The 25th Annual IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards Monday night at Cipriani Wall Street officially kicked off the awards race.
The top prize went to “Spotlight,” Tom McCarthy’s movie about the Boston Globe investigative article on the child abuse scandal involving more than 100 priests. The film also received awards for screenwriting and ensemble.
There were some upsets and surprises. Paul Dano and Bel Powley won best actor awards, edging out veterans Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin, Blythe Danner, Michael Shannon and Peter Sarsgaard.
Paul Dano, who also appears in Paolo Sorrentino’s new movie, “Youth,” told me in the pressroom that the key to his portrayal of Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy” was delving into the music of the Beach Boys. “I do think that he is his music, and that was the source of his spirit for me.”
The 23-year-old Powley was stunned by her win. “I know, right? Cate Blanchett, Lily Tomlin?” said the actress incredulously to me in the pressroom. In “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” the British actress plays a sexually adventurous 15-year-old who has an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skasgard). Although she may be a newbie, she was savvy enough to thank all the appropriate people, including Sony Pictures Classics and director Marielle Heller.
“I mean, yeah, I’m really pleased to be here,” she told journalists who crowded around her in the pressroom. As for what appealed to her about the role, Powley said, “It’s the first really honest portrayal of a teenage girl I’d ever read. It felt like a story that needed to be told, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
This is Powley’s first feature, but she has seven films coming out by the end of next year. The list includes, “A Royal Night Out,” in which she plays Princess Margaret. Sarah Gadon plays Elizabeth and the two go out and celebrate the end of the War on V.E. Day in 1945. This part was less challenging than the one for which she was being honored. “That’s an easy and funny role to play, because all I had to do was drink champagne and fall over tables.”
As for her way of dealing with nerves and the stress of the awards events, Powley giggled, “This is actually the first event like this I’ve ever been to, so that was pretty nerve wracking.” But a gin and tonic did the trick, she confided.
Best documentary honors went to “The Look of Silence,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s film that follows an optician as he confronts the men who killed the brother he never knew during the 1965-66 Indonesian genocide.
The Gotham Independent Film Audience Award, voted by IFP members, went to “Tangerine,” director Sean Baker’s micro-budget comedy that was shot on iPhones. The movie follows two transgender sex workers on a wayward Christmas Eve revenge mission through the streets of L.A. “Tangerine” star Mya Taylor, who competed against her co-star Kitani Kiki Rodriguez, was voted the Breakthrough Actor award. Taylor, who lives in South Dakota, missed her flight and was unable to pick up her award.
Jonas Carpignano won the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director award, given to the director of a first feature, for “Mediterranea,” which chronicles two friends’ harrowing journey to cross the Mediterranean Sea to immigrate to Italy.
For the first time, the Gotham Awards presented two Breakthrough Series awards for achievement in episodic content in television and digital media. The Breakthrough Series – Long Form award winner was “Mr. Robot,” created by Sam Esmail. The USA Network series follows Elliot (Rami Malek), a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer by day and a vigilante hacker by night.
The Breakthrough Series – Short Form award went to “Shugs & Fats,” a comedy web series that follows two Hijabis striving to find themselves in New York by adopting the latest Western trends of self-expression and personal growth. “Shugs & Fats” was created by Nadia P. Manzoor and Radhika Vaz, who also star as the title characters. These two women are hysterically funny and charmed everyone in the pressroom in their glittering hijabis. I hope they are back next year to host the Gotham Awards.
The Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ grant, a $25,000 cash award for an alumna of IFP’s Independent Filmmaker & Screen Forward Labs, went to Chanelle Aponte Pearson, director of “195 Lewis,” a web series that follows a diverse group of young women as they navigate the realities of being black and queer in New York City.
Career Tributes were also given during the ceremony to actors Helen Mirren (presented by Robert De Niro) and Robert Redford (presented by Dan Rather), director Todd Haynes (presented by Julianne Moore) and producer Steve Golin (presented by Alejandro G. Iñarritu).
In his acceptance speech, Redford said that what touched him the most about the tribute was that he was being honored as an actor. “That’s how it all started for me. I began in this business in New York in the theater.”
Redford said in his youth he wasn’t prepared for success, but it felt good when it came. He also warned that “success has two sides to it, and for me with success, it was not something to embrace but to shadow box with. If you get too close, you run the risk of losing yourself, so I always figured success was something to be careful about, and one of the ways to be careful would be to create an equalizer, something to hedge against taking it too seriously and taking yourself too seriously. For me, that hedge or that equalizer was the word humility, something that’s obviously totally missing in the political debates these days.”
