The National Board of Review gala is often one of the first major events of awards season. This year, however, it followed Sunday’s Golden Globes, giving the evening at New York’s Cipriani 42nd Street a somewhat reactive vibe.
Many honorees reacted to Donald Trump’s televised address, which unfolded during the middle of the event. The filmmaker and stars of NBR Green Book reacted (indirectly, at least) to the reaction to their film after Sunday’s surprising Globe wins. And everyone who took the stage during the three-and-a-half-hour show reacted to the lack of TV cameras and TelePromTers by taking plenty of time to savor the moment. Suspense was in short supply given that the winners, as emcee Willie Geist of NBC News mentioned more than once, were revealed back in November.
Stephen Colbert, on hand to present Lady Gaga with the Best Actress trophy for A Star is Born, joked that he was “so grateful to be here tonight, partly because being here means I got to miss the president’s stupid speech at 9 o’clock.”
Barry Jenkins, accepting the Best Adapted Screenplay award for If Beale Street Could Talk, took a more direct line in excoriating Trump. Alluding to directors and films represented in the room, he said emphatically, “There’s a film called The Rider by Chloe Zhao. The president doesn’t want her here. Roma, the president doesn’t want the people from that film here. He calls them ‘los hombres malos.’ F—k him. No walls, no borders. F—k him.”
In Trumpian times, Green Book’s advocates have long argued that the Toronto audience award winner is the ideal experience. “All it takes to find common ground is to talk and to listen and to learn,” said the film’s director, Peter Farrelly. “You know who I’m voting for next? The politician who represents all of us.”
Viggo Mortensen, honored as Best Actor for his performance as Tony Lip, also stuck up for the film. Green Book has plenty of admirers but also has been something of a critical piñata in cinephile circles since winning the Globe for Best Picture and in the wake of complaints from the family of Don Shirley, the musician played by Mahershala Ali. “It’s easy to sh-t on” films that are outside your comfort zone, Mortensen said in an otherwise buoyant and amiably rambling speech. “This country, and this art form, ideally, is about celebrating differences.”
While politics was in the air, the old-fashioned Hollywood A-list quotient was also high, especially with Warner Bros.’ A Star is Born represented with multiple awards after coming away with only one Globe last Sunday for Best Song. Steven Spielberg was on hand to present Bradley Cooper with the Best Director trophy, lavishing praise on the man he called “Coop” for persisting in his risky effort.
Lady Gaga boosted the glamour quotient with her platinum-blonde screen-siren look and prompted a spree of smartphone flash photography by merely gliding toward the stage. In a speech that stretched on nearly the length of a Visconti film (complete with Italian-language interludes during shout-outs to her family), she devoted much of it to addressing her director and co-star.
“You are a musician,” she told Cooper. “I heard it. I watched it.” A few moments later, she added, “I don’t look back on this as filming a movie. We became two people who were not us, and lived and breathed.”
The NBR prizes have not in recent years been bellwethers for the top Oscars. In 2017, the group honored The Post as Best Film of the Year, Greta Gerwig as Best Director, Jordan Peele for Best Directorial Debut, Tom Hanks for Best Actor, Meryl Streep as Best Actress and Timothée Chalamet for Breakthrough Performance. Of that group, only Peele won an Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out.