Women rule at the 83rd New York Film Critics Awards ceremony

ScreenerBlog

Talk about a Girls Trip! The New York Film Critics Circle passed out its 83rd set of awards on Jan. 3 at Tao Downtown in Manhattan. Far and away, the big winners were the former fairer sex. From parity and equal-pay-for-equal-play to sexual harassment and #MeToo, the critics’ pick couldn’t have been a more reflective sign of the times.

Women were winners, either directly or indirectly, in eight out of 13 categories. One was a former member of this august group—the inestimable Molly Haskell, honored with a special award for her considerable Career Achievement. Her late husband, critic Andrew Sarris, said she knew it was time to give up film criticism when, racing to a screening, she hopped in a taxi and told the driver, “1600 Broadway, 12th Floor.”

Director Sean Baker and supporting-actor Willem Dafoe put in their prize-winning work via The Florida Project, a film that focuses on young girls and single moms who inhabit slum hotels in the shadow of Disney World. Otherwise, it was pretty much an uninterrupted bow to the ladies, starting with Best Picture (Lady Bird from debuting director Greta Gerwig) and its Best Actress title player (Saoirse Ronan).

The award for Best Documentary went to Faces Places, an update from French director Agnes Varda on her life and travels at age 88. Rachel Morrison became the first woman to win the cinematography prize (and could be the first to crack the Oscar category) for Mudbound, a post-World War II Dixie-rustic melodrama and the movie that Otto Preminger might have wished that his Hurry Sundown had been.

Another surprising critics’ choice that could soon be echoed by the Motion Picture Academy in the Best Supporting Actress category is Tiffany Haddish. Just as she did in Girls Trip, she hilariously hijacked the awards ceremony. (Being from South Central Los Angeles, she bristles defensively if anyone says she “stole” something.)

Haddish thanked the group by doing what comes naturally to her—an 18-minute standup routine. Sallying forth, swinging a cocktail the Tao bar staff had concocted for the occasion out of Finlandia grapefruit vodka, yuzu citrus and a smidgen of pomegranate (a homage to her special grapefruit demonstration, which earned Girls Trip a hard-R rating), she said, “I always call it the Tiffany martini. It’s delicious. I had two, and I do feel like magic.” Then, she proceeded to set the bar for raunch.

First, she inspected the award to make sure her name was spelled right (“When I ran track, they spelled my name wrong”). Then she launched into her thanks, which she extended all the way back to God “because, without God, my mom and daddy wouldn’t have put their two uglies together and made me. That was all God right there. He put two crazy people together to make just one awesome crazy person.”

Siskel and Ebert were the only critics she knew—“and when they passed, I was like, ‘Oh, well’”—but she was appreciative of the words from the reviewers in the room.

“If you say something, thank you. I don’t care if it’s positive or negative. I appreciate you. I’m glad you see me, because it’s been so many years when nobody saw me. When you’re a little kid going through the system, you wonder, ‘Does anybody even know I’m alive?’ To be able to be this example to so many people like me—that you have no clue about—but they’re coming, because I kicked the fucking door open.”

It was a hard act to follow. Poor Edward Norton, who had to—in order to introduce Dafoe—cracked wise and got a laugh: “This is awkward, but Tiffany gave my speech word for word.” Dafoe, too, was sheepish: “I feel a little white, and a little boring.”

Haddish’s name surfaced a few other times during the three-hour event. Lesley Manville, who plays Daniel Day-Lewis’ sister in Phantom Thread, came bearing a message from director Paul Thomas Anderson when she picked up his award for Best Screenplay: “Get a pen and paper ready, Tiffany. It says, ‘Tiffany, I know everyone wants to work with you now, but please may I cut to the front of the line?’”

Timothée Chalamet—at 22, the youngest Best Actor winner in NYFCC history—gave Haddish a raucous shout-out in his acceptance speech: “Tiffany, you know grapefruits very well—I know peaches.” (In Call Me By Your Name, he plays a teenager in full bisexual bloom who is not above a fast affair with a fuzzy fruit.)

Chalamet decided an actor’s life was for him when he saw Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight and found it hard to fathom that he was receiving the same NYFCC Best Actor award that Ledger won a dozen years ago for Brokeback Mountain

Currently, Chalamet’s with The Dark Knight’s Batman, Christian Bale, in Hostiles and is one of Ronan’s beaus in Lady Bird. (He proudly reported he was recognized at the bar earlier as “that douchebag from Lady Bird.”) Both are New York City-born and entering NYFCC’s Best Actor and Best Actress winners circle together, like a prom.

