If you haven’t noticed, it’s getting colder. If I had to, I’d rank Monday night’s weather as one of the top five coldest days of 2016.
And if I was asked, I’d say the wind chill factor made it feel a solid twenty degrees colder, and that an infinity scarf is one of the most useless accessories when it comes to winter items. Oh! And that looking your best in the cold is a performance reserved only for the best actors and actresses of Spotlight and Brooklyn, respectively.
Critics love to give their opinions on a variety of topics ranging from the typical movie to the latest fashion trend, but, like all critics, I’ve wondered if the people involved in the projects I reviewed ever read or even acknowledged what I had written, whether good or bad. As Marshall Fine, the chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), put it, “There is a thrill that goes with seeing a new film that gives us a jolt, provokes an unexpected guffaw or causes the hair on our neck to stand up.”
The New York Film Critics Circle is a group of film critics comprised of writers from daily newspapers to online publications. The circle meets in December to discuss the year’s best films and which performances or whose work they believe should be justly rewarded. Once these decisions are made, the circle then invites other members of the press and the actors, directors, and other crew of the films being honored all to come together in celebration of their works.
The 81st Annual New York Film Critics Circle Awards were held on January 4, 2016 at Tao Downtown in New York. Awards season continued as everyone there truly did get the thrill Fine so eloquently defined early in the night.
The restaurant itself deserves an award for excellent layout and planning as once you enter out of the frigid cold, you are immediately welcomed with symmetrical archways equivalent to those of ancient Rome. As soon as you enter the main dining room, a ceiling high Quan Yin statue stands from afar, complete with 24 hands, overlooking the restaurant, which can seat close to 400. With the podium set over the koi pond that Quan Yin rests upon, artist after artist went on stage to give a speech as patrons enjoyed the delicious food set in front of them.
The menu of the night included such Pan-Asian cuisine classics like hot edamame and a wide range of sushi like salmon sashimi to shrimp and crab rolls. As the evening’s festivities went underway, a mouth-watering grilled tuna was placed right before our eyes in addition to a Tokyo style filet mignon and spicy chili chicken, which was in fact, rather spicy after you ate the cleverly disguised peppers hiding in the sauce coating the chicken. There was also Pad Thai noodles with chicken, Asian green stir fry, and of course, Jasmine white rice. However, the best part by far (although a very close second is that tuna) was the dessert. A giant fortune cookie filled with ice cream and rather raunchy fortunes took up the center of the plate, complete with mixed fruit on both sides. But it was the homemade mochi ice cream and donuts that took home the best tasting part of the whole feast. Melting just the tiniest bit from the warm sticky rice outside, the dessert was delectable, and it only added to the night’s laughs and speeches.
Fine started off addressing the crowd with the members of the NYFCC and how the awards process works. As the first of many award shows that are coming up in the next two months, the NYFCC takes pride as having the critics in the same room with the people they shared their opinions on. With the first award going to Ennio Morricone for his film score in The Hateful Eight, film co-stars Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson took the stage to show appreciation for Morricone and all he has done to produce some of the most recognizable tunes in movie history. “Mr. Morricone’s incomparable genius is rooted in an unwavering commitment and passion for creating scores that communicate the soul of each individual film he touches,” Goggins stated of the composer. Having composed for such films including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly or A Fistful of Dollars, Morricone has been composing for over 70 years and has gone on to produce the best soundtracks the film industry has seen. In accepting the special award on his behalf, Jackson spoke how Morricone came aboard The Hateful Eight, talking about how “Tarantino was not only joining forces with the man he has called his favorite composer, he was also venturing into uncharted territory, for this is the first of his films to receive Best Original Score.”
In Jackson Heights, the 43rd documentary by Frederick Wiseman, received the Best Non-Fiction Film award by the circle. It would only be fitting that Jackson Heights native Susan Sarandon present the award to Daniel Dromm, the Council Member of Jackson Heights. Joking about how back in her day, she referred to non-fiction films as documentaries, Sarandon recounted her time growing up in the neighborhood, she said, “Everything I love about a city is in this documentary, In Jackson Heights, and it all happens in Jackson Heights; one of the most diverse parts of New York City and I think the world.” Once presented with the award, Dromm stated that his “neighborhood surely did have something to teach the world” and continued reading from a note Wiseman wrote, stating, “Jackson Heights is well known for its diversity of its immigrant population,” continuing with how he has a special interest with immigrants in America starting with his parents.
Kevin Kline presented the Best Cinematography award to Edward Lachman, for his work on Carol. Kline, who had a few good jokes on Sarandon’s lengthy walk down memory lane, constantly stated that today was not about himself nor would he continue to talk about himself. He immediately continued with how he watches films and he notices the pores and wrinkles on the actors’ faces, and then remembers watching Carol and instantly being in awe. “I’m watching it and I’m aware of the graininess to the film. It was shot in super 16, not digital, and I’m very happy about that. I am comforted with the thought that I will be spared the invitation to marvle at, if not count, the number of pores in an actor’s cheek.” Lachman, who was present to accept his award, spoke at length at how he gained his passion for filmmaking after sneaking into countless film premieres and “at the New York Film Festival, at MoMA, and at New Films, New Directors. It really was my film school. And it’s the city that I’ve had my greatest opportunity.”
Kristen Stewart received the Best Supporting Actress award for her work in Clouds of Sils Maria, a film in which she ventures into her serious side for the role of Valentine, an assistant to a movie star. Presenting the award to her was Julianne Moore, whose husband Bart Freundlich worked with Stewart twelve years earlier for Catch That Kid. Freundlich “would come home every day telling me how amazing this little kid was, how she is going to be a giant star. And then he showed me the dailies where I can see for myself the emotional reserve she had in her fingertips.” Moore, gushing over how she knew Stewart since Stewart was twelve, gave Stewart a touching hug once she accepted the award. Stewart later had to say, “The movie is thoughtful and quiet and kind of diagonal and not extreme in any way.”
