Film Awards

THE 2003 NBR AWARDS CEREMONY

By • Dec 24th, 2003 •

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I’ve been to all but two of these events over the last 25 years. I’ve even produced ten of them. And so I can say, with a reasonable approximation of authority, that there has never been a more successful gala then there was on Tuesday, January 13th, and it was immensely pleasing to be there, uninvolved except as a proud NBR member, soaking in the energy and joy of the evening.

At the '97 NBR's, Rocco Simonelli Thanks Denis Leary for turning down the lead in

Credit for this can be split into three areas:

First is the dedicated team who toiled ceaselessly for the months preceding the evening, including NBR’s recently elected President Annie Schulhof, who dove into her first awards event with great determination; the dedicated team of Bob Policastro and his elegant cohort Carol Rapoport – entitled ‘Gala Chairs’ though no moniker could have been farther from the truth, since they hardly got to sit down; former NBR President Inez Glucksman, who whipped up the most comprehensive and useful Gala journal we’ve ever had; and Megan Henry Pilla , NBR’s Publicist (our name has been everywhere since the early December vote results). Kudos must be doled out, as well, to Bd Member/filmmaker/film historian John Gallagher, who always scripts the event so cleverly, and succinctly.

Second: for reasons perhaps in part relating to the pristine results of the NBR teamwork, but this we can never know for sure, the performances of the presenters and recipients rose to a level of eloquence I may have only seen once or twice before.

And lastly, we cannot discount the contribution of Fate, because the event fell smack in between the two worst cold fronts we’ve had in NYC since World War II. Less than twenty-four hours after we’d wrapped, planes were being turned away from our airports. But the night of the gala we had tolerable, invigoratingly cold weather. Clearly someone, or something, was on our side that night.

Who could have predicted that all these elements would have fallen into place. Instead of a ‘perfect storm’, we had a ‘perfect event.’ There were those who carped – it wouldn’t be America if they didn’t, right – about the evening running fifteen minutes too long…about our Master of Ceremonies being a little out of his element…etc. [I myself felt there were probably two awards too many.] But these were mere trivialities when balanced against the evening’s successes. I left feeling that if I never attended another NBR gala, I had lived to see it reach its zenith

And now for the details.

Again, as over the past several years, we were in that Hollywood set disguised as a restaurant, Tavern on the Green. As I sit here writing and reminiscing, the mournful, passionate score from THE LAST SAMURAI is playing on my stereo system, setting the mood. This CD, as well as a dozen others, were stacked on my table like some avant-garde architecture, along with books, hats, NBR flashlights, a miniature model of Harvey Pekar from AMERICAN SPLENDOR complete with bobbing head – in short a virtual holiday grab bag of film-related goodies to help us relive the evening. I can remember when all one took away was a folded program.

My brother, Lewis, a fellow member of the Board of Directors, was not in attendance for the first time in twenty years. His wife, Alana, was hosting another event that evening. She asked him which one he was planning to go to. He replied, “Yours.” To which she replied, “Smart decision.” My wife Janet and I sat at his table in the company of his son Timothy, daughter Amber, five of their friends, and Jill Krementz, wife of Kurt Vonnegut.

Before dinner there had been drinking, hors d’oeuvres, schmoozing and star gazing from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. School of Visual Arts Film Chairman Reeves Lehmann corralled Sophia Coppola. Mike Ruggiero, head of Acquisitions at the IFC Channel, strolled by. I spotted New Line President Bob Shaye, who I’ve known very slightly over the years since my friend Wes Craven put his company on the map with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I approached Shaye and told him that I was happy New Line was going into production on one of my screenplays, SLAY THE BULLY! He admitted to not having read it, but confirmed that the feeling around the company was very high about the project. Then he paused and added “Next time I hope you pick a better title…”

The lights began to blink. Janet and I headed to our seats. The appetizers were already waiting for us, though what they were, we were never quite sure at the time. (They were Seasonal Vegetable Napoleans with Goat Cheese, Baby Greens & Balsamic Dressing [if menu prose imitates proper film credit etiquette, then an ampersand means they were placed on the goat cheese together, whereas an ‘and’ would have meant that one got up on the goat cheese first, followed later by the other]) Nonetheless I ate half of mine, and the closest I could come to identifying it was thinking that it probably provided my daily minimums of both vegetables and cholesterol. Meanwhile, John Gallagher was at one of the front tables, sitting against the podium curtain, distracting us all with his stunning blonde companion.

Next came the main course: Pan-Seared Striped Bass in Lemon Beurre Blanc, on a bed of Vegetable CousCous and garnished with Garlic Spinach. It was the safe and tasty choice, and as I poked at that, and nursed my wine, I kept staring back at a man at the table behind us.

Finally it dawned on me. I excused myself, went over to his table, leaned in toward him and said, “Paul?” He turned, looked at me, and rose, saying “The face looks familiar.” “38 years ago,” I replied, “at Tulane University. I’m Roy Frumkes. You were in the Theater Department, I was the Entertainment Editor of the school newspaper.” He remembered, or certainly seemed to. I was happy to see him again, after all this time, and to tell him how pleased I’d been at his career, first on Starsky and Hutch, then directing features like THE RUNNING MAN. When he asked me what I was up to, I told him I’d produced ten features, all of them independent. He said that he was writing indie scripts now, and that we should stay in touch. Paul Michael Glaser had been the star performer at Tulane. The University’s theater department in the ‘60’s, and its publication ‘The Tulane Drama Review,’ were hailed all over the country. Experimental theater director Richard Schechner was the head of the department. I never became friendly with Schechner, but he did make me aware that Tuna and Swiss on rye tasted better than a plain Tuna sandwich, and for that I’m grateful.

