Casey Affleck turned up so late on the red carpet at the 82nd New York Film Critics Circle Awards Tuesday evening at Tao Downtown that nearly half the video crews and writers had already left. Named best actor for Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea, Affleck was the big draw.
He looked a little scruffy but handsome with a full beard, his long hair tied back in a ponytail. (The hirsute appearance may be for an upcoming movie role.) Spending only a few moments talking to select television crews, he soon split for the reception and awards area.
The NYFCC announced all winners well in advance, which made for a stress free and entertaining evening, especially for the recipients. Kenneth Lonergan (best screenplay for “Manchester By the Sea”) and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight” – the best director award was presented to him by Jonathan Demme), made several trips to the podium for speeches.
The biggest prize went to Damien Chazelle for best picture for “La La Land.”
The New York Film Critics Circle Awards is a yearly gala where the critics and actors mix and mingle and make nice. Praise and thanks to each other is usually the pattern of the night.
But Casey Affleck decided to switch things up; he came prepared with a list of some of the worst reviews he’s received over the years by the New York critics, and he read them aloud to the audience.
First Amy Ryan, his co-star in “Gone Baby Gone,” (2007) directed by brother Ben Affleck, was effusive in her praise of the actor in her introduction. “I never see him act,” Ryan said. “Casey always feels like he stumbled on the set. Like he’s surprised to be there. For a moment you wonder if he’s even read the script or he knows what part he’s playing,” she joked. “He’s very kind of droll, and you’re instantaneously sucked into his world and his work. I find him absolutely mesmerizing. I’m sure Casey has an ego, but he’s not worried like a lot of actors are about putting his face front and center on a screen. He’s worried about telling a story. That’s what matters to him.”
Then Affleck, with a sly grin, approached the podium and took out a piece of paper from his pocket, first turning to Ryan to say, “That’s the nicest thing anybody has said about me, including my mother.”
Affleck proceeded to read choice comments from negative reviews, but first said, with a glint in his eye, “I really love to read reviews. They are informed without being esoteric, critical without being snarky or personal.”
“There are only a few people in this world that have loved everything that I’ve done,” referencing his mother again. “For sure, the New York Film Critics Circle is not in that category.”
The actor added, “I want to share with you a couple things David Edelstein said because they’re pretty funny.” Edelstein, the NYFCC Chairman and emcee for the evening, had just walked off the stage.
“Affleck’s likeable, but doesn’t have a lot of variety and resorts to chewing gum to give his character though-lines.”
Here’s another, the actor said, reading, “Affleck’s line readings would be too mumbly and mulish even for the glory days of fifties Method mama’s boys, and he might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Shoot Me.’ Fortunately, he’s not the lead.”
Affleck continued, “It’s looking like whenever I see Casey Affleck’s name in a movie’s credits, you can expect a standard, genre B picture, slowed down and tarted up.” (The quote came from Edelstein’s review of his film “Out of the Furnace.”)
Affleck conceded some of the criticism might be accurate, before adding, “This is one of my favorites, ‘Mr. Affleck mutters incoherently in a voice pitched so low that even a dog couldn’t hear it.’”
“Thank you! You’re wonderful!” Casey Affleck told the critics wryly, before adding, “I will say, four out of five of those may or may not have been penned by David Edelstein.” The audience roared.
On a more serious note, Affleck thanked screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan and his co-stars, including Michelle Williams, who he described as “incredible to be around and watch.” Earlier in the evening, Lonergan presented Williams with the best supporting actress award and called her a great “character actress” who also happened to be a movie star.
When David Edelstein returned to the podium to continue his hosting duties after Casey Affleck’s zingers, he sheepishly said, “Those were not all my reviews,” adding, “This is very awkward. We love actors,” but “we don’t know how to talk to them when we meet them in public.”
Another big winner was Mahershala Ali, who received the best supporting actor award for his portrayal of Juan, a dope deal with heart who mentors Chiron, the gay young man at the center of Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight.”
On the red carpet, I asked Ali how he found his way into the complicated character. “I really tried to focus on finding his heart and really connecting to his intentions in a way that went a little bit beyond how I normally approach characters,” he told me. “Honestly, he was somebody who I began to sort of speak with and try to have a conversation with. I wanted to know what he wanted to share and so I, in sort of a meditative way, I began to talk to him as a real spirit because I felt like he needed to have a spirit as we all do. So that’s how I approached him and that experience was unique to anything else I’d done up to that point. I feel like people sense that in watching the film, so I’m most proud of that.”