Helen Mirren’s speech touched on serious themes, like the importance of words and personal liberty and free speech, as well as the power of words to distort and bring harm. She got in a dig at Donald Trump. “What a beautiful and terrible thing words are, a conveyance for love and hatred and inspiration and stupidity… Donald Trump… meanness and generosity, kindness and cruelty.”
Robert De Niro, who presented Mirren with her award, told the audience he had never though of Queen Elizabeth 2 as sexy until he saw Dame Helen’s portrayal. So when Mirren accepted her award she rose to the bait and told her story about seeing “The Queen” – which earned her an Oscar – for the first time at the Venice Film Festival with her husband, director Taylor Hackford. The movie opens with her facing the camera in her wig and matronly Queenly regalia. Her husband had never seen her dressed as the Queen and he gave out a big guffaw. Using X-rated language, Mirren leaned over and asked her husband if he’d ever want to have sex with her again? She told the well-dressed crowd with a smirk that the answer was affirmative.
A Gotham Appreciation Award, a special recognition to honor an individual behind the scenes, was given to Ellen Cotter, who has overseen the Angelika Film Centers’ businesses for the past 15 years.
The Gotham Award ceremony was streamed live to a global audience at www.ifp.org.
The 25th Annual Gotham Independent Film Award recipients are:
For Best Feature, presented by John Turturro:
- Directed by Tom McCarthy
- Produced by Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, and Blye Pagan Faust
- Released by Open Road Films
- The Best Feature jury included Paul Haggis, Rebecca Hall, Jon Kilik, Lee Percy, and Jim Taylor.
For Best Documentary, presented by Cynthia Nixon:
The Look of Silence
- Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
- Produced by Signe Byrge Sørensen
- Released by Drafthouse Films
- The Best Documentary Jury included Zachary Heinzerling, Jennie Livingston, Peter Nicks, Dawn Porter, and Tracy Droz Tragos.
For the Gotham Independent Film Audience Award, presented by Rosie Perez:
- Directed by Sean Baker
- Produced by Darren Dean, Shih-Ching Tsou, Marcus Cox & Karrie Cox
- Released by Magnolia Pictures
- The Audience Award was voted for on-line by IFP members.
For Best Actor, presented by Glenn Close:
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy
- Released by Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate, and River Road Entertainment
- The Best Actor Jury included Grant Heslov, Sabine Hoffman, Melanie Lynskey, Paul Mezey, and Shonda Rhimes.
For Best Actress, presented by Harvey Keitel (presenting sponsor euphoria Calvin Klein):
Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl
- Released by Sony Pictures Classics
- The Best Actress Jury included Debra Granik, Lisa Kudrow, Daniel Minahan, Brian Oliver, and John Waters.
For Best Screenplay, presented by Matt Dillon:
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for Spotlight
- Released by Open Road Films
- The Best Screenplay Jury included Albert Berger, Andrew Fierberg, Courtney Hunt, David Schwab and Corey Stoll.
For Breakthrough Actor, presented by Sarah Paulson and Michael Shannon:
Mya Taylor, Tangerine
- Released by Magnolia Pictures
- The Breakthrough Actor Jury included Effie Brown, Mike Cahill, Fisher Stevens, Dylan Tichenor, and Tanya Wexler.
For Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director, presented by Julie Taymor:
Jonas Carpignano, Mediterranea
- Released by Sundance Selects
- The Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Jury included Paul Bettany, Ed Lachman, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Julie Taymor.
For Breakthrough Series – Long Form, presented by Mariska Hargitay:
- Sam Esmail, Creator
- USA Networks
- The Breakthrough Series – Long Form Jury included Tom Gilroy, Scott Hornbacher, Lars Knudsen, Alia Shawkat, and Lili Taylor.
For Breakthrough Series – Short Form, presented by Topher Grace:
Shugs & Fats
- Nadia P. Manzoor and Radhika Vaz, Creators
- The Breakthrough Series-Short Form Jury included Michelle Ashford, Mesh Flinders, Ryan O’Nan, Susan Stover and Derek Waters
Special Jury Award for Ensemble Performance, presented by Emmy Rossum:
- Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup, and Stanley Tucci
- Released by Open Road Films
For the euphoria Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers ‘Live the Dream’ Grant, presented by Lake Bell:
Chanelle Aponte Pearson, 195 Lewis