It is difficult to fit all of the boldfaced names of those who attended Tuesday night’s New York Film Critics Circle gala into a single paragraph.
Because of the event’s format, which has a presenter (usually someone notable) introducing the actual winner of a prize, the list overflowed with sparkle, this year more than usual because A-listers also turned in some of 2019’s best work. Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, Reese Witherspoon, Lupita Nyong’o, Alec Baldwin, Laura Dern, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ben Stiller, Spike Lee, Samantha Bee and Steve Buscemi made up only part of the roster at Tao Downtown. The cavernous, bottle-service-y restaurant in the shadow of Google’s expanding New York headquarters has never seemed a more apt venue for this winningly idiosyncratic and prolix dinner.
Pitt extended his disarming streak on the awards mic, describing Quentin Tarantino’s NYFCC-winning screenplay for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood as showcasing “iambic Quent-ameter.” He joked about the showbiz orientation of the film, which tends to play well with awards voters: “Finally, after all that time, a film about Hollywood.” He also lightly roasted his director as “the only guy I know who needs cocaine to stop talking.”
Stiller copped to being an unexpected advocate for Parasite, but delivered a convincing testimonial to the film’s potency as “the best film of the year in any language.” Director Bong Joon-ho promptly brought the house down by departing from his customary Korean to quote a spicy line from Raging Bull (“Did you f–k my wife?”) to a table just a few feet away, where Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci (that film — and The Irishman‘s — collaborators) all sat.
The nearly three-hour show culminated in honors for two quintessentially New York films, The Irishman and Uncut Gems, which hit the bull’s-eye for the city’s critics, as reflected in the list of winners released last month. Even though The Irishman captured the top prize, with Pesci and Dern earning supporting actor honors, the mojo of Netflix is not what it was before Sunday’s Golden Globes, where the company came away with just one win from 17 nominations.
Given the celebratory nature of the night, no one brought up that specific data point, but a running gag developed thanks to director Mati Diop. The winner of Best First Film for Atlantics, which was released by Netflix after its Cannes breakout, got to the end of a long, impassioned and moving speech only to realize she had not acknowledged the streaming giant’s support. “Thank you, Netflix,” she blurted, and it got call-backs from several others who followed.
“Thank you, Netflix – no, seriously, because no one else would touch this film for 10 years,” Scorsese said. With the Best Picture and Pesci acceptances, the director appeared on stage with De Niro and Pacino, his frequent collaborators. De Niro helpfully interjected during an amiable burst of profanity by Pesci to offer, “What he means is, ‘Thank you.'” Scorsese took his time, after a fond introduction by Lee, who said his late mother had introduced him to Scorsese’s work, to rattle of specific acknowledgements of a few dozen people involved with The Irishman.
Sandler embraced his past as an actor not generally lauded by New York critics. He had the audience roaring by recalling his Little Nicky past, but also got in some sharp jabs at Josh and Benny Safdie, co-directors of Uncut Gems and winners of Best Director. “How do you tell the Safdie brothers apart?” he asked. “Well, Josh looks like a yeshiva student who might shoot you, and Benny looks like a friendly dentist.” He added his wish that they go on to become one of the famous brother tandems in history, joining the Wright Brothers … and the Menendez Brothers.
The Safdies differed on their view of the critical establishment. Josh said he doesn’t read reviews, while Benny admitted to giving “a review of the reviews.” Bennie also delivered a stemwinding recap of the 10-year journey to getting to make Gems, which involved a three-year detour for making a basketball documentary and Sandler being inspired to commit after watching the duo’s film Good Time.