The glitzy awards action moves to Los Angeles tonight for the Golden Globes, but the stars and filmmakers who are being honored practiced their speeches and red carpet posing in New York last week. It began Monday with the New York Film Critics Circle Awards gala at TAO Downtown where A-list actors Michael Keaton and Saoirse Ronan received top acting prizes for “’Spotlight” and “Brooklyn,” respectively.
Michael Keaton plays the editor who heads the investigative team at the Boston Globe that uncovered sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy. Saoirse Ronan, who portrays a young Irish girl trying to discover herself and how she fits into her new world in America when she immigrates, is an Oscar frontrunner when only recently — when the film premiered at the New York Film Festival — she was considered a wild card for the little gold statuette. Both actors got the opportunity to polish up their speeches for the awards season that is just beginning to be televised.
Kristen Stewart was the superstar at the New York Film Critics gala. She made a late entrance on the red carpet to a flurry of flashbulbs and excited journalists with audio recorders who couldn’t even get close to her. Security guards quickly surrounded her and spirited her away to a table near the podium, where she sat with “Still Alice” co-star Julianne Moore, who later presented her with the award for best supporting actress for the little seen showbiz drama, “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Directed by Olivier Assayas, Stewart plays the personal assistant to a star played by Juliet Binoche, in a movie that was released well over a year ago, too late for Oscar consideration.
Post-“Twilight,” the Assayas film reveals the actress has real acting chops. But if you need more evidence of that, catch her in Tim Blake Nelson’s “Anesthesia,” where she is phenomenal as a desperately lonely student trying to find a way to connect with people. Stewart had no problem connecting with the crowd at Tao, where she expressed her surprise and pleasure at being recognized by a tony crowd like the New York Critics. The only movie awards she was used to getting, she noted, were the MTV “Popcorns,” little statuettes in the form of old-fashioned popcorn boxes.
The New York Film Critics group choices may not be bellwethers of what is nominated for Oscars, but what is more significant is that their choices often have historical significance. In 1943, the New York critics chose the Orson Welles classic “Citizen Kane” as the best film of the year, while the Oscar went to “How Green Was My Valley.” Although the John Ford film, which stars Maureen O’Hara is a gem, “Citizen Kane” is described as one of the best films of all times.
Speaking of Maureen O’Hara, Liam Neeson presented Saoirse Ronan with her best actress award and compared her to a young Maureen O’Hara, who also became famous when she was only a teenager. Ronan, who is an old hand at this awards stuff, was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for “Atonement” when she was a mere 13 and now she has a real shot at an Oscar nomination for best actress. In her acceptance speech, the actress, who was born in the Bronx but moved to Dublin when she was three, said, “Saoirse from the Block is what they call me,” referring to the Jennifer Lopez song, “But with a little more attitude,” she joked. (Everyone is sure to mangle her first name this awards season.)
Edward Lachman, honored for his gorgeous cinematography in “Carol,” was elegant in a fedora and nearly overlooked by crazed photographers jousting for photographs of Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins. The actors were there to accept the award for Ennio Marricone, who was not there but honored for his music for “The Hateful Eight.”
One of the thrills of the evening was getting to chat with Lachman, a movie legend who has collaborated with director Todd Haynes for some 14 years on films that include “Mildred Pierce” and “Far From Heaven.” He told me that because New York is his hometown, this was the most important critic festival to him.
“I don’t read the Los Angeles Times,” he told me. He said of Richard Brody, the New Yorker film critic, “He just wrote the most beautiful piece about ‘Carol’ and my work.” He noted, “It’s hard to write about images, so I find critics in New York are a lot more aware about why you create the images and so I’m always inspired by that.”
Based on a story by Patricia Highsmith, “Carol” is a love story set in 1950’s New York, and is seen through the viewpoint of Therese, a photographer who falls in love with Carol, the older, elegant and more sophisticated woman. I asked how Therese how being a photographer informed the cinematographer’s work.
“The film is about a subjective viewpoint emotionally with the characters and first love, so being a photographer was a great way into her world,” Lachman told me. “You could see a perception of how she thought and felt about things, and at the time we were looking at mid-century photographs like Ruth Orkin, Esther Bubly and Helen Levitt. And then at that time when we shot the film a little over two years ago, Vivian Maier was just coming to recognition, so what a great character to think about because she was also documenting herself as much as she was documenting the world that she was around. So that was a perfect representation and metaphor for Therese, Rooney Mara’s character.”
“Carol” screenwriter Phyllis Nagy is getting lots of practice writing speeches for all the awards she’s racked up. Nagy is an acclaimed dramatist whose plays have run in London. She also wrote and directed “Mrs. Harris,” the 2005 miniseries that earned 12 Emmy nominations.
Now a frontrunner for best screenwriter, I jokingly told her that with all the accolades for the Weinstein Company film she has received so far, she could probably do whatever she wants next.
“You never say that,” she laughed. “I do have more opportunities, yes, that’s for sure.”
I asked Nagy if she’s learned anything about herself during the endless red carpets this awards season. “I learned I have more patience that I thought,” she laughed. “That’s pretty much what I’ve learned. You are who you are. I’m much nicer than I thought I was.”
Todd Haynes told me he opens his reviews but he can’t bear to read the whole thing. “If I just look at it, my head spins, but my boyfriend checks things for me and he tells me what it says.” As for how he polishes up his thank you speeches and finds new things to say, he told me he is not thinking too far ahead. “I just kind of take each one at a time.”
Michael Keaton told journalists on the red carpet that he didn’t read movie reviews, especially of his films. “I often go – and this is not a good thing – ‘Oh, that’s right, somebody’s going to write about this.’’
But he’s probably his most severe critic. “I pretty much just enjoy making the movie. I haven’t really seen any of my movies, for, I don’t know, a bunch of years. I only saw this and I saw ‘Birdman.’”