Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” which looks at the 1960’s Greenwich Village folk scene through the eyes of its title character, a dour but talented singer destined to fail (Oscar Isaac), won the top prize for Best Feature Film at the Gotham Independent Film Awards Monday night in Manhattan at Cipriani Wall Street.
The Gothams traditionally kicks off the awards season, but because it focuses on independent films, it is not considered a bellwether for the Oscars.
This is the first year the Gothams included awards for best actor and best actress, which in its inaugural year went to Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club” and Brie Larson for her turn in “Short Term 12.”
McConaughey couldn’t make it to the awards show because he is filming the hotly anticipated Christopher Nolan sci-fi thriller “Interstellar,” scheduled for release Nov. 7, 2014. But Jared Leto, who plays transgendered Rayon in “Dallas Buyers Club,” called McConaughey on the phone at the podium to give him the good news of his win.
The famously awards-adverse Coen brothers were also no-shows, although Oscar Isaac picked up their glass statue and chatted with journalists in the press room.
Larson was gobsmacked that she won for Best Actress and told me she wished she had prepared a speech, although she remembered to thank her all-important “Short Term 12” director Destin Cretton. She also thanked her entire family, including her stepfather, who paid her rent, as well as her sisters, her mother and her boyfriend Adam Greenwald, “for making me pasta and taking care of our puppies while I made this movie.” Larson bested Cate Blanchett who starred as an unhinged East Side society maven in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine.”
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The breakthrough director award went to 27-year-old Ryan Coogler for “Fruitvale Station,” and the breakthrough actor honor went to the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan. The Weinstein film is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident killed by white officers on the last day of 2008. The movie follows him during that fateful day as he interacts with friends, family, strangers and even an injured dog. In the press room, both director and star told me their next collaboration will be a boxing movie entitled “Creed,” co-starring Sylvester Stallone and Burt Young.
Also honored with a Gotham tribute was director Richard Linklater, whose film “Before Midnight” was nominated for Best Feature film. It stars and is co-written with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The director told me to check back in eight years to see if there’s a sequel, which Julie Delpy told me on the red carpet was a strong possibility.
The best documentary award went to Joshua Oppenheimer’s strange and haunting film, “The Act of Killing,” about the play-acting of the thugs who ran the death squads in Indonesia.
There was also a moving and emotional tribute to James Gandolfini by his pal Steve Buscemi. There’s been buzz lately that Gandolfini’s performance in the romantic comedy “Enough Said,” directed by Nicole Holofcener and co-starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, may result in an Oscar nomination for the late actor.
The audience this year was even ruder or maybe just more liquored up than usual. They talked non-stop through presentations and award speeches.
Forest Whitaker was honored with a special tribute that was presented by Lee Daniels, who directed him in “The Butler.” Daniels was so angry with the chatter during his speech that he told the audience to “Shut the f…k up.” Then Daniels talked about Whitaker’s humility and how the Oscar winner (“The Last King of Scotland” in 2006) even auditioned for the lead role in his film, which is about a butler who serves some seven presidents over five decades.
Later, Daniels mentioned the advice Whitaker gave him, that he should keep his anger in and not become “a stereotypical angry black man.” It was bizarre and yet very like the iconoclastic director.
In a study in contrast, Whitaker, who produced “Fruitvale Station,” was very zen and gave a thoughtful and elegant speech. “When I approach a character, I’m attempting to pull away the veils as I uncover the soul of the person that I’m portraying,” the actor-producer-director said.
On the red carpet, I was very happy to see Isaiah Washington, who wore a Nehru jacket and was in all black. In 2007, Washington left “Grey’s Anatomy” under considerable controversy. This year, he was nominated for Best Actor for his starring role in “Blue Caprice,” a psychological thriller about the Beltway sniper attacks from the perspective of the two killers. The film is directed by first-time director Alexandre Moors, who was also nominated for the breakthrough director award.
Unlike all the other big-name stars, Washington had no handlers or publicists. He came right over to me when I called out his name and seemed truly humbled and grateful to be in the best actor category with Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey, Oscar Isaac and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was favored to win for “12 Years a Slave.”
Washington has been busy since he left the hit television series, and he rattled off all the titles of movies and productions he’s now working on and then graciously introduced his wife of 17 years, Jenisa Marie Washington.
Moors, who is French, told me of Washington, “I’ve always been a big fan of his, especially the work he’s done in the 90’s, like ‘True Crime’ particularly, a role that I would never forget. He plays like a convict and the audience wonders throughout the film if he’s innocent or guilty. I’m still wondering. It’s what we needed for ‘Blue Caprice.”
As for whether “Blue Caprice” is Washington’s comeback, the director laughed. “I didn’t even know he needed a comeback.”
Comic Nick Kroll continued the masochistic tradition of hosts bombing at the Gothams. On the red carpet, he told me how he prepared for that night’s duties: “I was a cutter for many years, and so I felt like when I stopped cutting myself I needed to figure out a new way to inflict pain. So I thought I’d host an awards ceremony at a very high ceiling dome filled with people who don’t want to do business with each other anymore.”
Here is the complete list of winners of the Gotham Awards:
BEST FEATURE: “Inside Llewyn Davis,” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, directors; Scott Rudin, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, producers (CBS Films).
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Focus Features).
BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson in “Short Term 12” (Cinedigm).
BINGHAM RAY BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler for “Fruitvale Station” (The Weinstein Company).
BREAKTHROUGH ACTOR: Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station” (The Weinstein Company).
BEST DOCUMENTARY: “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer, director; Signe Byrge, Joshua Oppenheimer, producers (Drafthouse Films).
SPOTLIGHT ON WOMEN FILMMAKERS ‘LIVE THE DREAM’ GRANT: “ Beneath the Harvest Sky,” Gita Pullapilly, director.
AUDIENCE AWARD: “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings,” Tadashi Nakamura, director; Donald Young, producer (Center for Asian American Media and PBS).