The New York Film Critics Circle’s annual awards dinner unspooled in warmly dignified fashion, to the mild disappointment of any awards-circuit regular who witnessed last year’s riotously funny, 25-minute hijacking by Tiffany Haddish or other high drama from ceremonies past.
Thankfully, from a stagecraft standpoint, this year’s edition at Chelsea’s cavernous Tao Downtown restaurant yielded a notably A-list crop of presenters — among them Chris Rock, Steve Martin, Martin Scorsese and Gayle King — who managed to spike the cinephile punch. While the NYFCC had the good taste to salute a range of films that have been overlooked (especially by the Hollywood Foreign Press), taste only gets you so far in a nearly three-hour show sandwiched between the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review.
“Thank you very very much, Steve Martin. F–k!” exclaimed Richard E. Grant (an honoree for his supporting turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me?), acknowledging the tough act some winners had to follow. Martin, a longtime friend of Grant’s, showed again that he is perhaps the most reliably amusing award-show presence going. He read a series of excerpts from what he said was Grant’s correspondence with him over the years, after first buttering up the crowd.
“Tonight is especially exciting for me because when I was a little kid, I used to get all dressed up and play New York Film Critics Circle,” he quipped. “The excitement of tonight reminds me of the birth of my child. The only difference is, I showed up for this.”
With the winners having been announced back in November and the tea-leaf-reading minimized by the fact that the Globes had passed, the night was devoted to determining which honorees managed to vary their acceptance speech game.
The short answer: Not all of them. Happily, though, the surprising roster of presenters, some of them more natural than others, kept things moving. Rock rivaled Martin, though he was quick to address one of the hot topics on the awards circuit, the Oscar hosting gig, and make it clear where he stands on the issue. “Steve Martin should host the Oscars,” he declared. “You’re not getting me.”
In handing out the breakthrough feature award to Eighth Grade director Bo Burnham, who directed Rock’s first Netflix special last year, the actor, writer and comedian took note of the #MeToo climate, albeit with a passing shot fired. “If it was five years ago, I would say something offensive and funny, but … I can’t,” he said.
Scorsese delivered an impassioned, 10-minute intro to his friend and collaborator of 50 years, Paul Schrader, regaling the crowd with tales of the pair joining Brian DePalma for screenings of films by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, among other adventures. “Kent Jones couldn’t have said it better,” zinged Schrader, an honoree for First Reformed, referring to the New York Film Festival honcho and Scorsese collaborator.