Each time Edelstein returned to host after Affleck’s speech, he tried to redeem himself. The next time he was at the podium, he turned to Affleck to remind him that he had named his performance in “Manchester” as one of the best of the year. “You read that one,” he told the actor.
The New York critics named Isabella Huppert as best actress for “Elle” and “Things to Come.” John Turturro, in his introduction, noted that the legendary French actress, who is ageless at 63, has made 121 films and appeared numerous times in classic stage roles and even appeared in an episode of “Law and Order,” written especially for her.
“She’s someone who has sustained a level of excellence over decades,” Turturro said. “And she’s consistently surprising and even shocking us. She’s unafraid to go to the darkest places, and she’s not afraid to be absolutely still and do nothing.”
Huppert received cheers and huge applause from the audience. In her speech, she expressed her gratitude to the New York critics who had championed her work. She thanked “Elle” director Paul Verhoeven: “We love him in France.”
She also thanked Mia Hansen-Love,” the young director of “Things to Come,” noting, “She has such a great knowledge, like almost a child who knows without maybe knowing that she knows. She’s an immense talent.”
Huppert added that she was proud to be in two films where she played women that exemplified “women’s condition and what it means to be a woman in our contemporary world. More like a survivor.”
Huppert thanked Michael Barker and Sony Classics Pictures for their support and noted, “I’m also very glad to be the 82nd recipient for best actress. You know, Greta Garbo was the first one in 1935.”
Trevor Noah presented Ezra Edelman with the best documentary prize for “O.J.: Made in America.” (The film is now the Oscar frontrunner.) Noah said in his speech, “I’m not a film critic nor an expert about film, but to me the best documentaries are a lot like sex. They excite you and leave you thinking about yourself in a completely different way,” noted the Daily Show host.
“The film touches on so many themes, domestic abuse, obsession with fame in America, race relations, issues that effectively no longer plague American,” he cracked. “I think to myself, who’d have thought that America would be in a place where once again we’d be dealing with the ramifications of Americans making a bad decision based on fame and race, and yet, here we are.”
The most touching moment of the evening was the special award presentation to Thelma Schoonmaker, who was introduced by “Silence” star Adam Driver. Schoonmaker has collaborated with Martin Scorsese for half a century. It also happened to be he birthday and Edelstein lead the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to the 77-year-old legendary filmmaker, who received a standing ovation.
“I’m thrilled that you’re honoring what some call the mysterious craft of film editing and the work that Martin Scorsese and I have been doing together. You have to sit in a room for months to really understand how editing works. And you’d probably find it very boring as we go back and forth, back and forth on the same material but I think it is the greatest job in the world,” Schoonmaker said. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with Martin Scorsese on 23 feature films and documentaries over a period of some 50 years. When I met him, I knew nothing about editing, nothing, he just taught me from the beginning. And as our relationship changed, from student and teacher to collaborator, he has never failed to let me go along with him on the challenges he’s set for himself with every film.”
“Moulin Rouge” director Baz Luhrmann presented the final award for best picture to Damien Chazelle for “La La Land.” Luhrman said in his introduction, “nothing quite unifies audiences like the music cinema form. It can make the soul soar. It can make the heart sing and it can just unify us.”
Luhrman noted the passing of musical film legend Debbie Reynolds and mentioned that her “Singin’ in the Rain” director and film choreographer Stanley Donen, at 94, was alive and a great supporter of the genre.
“La La Land” director and writer Damien Chazelle accepted the best picture award with lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, along with producers Marc Platt and Fred Berger. Chazelle said in his acceptance speech, “In a movie, emotion can override the reality reflected on the screen. I think you can draw a straight line from that idea to every musical ever made.”
At the end of the long evening, there was an enormous line of people – including the evening’s winners – waiting at coat check. Damien Chazelle was in back of me, and he already was making plans with another guest to meet when he returned to L.A.
Meanwhile Isabelle Huppert, in a long navy coat, momentarily left behind her award at her table as she was exiting the door. Sony Pictures Classics President Michael Barker reassured her, “I found it.” Huppert asked if he was sure it was hers. “Yes, I looked at it. Your name is on it.”
An Oscar would be a little harder to forget. And although the New York Film Critics Circle Awards are not little golden statuettes, many of the evening’s winners should probably brush up their speeches for the many awards shows ahead, including the Oscars.
Here’s a link to the complete list of winners: http://www.nyfcc.com/awards/.