbled to find more words to express his gratitude. “That’s him saying thank you,” De Niro added with a laugh. Pesci is widely expected to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and he’s awards season royalty.

Joe Pesci and Martin ScorseseNew York Film Critics Circle Awards Gala, Arrivals, TAO Downtown, New York, USA - 07 Jan 2020
Joe Pesci and Martin ScorseseStephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

Tarantino bounced back after a polarizing Golden Globes speech left some moviegoers with a bad taste in their mouths (IndieWire’s Anne Thompson wrote that the only weakness facing “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” this awards season is Tarantino’s ‘I don’t have anyone to thank but me’ arrogance). It helped the NYFCC got Tarantino’s “Hollywood” star and recent Golden Globe winner Brad Pitt to present him with the Best Screenplay prize.

“[Tarantino] is the only guy who needs cocaine to stop talking,” Pitt said of his director, who he first worked with on “Inglourious Basterds.” “He writes by hand, single spaced on Manila pads. He calls his pen an antenna to god. You know when you’re out in public and you make an ass of yourself and you’re driving home wishing what you could’ve said better? Tarantino’s characters don’t suffer from that. There’s music to the way he writes. I call it Iambic Quent-ameter.”

Tarantino’s acceptance speech was devoted to his relationship with film critics, appropriate given the nature of the ceremony. The director revealed the one film review he’s ever cut out and saved is the headline to Andrew Sarris’ “Kill Bill” review (“Tarantino Minces Matrix, Says Andrew Sarris”), which remains on Tarantino’s refrigerator to this day. Tarantino said he does not read Rotten Tomatoes but does get a stack of paper reviews that he goes through for each film. The filmmaker earned big laughs for calling out one of his toughest critics, NYFCC member Peter Rainer.

“Peter Rainer, writer of the Christian Science Monitor, you have never given me a positive review in 30 years,” Tarantino said. “Not to make you feel guilty, but I read you every weekend when you used to write for the Herald Examiner in Los Angeles. From 15 years old! Not only did I read you, but I still have those Herald Examiner reviews in my fucking office. I still have your ‘Raging Bull’ review! I’m just saying.”

Quentin TarantinoNew York Film Critics Circle Awards Gala, Inside, TAO Downtown, New York, USA - 07 Jan 2020
Quentin TarantinoKristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

Tarantino also saluted Pauline Kael, who he calls “the woman who articulated my cinematic aesthetic in a way that nobody ever had before.” Kael was a member of the NYFCC and is Tarantino’s favorite film critic of all time alongside Sarris.

“It takes a great critic to align their aesthetic in a way that you can describe it. I remember the review [Pauline] wrote that did that to me was for Godard’s ‘Band of Outsiders,'” Tarantino said. “She wrote that movie was as if a couple of movie mad Frenchmen took an American crime novel and wrote it from the perspective of the poetry that they read between the lines. When I read that review I said, ‘Holy shit that’s what I want to do. That’s everything I want to do. That is my aesthetic broken down into a fortune cookie piece of paper. That is what I want to accomplish in this world.”

Tarantino wasn’t the only one to admit he pays attention to film critics. Best Supporting Actress winner Laura Dern (awarded for both “Marriage Story” and “Little Women”) and Best Director co-winner Josh Safdie said they always read their reviews, for better and for worse. Dern said positive reviews early in her career validated her choice to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become an actress. Safdie had a more traumatic experience with reviews early on after a critic said he would rather be run over by a train and killed than watch a Safdie movie.

Other highlights of the NYFCC awards included Best Actor winner Antonio Banderas, who remains a dark horse in the Oscar race despite earning universal acclaim and a Cannes award for his performance in “Pain and Glory.” Banderas has been performing in “A Chorus Line” in Spain, making it hard for him to campaign as aggressively as contenders like Adam Driver and Joaquin Phoenix. Banderas, off to Spain in the morning, won the crowd over by being honest: “I am tired of campaigning,” he said. “I am not a politician. I am an actor!”

Additional NYFCC winners included Best Actress Lupita Nyong’o for “Us,” Best First Feature recipient Mati Diop for “Atlantics,” and “Honeyland” duo Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov for Best Documentary. Click here to view all of the 2019 NYFCC winners.

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