The Netflix title was honored as Best Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and also got the NBR Icon Award, presented to Scorsese and lead actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. (On Tuesday, it was center stage at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.) The night was once again a relaxed affair, with no broadcast deal and no stopwatch on speeches and the winners having been announced weeks ago.
Springsteen, unspooling a deeply felt meditation on The Irishman that wouldn’t have been out of place in his Broadway solo show, recalled decades watching Pacino, Scorsese and De Niro work. The film’s themes hit home because he is now 70, he added. “If you’ve been with them on this whole journey, it is beautiful to behold,” he said.
Scorsese said that for a film that took 22 years, from idea to locked picture, the actual making of The Irishman was a relatively smooth process. “Maybe because it took all these years,” he mused. “It was a high-wire act, no doubt about it, but there was this incredible net I could feel” thanks to Netflix. Once editor Thelma Schoonmaker started cutting with Scorsese, things clicked. Even though it was “an experiment,” by the end of the edit, it needed only a couple of test screenings before its world premiere at the New York Film Festival last fall. He hinted at looking at a 10th collaboration with De Niro, but wouldn’t say more about a followup.
Uncut Gems also glittered at the gala, with co-directors and writers Josh and Benny Safdie and Ronald Bronstein winning Best Original Screenplay, and star Adam Sandler winning for Best Actor. Josh Safdie counted some 160 drafts of the screenplay across the decade or so it took to develop and produce, and jokingly thanked the NBR “for what is likely going to be the only award this screenplay will get.”
Sandler, after a heartfelt introduction by Barrymore, his co-star in films like The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, reflected on his role as dissembling gambler/jeweler Howie Ratner as “something I always thought I could do. I went to NYU and I used to pretend I was one of those New York degenerate guys. Like at two in the morning at NYU, I used to bounce around the buildings … and pretend I was the next James Caan.”
Calling back to Kathy Bates’ Waterboy reference to her on-screen son, Bobby Boucher, which she slipped in while accepting Supporting Actor honors for her performance in Richard Jewell, Sandler wrapped up his speech with a ringing “I love you, Mama!”
Held at Cipriani 42nd Street, a soaring, turn-of-the-20th-Century landmark with 65-foot ceilings that once housed Bowery Savings Bank, the NBR event featured a steady supply of huge names. In this compressed awards season, with the Academy Awards just one month away, there did seem to be an effort to ratchet up the glamour of the presentations. Along with Springsteen, Lupita Nyong’o, Drew Barrymore, Kathryn Bigelow, Bradley Cooper, Timothée Chalamet, Salma Hayek and Uma Thurman were among those handing out awards. An ensemble honor for the Knives Out cast also drew Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig and Rian Johnson to the stage.
Brad Pitt, named Best Supporting Actor for his role in Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, was delayed on his way to the red carpet by (true story) a mugging of a pedestrian on 42nd Street that tied up traffic in front of Cipriani. After an admiring introduction from Cooper, whom Pitt credited for helping him get sober, Pitt dished out more of the awards-season bon mots he has been trafficking in lately. Hefting the NBR statuette, he expressed gratitude for being able to “leave here carrying something other than George Clooney.” He then shouted out “my man Sandler, the Safdie Brothers getting some love tonight. The [Richard] Jewell gang,” before closing with a wry indication of his current world view. “My goals in life are pretty simple,” he said. “Be happy, be healthy, and not be in a position where I have to do Ocean’s 14. We’ll see.”
Renee Zellweger, Best Actress winner for Judy, was introduced by Hayek, with whom she said she goes “way back – I know where she keeps the tequila.” Zellwegger recalled getting a Best Breakthrough Performer award from the NBR in 1997 for her performance in Jerry Maguire, “which was the event that set in motion this wild and wonderful ride.” Reflecting on the twists and turns her career has taken, she said, “Even if you know where you’re goin’, you can end up in a ditch.”
Thurman presented Quentin Tarantino with Best Director honors for Once Upon a Time, which has stayed in the spotlight after its big showing at last Sunday’s Golden Globes. Noting that she had first presented the filmmaker with an award more than 25 years ago with Pulp Fiction, Thurman said that aside from her parents and her children, “Quentin has had the greatest impact on my life.” (Their bond was tested with the director’s brinkmanship on the set of Kill Bill, for which he apologized in 2018 and discussed in more detail with Deadline’s Mike Fleming). “That was really fantastic,” Tarantino told Thurman, joking, “I wrote everything she said.”
Bong Joon-ho, director of Best Foreign Language Film Parasite, sized up the whirlwind of awards season. “What’s so meaningful,” he said, “is that since Sunday, I’ve seen Scorsese, Tarantino and the Safdie brothers three days in a row and that will never happen again in my life.”