Celebrating this year’s honorees at the trendy Meat Packing District restaurant Tao, the New York Film Critics Circle offered starry salutes to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, double-winner Marion Cotillard (for The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night), and a broad range of other films and stars. The presenters also seemed determined to make sure no one forgot the alleged villain of last year’s festivities. Critic Armond White was ousted from the group in the wake of the 2014 ceremony following accusations that he insulted 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen. White, who writes for National Review, denied having made the remarks both at the time and in an essay published yesterday, in which he also slagged the group as “just one among dozens of celebrity-worshipping awards-givers.”
Circle Chairman Stephen Whitty quoted those words Monday night during his opening remarks at the group’s 80th awards ceremony. Sometime later, film polymath Paul Schrader cryptically wondered, “Where’s Armond White when you need him?” as he took the podium to introduce Pawel Pawlikowski, writer-director of Ida, which was named best foreign-language film. That was about as much intrigue as could be found during the long evening, unless you count one presenter’s reference to “one too many f**king superhero movies,” and sotto voce whispers of wonder over why Cotillard, who’s now won several major critics’ awards, and The Immigrant seemed to be getting so little Oscar-campaign love from the Weinstein Company. Not that Cotillard herself was complaining during two heartfelt acceptance speeches — one for her own award and the other for the absent Immigrant cinematographer Darius Khondji.
There were indeed plenty of celebrities in attendance at the affair (Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, etc.), but most of the jabs were self-inflicted and in good humor. There was even some unexpected praise for critics shown by folks who more typically nurse wounds from their barbs: Bob Balaban, introducing the screenplay award for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, saluted outgoing New Yorker critic David Denby (who remains at the magazine in an at-large position). “He gave me one of the worst reviews I’ve ever gotten,” Balaban noted, before they went on to become friends.
In a similar vein, Ethan Hawke, introducing Richard Linklater for one of two Boyhood awards (for best film and best director), recalled that Manohla Dargis, writing at the time for LA Weekly, said of The Newton Boys: “Richard Linklater seems to achieve the impossible: He makes Ethan Hawke bearable.” And then Linklater himself saluted his friend and one-time Soho Weekly News film critic George Morris, long since rehabituated to Texas, who “taught me that you could live a life in film.”
Jake Gyllenhaal, on a night off from previews of his Broadway debut in Constellations, introduced Cotillard: “How odd and how spectacular” her work is, he said. Nick Offerman praised winners Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for the “ridiculously, hilariously, brain-melting mind-f**k” that is the best-animated-film winner The Lego Movie. For his part, Lord called awards season a “national conversation about art,” without any apparent irony, unless I missed it.
True to form, anti-establishmentarian Wallace Shawn intoned about widespread ill will directed at America and Americans from abroad while introducing director Laura Poitras, whose Citizenfour, winner for best nonfiction film, he called “intelligent, subtle and heartfelt.” Kyra Sedgwick gave a warm introduction to her former Closer co-star J.K. Simmons, who was named best supporting actor for his performance in Whiplash.
Schrader sang the praises of Pawlikowski‘s technique: Ida is shot in monochrome, in the square-framed “Academy ratio” and is marked by long, unbroken takes with no reverse angles. “I was not prepared for Ida,” he said. “It goes only where the courageous go. It takes a lot of guts not to move the camera … to give up the simple tricks filmmakers use.”
Also on a night off from Broadway, where he’s appearing in A Delicate Balance, John Lithgow introduced Timothy Spall, best actor winner for Mr. Turner. Before reading accolades he’d cadged from actors with whom Spall had worked, Lithgow called him “unconsciously, almost accidentally, brilliant.” Spall charmed the crowd with an unpretentious thank-you: “In a career, you get a lot of kicks in the arse,” he said. “And you get ignored, which is even worse. It’s weird f**king luck to get an award,” he said, leaving the podium with a mirthful thumb-up.