This is not Ronan’s first time at the NYFCC rodeo. In 2015 she was their Best Actress as the Irish immigrant in Brooklyn.  Now, she’s regressed to a 17-year-old—a close-to-the mark stand-in for writer-director Gerwig during her Sacramento school days.

“I think the reason why women have related to Lady Bird—and girls and women have really taken it as their own story—is because the main character isn’t validated by a boy,” said Ronan. “A lot of times, in coming-of-age films, that’s the one goal.”

Gerwig had the unique distinction of introducing to the gathering this filmic facsimile of herself. “For months, she had been living in my imagination and the words on the page,” she remembered about doing her very first script-reading with Ronan, “and then suddenly, there she was, existing in front of me. From that moment until right now, Lady Bird was a collaboration between the two of us.”

At the end of the evening, Gerwig returned to collect her Best Director prize and deliver a “back at ya” speech to the critics honoring her. It seems she had to come East to get “infected” with film. While at Barnard College here, she and her best friend [Chris Welch, who happened to be in the audience] would ritualistically read the opening-day movie reviews every Friday—sometimes out loud at each other the parts they liked best—and then troop off to the cinemas to see for themselves.

“Film criticism was part of my film education,” she explained. “Reviews pointed me to other films that I should go see and different ways that pieces of art could be considered. They deepened my understanding of film, and they challenged my ideas.

“I have been floored by the support that Lady Bird has received from this community of film critics, and I am very moved by it,” she continued. “Independent cinema relies on voices of some writers to connect to an audience. It is impossible without you. Your response to my work over the time that I’ve spent as an actor and a writer has harkened me and pushed me and made me want to be a better artist. It has enabled me to be brave and to take big steps. This is my first solo writing-and-directing effort, and this award means more to me than I can express. It has given me the confidence to keep going and to keep making film and to keep trying to find ways to express myself in this art of cinema that we all love so much.”

There were a few good men who picked up awards during the course of the evening:  Jordan Peele won for Best First Film with a skin-crawling racial horror-show, Get Out; Robin Campillo won for Best Foreign Language Film with his depiction of AIDS activists in early 1990s Paris, BPM (Beats Per Minute); and Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina won for Best Animated Film, Coco, the fourth Pixar flick so honored.

The NYFCC 2017 ceremony was dedicated to the memory of Richard Schickel, a Circle member who died in February. Other ghosts haunting the proceedings: director Jonathan Demme, a frequent guest at these ceremonies and in 1990 an award recipient for The Silence of the Lambs, and Dan Talbot, New Yorker Films chief who died last week at the age of 91, mere days after it was announced that his Lincoln Plaza Cinema, a art-house oasis on the Upper West Side, would close on Jan. 28.

“The demise of both virtually within the same week,” remarked Haskell during her award acceptance speech, “does seem kind of like the end of an era. The late ’60s and early ’70s was a fantastic age. It wasn’t the golden age of movies. People don’t even call it that. It was really kind of a golden age of criticism. It wasn’t that the criticism was better. I think there is just an unbelievably high level of film criticism today, and for a film critic, it’s daunting. But it was a smaller world… Everybody was talking about film. It wasn’t as diffuse as it is today, so there was tremendous excitement.

“And, at the time, it was a time when women were emerging and women’s roles were being done, and that’s where I came in. It just seemed natural to me to take an interest in men’s and women’s roles. I always called myself a feminist, which a lot of people weren’t doing at the time, but I did say I was a film critic first and a feminist second. I always felt my first allegiance was to film as an art form, and I still think it.

“Through the decades, women worked, and people would always say, ‘This is the year of the woman.’ It’ll be Oscar time, and ‘it’s the year of the woman,’ but actually, remarkably little progress was being made—until 2017. This moment of reckoning turned into a groundswell. It’s really a revolution. Monuments have toppled. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying, and we don’t know how it’s going to play out.

“As far as women’s roles [go], I can’t quite believe how really great the year’s been for women. They’re wild and scary and fearless.” Among her handy cases-in-point: “the two women in I, Tonya and [Frances] McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—and then the performances you are honoring tonight…”

Male-bonding movies have been something of a cinematic given for years. What Haskell really wants to know is: “Where were the female-bonding movies? In real life, in my experience, women do more bonding than men but not in the movies.”

She spied two worthy examples among the honorees: Lady Bird, “where the heroine, after her two lovers sort of play out, is reunited with her girlfriends,” and Girls Trip, “which is wilder and raunchier than any Rat Pack invention you could imagine.” 

“Yeah, man,” Haddish boomed forth from the audience, “you really got it.”