Next up, David Hyde Pierce presented the Best Supporting Actor award to Mark Rylance, stating “One of the good things that Mark has is interiority, and the greatness in theater, the back wall. I call it his interiority complex and he has it in films as well.” Pierce read about what Rylance has said about Bridge of Spies, that in his “terrible blindness, it’s about what a country does when it is terribly attacked and threatened, how it preserves its sense of justice and sense of right and wrong.” Pierce ended by saying “Someone will watch Bridge of Spies and say, ‘Look at that man. He glows.’”
The Best Foreign-Language Film award went to Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu, in which Paul Haggis spoke at length about the Oregon militia standoff before transitioning over to Timbuktu. Haggis said of Sissako that “he has a really independent voice and he showed this in this film.” Sissako was not present to accept the award however did send a statement stating “you are and will remain the receptacle of diversity which will defeat hatred.”
In a heartbreaking speech recounting his time spent in a Japanese internment camp, George Takei recalled seeing his first animated film, Snow White, giving him hope of a better future. “I want to get beyond this, where people like that can live. The animated film is something that instilled in me to do more behind those barbed wires.” In presenting the Best Animated Feature award to Inside Out, Takei surely did make us all think about the importance of animated films as well. Director of the film Pete Doctor came to the stage stating, “As a kid growing up in Minnesota, watching cartoons and growing up on Disney films, being here, I’ve always had one goal in my life, even when I was a kid. And that was one overwriting obsession: to own a carpet cleaning retail chain.”
Phyllis Nagy won the Best Screenplay award for Carol, in which she spoke about her time growing up on St. Mark’s Place. “I was confined to a three block radius which included school, church, and grocery stores. But contained in those three blocks is the kindest education I ever received, the St. Mark’s Cinema. It was my summer camp in the early 70s.” Tony Kushner presented the award to her, commending the characters’ direction in the book Carol was adapted from, The Price of Salt, with “their route, their passage, becomes noble for them, moment by moment, only through motion.”
The Best First Film award went to Laszlo Nemes for the film Son of Saul. Presenting the award was fellow NYFCC First Feature award winner Bennett Miller, who said that he was proud the film was receiving an award because had it not, it would mean “a film like this would slip from the world.” He also said that “It’s an authenticity that can exist in a first film, but is difficult to find in a second film is there isn’t some kind of recognition to begin with.” Nemes later took the stage to say that “the audience should be able to see films on film. And I want to share this award with the lead actor of the film.”
Jim Jaramusch first made a joke about the mushrooms he received just an hour before, therefore “tripping out” on the Quan Yin statue behind him—which throughout the night had different projections portrayed over it. “Without Bill Becker and Jemma Jones, the films by these audiences would not be so accessible to movie audiences. Can you imagine? We lost Bill Becker only a few months ago, but for me personally as a big movie fan for all of my adult life, his vision and his work have changed my world significantly. . . Ahh Bill Becker, we honor you for what you do for cinema.” Jaramusch presented the special award to Becker’s son Peter Becker, who stated “I wish my father could be here to accept the honor himself. My father had a great admiration for critics, being a born critic himself.”
Liam Neeson presented Saoirse Ronan the Best Actress award for her work on Brooklyn. Neeson compared Ronan to Maureen O’Hara, as “she moves to New York at the young age of 21.” He continued with, “tonight we honor her for her outstanding film Brooklyn.” Ronan, in an accent much thicker than Neeson’s, started off her speech by saying “Tanks” and won hearts all around. She then ended with “I was born here and lived here until I was three. I don’t remember that much about it… I’m one of you! I’m from the Bronx after all. ‘Saoirse From the Block’ is what they called me. Like Miss Lopez, just a little more Irish attitude though.”
Michael Keaton, for his work in Spotlight, took the Best Actor award, but was first described by presenter Tom McCarthy as “having caught my eye as one of the Zuchini Brothers in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I was nine years old, not particularly bright.” He then spoke of Keaton’s work, that “it’s deceptive to watch Michael work, his characters and his process, it just sneaks up on you.” Keaton then stated in a brief and succinct speech that “Gloating gets a bad rap” and continued with “I’m a blessed, I’ve had a nice life. I work hard, I deserve it. I’m ok with that; took me a long time to get there, so thanks, everybody.”
Alec Baldwin spoke at length about his insomnia one night where he ended up watching Jon Favreau’s Dinner for Five in which Favreau stated that you could only risk choosing to work on a film without a set cast, script or director. Baldwin said, “I sat there at three in the morning with Jon Favreau in my bedroom thinking, ‘F— why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?’” He then presented the Best Director award to Carol’s Todd Haynes, who stated, “this award has a very special meaning to me, coming from film critics, from this very sentimental city. I was born and raised in LA but it was my very first trip here at nine years old falling in love with it.”
The overall winner of the night was Carol, which ended taking home the Best Picture award. Nathan Lane presented the award to the producers of the film after stating “Carol is one of the latest and most poignant contributors in our ongoing discussion in gender and sexual equality.” Presented to Elizabeth Karlsen, Christine Vachon, and Stephen Woolley, they stated, “It truly is such an honor and so vital for a film like Carol to receive recognition. Independent filmmaking is a business that goes through a lot of highs and lows and I guess that’s why we’re addicted to that rhythm.”
Special thanks to our friends at Tao Downtown for the invitation. It was a magical evening.