At tonight’s National Board of Review gala, the first industry awards show held after Sunday’s Golden Globes, the dress code called for “festive” attire. That had many attendees ditching the somber black shades of last weekend and, beyond the appearance, fully relishing the reason for the season away from the TV camera’s unforgiving gaze.
On this night when a 10-minute acceptance speech by Tom Hanks hardly seemed out of the ordinary, the pace became more languorous as the wine kicked in along with the realization that no speakers would be played offstage. Many stayed on message, of course, even if there were fewer “#MeToo” buttons spotted on lapels. Agents were thanked and there were plenty of direct, blurb-worthy paeans to the award-winning films, to the delight of strategists everywhere. But the event was marked by a stream of disarming digressions, a refreshing change of pace and a quality that will be in short supply from now through Oscar night. It proved to be The Great Exhale after Sunday night’s itchy-sweater visit to church.
Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig, in tears after an adulatory introduction by Stephen Colbert, recalled being inspired by two very different films — The Muppets Take Manhattan and Beau Travail. Timothée Chalamet, accepting a breakout honor for Call Me By Your Name, said The Dark Knight and The Master inspired him to act — gleefully shouting out Paul Thomas Anderson as Anderson looked on. Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele mock-praised white people for stopping their knee-jerk praise of President Barack Obama in his presence. “You heard me!” he said.
While the winners were announced in November, MSNBC’s Willie Geist hosted for the fourth straight year, and the venue was once again Cipriani 42nd Street, there were genuine surprises the revelation of who was presenting each award. Some came from within a given film’s camp – Sean Baker presenting to Willem Dafoe, star of his The Florida Project; Saoirse Ronan giving co-star Laurie Metcalf her supporting actress prize for Lady Bird, and so on.
But most came from outside the logical circle and often brought considerable star power. Presenters included Lupita Nyong’o, Whoopi Goldberg, Isabelle Huppert, Christiane Amanpour, Julianne Margulies, Tina Fey and Robert De Niro. Gael Gadot and Patti Jenkins collected a special prize for Wonder Woman. Ditto Angelina Jolie and her collaborator, Loung Ung, for First They Killed My Father.
Meryl Streep, accepting for best actress in The Post, got nostalgic about the men who had discovered her and promoted her early career moves, tying them together with two of the acceptance speeches that preceded hers.
“What I really want to do is lie down in Tom Hanks’ speech, on the couch of it, you know, and then get into the hammock of Timothée Chalamet’s speech,” she said. “It’s men, you know? I love men. Oh my God. Yeah, I know, it’s The Year of the Woman and everything, but oh my God. The men. All my mentors have been men.”
One of those men — De Niro, whom Streep saluted for getting her cast in The Deer Hunter 40 years ago after seeing her in a downtown production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard – livened up the A-list final hour with a spicy intro for Streep. Drawing the inevitable comparisons with the Trump Era, he paused when reading a scripted line drawing parallels with the Pentagon Papers and today’s Donald Trump Era. “Come on, let’s go, what are we talking about?!” he called out, his irritated baritone recalling the barely contained vengeance of his GoodFellas character Jimmy Conway. “This f–king idiot is the president! It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. The guy is a f–kin’ fool. … the jerkoff-in-chief, I like to call him.”
Fey didn’t work blue but won the crowd with a laser-sharp introduction of Hanks, who won for best actor in The Post. His acting and producing resume, Fey cracked, is “as long and satisfying as a Greek diner menu.” Along with Steven Spielberg, he has popularized, she said, a new film genre she called “FDBD – For Dads, By Dads. Everything that your dad cares about – World War II, going to the airport, and now the newspaper.”
Hanks took his time describing his “blessed” work and home life in a circuitous path toward addressing his work on The Post. Speaking without notes, he spun yarns about the “four miles” he paced as costume designers tried to arrive at “the perfect Ben Bradlee ass.” He praised the films honored by the NBR, saying they will “live on and tell their stories forever,” noting (as Chalamet had) the year of the organization’s founding: 1909. The year’s films “capture who we are, both as Americans and as human beings on this planet. … the truly do hold up a mirror to human nature.” As an added bonus, he added, “These films are being seen in brick-and-mortar theaters by people who stood in line to buy a ticket, get a soda and then sit down in the communal experience of watching art unfold.”
The Post, which was shut out Sunday at the Globes, was the NBR’s pick for best picture, actor and actress. Steven Spielberg, subject of a discursive and sardonic riff by Hanks about being summoned to the director’s office, which he spoofed as an underground war bunker with pins in a giant map indicating where he has shot films and where he will shoot them in the future.
After remarks by producer Amy Pascal marveling at the arc of Katherine Graham, who “knew what it was like to have a seat in the boys’ club when they don’t want you there,” Spielberg ended on a straightforward, Trump-free note. He credited numerology for providing motivation for releasing The Post, a film about events in 1971, in 2017. “It takes me 10, 12, 15 years to gestate a project,” he said. “I really felt it had to come out this year. America was suddenly hearing with new ears” about the need for pure journalistic courage.” Beyond that, he said, “The ’71 and the ’17 was no coincidence. … There was something symbolic about the number.”