Hollywood A-Listers turned up Feb. 7, 2014 in the freezing cold for the National Board of Review Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street to pay tribute to some of the most critically acclaimed movies and performances of the year. This is the final New York glitzy awards shindig before the action shifts to L.A. for the Golden Globes.
The NBOR gala is a glittery and convivial three-hour affair where the celebrity wattage mixes with other big-name stars. The winners are announced in advance so there’s no stress or angst. There are also no television cameras and plenty of booze, so everyone’s relaxed.
Celebrities on the red carpet included “The Wolf of Wall Street” screenwriter Terence Winter; Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer (“Fruitvale Station’); Will Forte and Bruce Dern (“Nebraska”); Berenice Bejo (“The Past”); Rob Reiner, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jon Favreau (“The Wolf of Wall Street”); Sarah Polley (“Stories We Tell”); and Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”).
Octavia Spencer kicked off her heels and asked photographers not to photograph her from the knees down. A journalist asked, How does it feel to be nominated? “Actually I’m winner tonight,” she laughed. She received best supporting actress honors for “Fruitvale Station.”
“To be part of a film that is so well received,” Spencer said of the movie, is “an honor, and also representing a man who’s lost his life. I feel like an aunt watching a beautiful baby being born.”
When I mentioned I’d love to see her in a starring role where she has love scenes, she laughed, “Me and you both, honey.” As for whether she’s getting those offers, she told me, “No, no, but you know, I’m also the type of person, I don’t wait for anyone to do anything for me. I’m all about creating opportunities. I think the majority of the filmmakers here tonight being honored, if they waited for anyone to give them the opportunities, they would not be the people and the luminaries in our industry. I’m not one to wait,” she laughed. “As you see, I kicked my shoes off.”
She was also looking forward to the three hours ahead and mingling with other A-listers. “I’m going to start running up and tackling people,” she told me.
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I asked Terence Winter, who won for best adapted screenplay for “The Wolf of Wall Street,” how he answered critics who said his film glorified real-life fraudster Jordan Belfort and his lifestyle of orgies, drug-taking and overspending.
“I kind of scratch my head, because when I look at this depiction of this kind of behavior, that anyone would think this is something that any sane person would want to emulate or find admirable in any way,” he laughed, it’s hard for him to understand. “It’s an accurate depiction of some really bad behavior, and I can’t understand how anybody would come away with the idea that this is actually promoting that.”
Ryan Coogler, who won the directing debut award for “Fruitvale Station,” told me he was still recovering from the New York Film Critics Circle gala, where he was also honored. “When I got home, I was still awake for a while and I watched the National Championship, the football game, so I was like riled from that, seeing such a good game.”
How is he pacing himself for all awards hoopla?
“I kind of don’t,” Coogler replied. “It’s my first time ever doing it. It’s been intense. I have a newfound respect for this last part of filmmaking, this part of engaging with the press.”
He added, “I have a new respect for what you guys do. It’s been a first-time experience and it has been tough to keep up my energy at times, but when you look over and you’ve got an event like this and I see some of my heroes and actors that I love to watch, and directors whose films I loved watching since I was a kid, it gives me a little burst to keep going.”
The hardest part of the awards hustle is finding the time to write his next script, he told me. He’s working on “Creed,” a Rocky spin off starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan. He steals time where he can, by “writing in airplanes, hotel lobbies, anytime I can get into a little corner. I keep my laptop with me at all times, but that’s the biggest challenge, finding the time.”
Will Forte seemed stunned to be receiving a best supporting award. The role of Bruce Dern’s son in “Nebraska,” he told me, “came out of nowhere. I read the script and thought it was wonderful and sent in a tape of myself doing a couple of the scenes, and Alexander [Payne] responded to it. I still am shocked. I get to be in this movie, and it’s just been the experience of a lifetime.”
Forte added that Dern is completely unlike the cantankerous, nutty guy he plays in the film. “He’s so easy to get along with. He’s just a vibrant, friendly, fun, spunky person,” he said. “The whole experience has been great and he’s one of the main reasons for it.”
Emma Thompson joked and talked to everyone on the red carpet. Her new blond bob elicited many comments, including a question from a male journalist as to whether she’s a natural blond. “Of course,” she laughed, before confessing she was not. As to what inspired the new do? “Just trying to look glam,” she told me.
I asked her what she thought was the most surprising thing she learned about the acerbic and difficult “Mary Poppins” writer J.L. Travers.
“She was a very good dancer, and she was quite interested in clothes and quite vain and all of that. And attached to that, she had rather an intellectual sort of searching personality. She followed [Indian mystic/spiritualist] Krishnamurti, and it was interesting to me that that also went with rather a Dionysian side. She could do the Bacchanal as well as being rather earnest and humorless and difficult after all.”
About this time, Meryl Streep in glasses and an oversized coat walked quickly on the red carpet and hugged Emma Thompson, to whom she later presented the best actress award.
Lee Daniels (“The Butler”) was the last person to come in out of the cold and walk the red carpet. Later he presented the best directing debut honor to Ryan Coogler.
Someone asked, How did he manage to keep warm?
“I’m not! I just came back from Fiji, and then I went from Fiji to Los Angeles, so I’m stuck without anything,” he wailed, about his lack of suitably warm clothing. A journalist offered him her coat, but he reassured her he had a car outside.
I asked what it meant to him to be presenting the award to a new, young director.
“When you’re a filmmaker, you’re a minority as it is. As filmmakers, we are all minorities. We’re gypsies. We’re not looked on as 9 to 5’ers like bankers, doctors, lawyers,” Daniels said. “But as a black filmmaker, he’s a minority within the minority, so I’m so honored to give this award tonight because I know that in the future, his lens won’t be the lens of critics. His lens won’t be the lens of the majority. And they will think that he’s out of his mind, but that’s his truth. That’s my truth. And he speaks for the people who don’t have a voice. And like with ‘Precious,’ faces that don’t want to be seen, people don’t want to see them.”
But invisibility won’t be a problem for this fabulous crowd of filmmakers, who are now in L.A. for the Golden Globes and numerous parties, receptions, ceremonies, benefits and other glittery events.