Most of the long evening at which the New York Film Critics Circle members handed out their 82nd annual awards Tuesday night proffered the usual praise and gratitude mandatory at such affairs, with a few exceptional grace notes sprinkled in to class up the occasion. Casey Affleck, on the other hand, came prepared to dole out a bit of what must go through the mind of every honoree being celebrated by the ink-stained kvetches who comment on their work.
Introduced by his Gone Baby Gone co-star Amy Ryan (“I find him absolutely mesmerizing”), Affleck came up to receive the best performance award for his work in Manchester By The Sea. Most of the dishes had been cleared from the tables at Tao Downtown nightclub, and after a few bon bons (“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me,” he said, addressing Ryan, “including my mother”), the hirsute star confessed his ambivalence about being among critics and offered some dish of his own.
“I like to read reviews,” he said, especially when they were “informed without being esoteric, critical without being snarky or personal.”
He was just warming up. Of course the New York critics don’t like everything, Affleck said, pulling out a sheet of paper, noting that David Edelstein, the New York magazine movie critic emceeing the event as NYFCC chairman, had been effusive in speaking about most of the winners, “but not me.” Affleck then recited some choice quotes from Edelstein’s reviews of his films, beginning with, “Affleck, though likable, doesn’t have a lot of variety and resorts to chewing gum to give his character through-lines,” to “Affleck’s line readings would be too mumbly and mulish even for the glory days of ’50s Method [acting] and he might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Shoot Me.’ Fortunately, he’s not the lead,” to “It’s looking like whenever I see Affleck’s name in a movie’s credits, you can expect a standard, genre B picture — slowed down and tarted up.”
There were more, each morsel delivered in Affleck’s signature style: laconic and dry, as only an actor practiced in the art of deflecting pain can be. “How does one survive such scathing and often accurate criticism?” Affleck wondered, rhetorically. “Truth is, there’s never really been anything so horrible said about me that I haven’t either thought of or said to myself.” The crowd loved it, but Edelstein was stung and spent perhaps too much time in the final rounds of the night protesting too much, rather than just owning his words and moving on.
There were few other surprises in the evening, since the awards had been announced some weeks ago, but there were several heartfelt moments supplied by the awardees. Receiving a special tribute to her half-century of film editing, mostly at the right hand of Martin Scorsese through 23 feature films and documentaries, Thelma Schoonmaker seemed genuinely moved by the boisterous standing ovation she received. It followed a rapturous introduction by Adam Driver, a co-star of Silence.
“You would have to sit in the editing room with us for months to really understand how editing works — and you would probably find it very boring as we go back and forth and back and forth over the same material. But I think it is the greatest job in the world, making hundreds of creative decisions every day.” She then spoke about her transition from Scorsese protégé to collaborator. “When I met him, I knew nothing about editing,” she said. “Nothing. He taught me everything, and as our relationship changed from student and teacher to collaborators, he has never failed to let me go along with him on the challenges he set himself with every film.”
The Daily Show host Trevor Noah was on hand to give the best documentary award to O.J.: Made In America, noting that a film about race and fame could not have been more timely. Manchester writer-director Kenneth Lonergan introduced Michelle Williams, cited as best supporting actress for two films, Manchester By The Sea and Certain Women, describing her as “chameleonic, a character actress in a leading lady’s body.” Almost as frequent a visitor to the podium as Lonergan was director Barry Jenkins, cited for multiple winner Moonlight.
Appearing to present an award to Zootopia for best animated film, comedian Robert Klein reminded the gathering of how many terrible movies he’d been in, recalling a love scene with Joan Rivers during which “she sold me four bracelets,” a reference to the late comedienne’s QVC jewelry line. Klein seemed genuinely to have liked Zootopia, though he had no idea who he was presenting to, because their names weren’t listed in the program. For a few seconds he threatened to turn into Mariah Carey, but all was soon salvaged.
Baz Luhrmann was the apt choice to present the best film award to Damien Chazelle for La La Land. “Music cinema,” he said, “makes the heart soar.” John Turturro introduced best actress Isabelle Huppert, clearly another favorite of the crowd. Huppert, also cited for two films – Elle and Things To Come — paid tribute to Elle director Paul Verhoeven (“We love Paul Verhoeven in France”) and to New York’s critics, who had always championed her work. She was happy to represent films in which she played roles about “what it means to be women in our contemporary world. More like a survivor,” she said. “I’m also glad to be the 82nd recipient for the award, knowing that Greta Garbo was the first one, in 1935.”