However, in the final analysis I’m a dessert man, and soon there came two alternating delicacies: Glazed Banana Passion Fruit Tarts with Passion Fruit Sorbet, and Dark Chocolate Caramel Tortes with Fresh Whipped Cream. Did I also mention that I’m a chocoholic? I got myself sick wolfing down those desserts.

Finally the ceremony started. Charles Busch (star of this year’s DIE MOMMIE, DIE!) was our Master of Ceremonies, following in the footsteps of such notables as Tony Randall, Jose Ferrer (a run of six years, curtailed only by his death), Peter Reigert, Jerry Orbach, Rita Moreno, Stacy Keach, Cliff Robertson & Dina Merrill, Robert Preston, Richard Brown, Ron Silver, Lynn Redgrave, Jane Powell & Dickie Moore, Eli Wallach & Anne Jackson, and Chazz Palminteri. Though Busch’s frame of reference was a little outside the mainstream, he was nonetheless warm, articulate, and moved things along at a jaunty pace, which is the most important thing an NBR emcee must do.

Now I didn’t bring a tape recorder, so I’m going to be paraphrasing here. The lineup of presenters and recipients was stupefying. Here are some highlights.

Best Supporting Actor: Alec Baldwin for THE COOLER. A tanned and theatrical Christopher Plummer introduced Baldwin, both doling out praise and touching on a negative attribute or two…but somehow keeping it affectionate. Baldwin asked if anyone could tell from Plummer’s delivery that he was currently appearing in King Lear. He also said he’d never won an award before, which took the audience by surprise.

Male Breakthrough Performance: Paul Giamatti in AMERICAN SPLENDOR. Introduced by Stanley Tucci, who depicted the winner as a man who read and acted, and had utterly no life beyond those two activities, by the time Giamatti took center stage he was regarded with reverent wonderment. And he was deferentially quite amusing.

Carol Rapoport, FIR's Editor, Laura Linney & Clint Eastwood at the NBR's screening of

Best Actor: Sean Penn, for both MYSTIC RIVER and 21 GRAMS. The introduction, by a reclusive Robert de Niro, triggered a wave of awe in the audience. Penn walked up to the podium, receiving a spontaneous standing ovation (as opposed to an obligatory one, of which there were a few that evening), and I sensed it was because he is perceived as a bad boy who eschews this kind of public affair, but also as a serious artist. Turning to the audience, a pleased Penn first referred to the one-sheet of a grim, arms-folded Morgan Freeman, and asked if the crowd didn’t think that the lifetime-career-recipient seemed a bit disapproving of Penn’s receiving the award. The joke went over well, and he even mimicked the pose to drive the gag home. Then he delivered one of the memorable statements of the evening: “Russell Crowe has been a prick for ten years. (pause, while the laughter settled down) I’ve been a prick for twenty years.” The implication was clear – if Crowe got one, he deserved at least one. Very funny, very well taken.

Best Actress: Diane Keaton for SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. She looked beautiful and was full of the good old mannerisms we’ve all known her for, now slightly mellowed into a mature grace, and she commented that she was happy to receive an award for a film in which its two lead actors’ ages totaled a hundred and twenty-five.

Female Breakthrough Performance: Charlize Theron for MONSTER. There was no doubt she had to get some kind of award that night, even if it was for Best Make-up of the year (which it was). Suffering from stage fright, she admitted to seeing circles in front of her eyes, which was so cute, though having been alerted of that, I half expected her to pitch forward at any minute and land on one of the front tables. Given her nervous state, she got through about a million acknowledgments in no time at all, reading the list with the speed of an auctioneer.

Best Foreign Film: THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS. Presenter Dan Aykroyd barreled up onto the stage, imbued with lunatic energy, and burst into song – “Hey, Everybody…!”, exhorting the assembled throng to join in. It was a Blues Brothers moment, I guess, and the audience loved it even while they didn’t know what to make of it. His intro to Denys Arcand, the Canadian director, was slightly more low key, informed, and complimentary. When Arcand took the stage, he confessed that he’d been urged to be funny, but after that intro, he was not going to attempt it.

Best Original Screenplay: Jim Sheridan and daughters Naomi & Kirsten for IN AMERICA. The main thing I took away from their delightfully anecdotal acceptance speeches was how both of Sheridan’s daughters charmingly pronounced the word ‘film’ as ‘filum’.

Kathy Baker, presenting to Anthony Minghella for Best Adapted Screenplay (COLD MOUNTAIN), was clearly an adorable person, shooting impish looks at her peers. Very pretty in person, too, in a muppetish kind of way. I even got a cute smile from her myself.
Clare Danes, another presenter with a comical yet beautiful face, begged off improvising, but then proceeded to pepper her prepared script with sharp little asides. In fact, all but about two or three of the presenters and presenteds were in their finest articulation mode. Those who fell a few choice words short included Hope Davis and Jeffrey Wright.

The Ensemble Award: LORD OF THE RINGS. Several of the cast members came up, including three hobbits and Liv Tyler. What was weird about this was how she towered over the rest of them, suggesting to me that there might have been fewer forced perspective special effects than I’d thought. The acceptance speech was given by Sean Astin , who played Sam in the films, a character I’d grown pretty bored with by the third part, until things suddenly got rather dark and I really grew to like him.

The Billy Wilder Award for a Career in Directing was given to Norman Jewison. I’d been on the set of THE CINCINNATI KID back when I was in college in New Orleans, and had found it inspiring to watch Jewison work, and to meet Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Steve McQueen and Ann Margaret. I even made the cover of American Cinematographer Magazine in 1965, hovering near Jewison as he directed a scene on location at the Royal Orleans Hotel. It was good to see him receive this award, and he seemed thrilled, as well as a bit incoherent, referring to us more than once as “The New York Board of Review”, and imploring us that Canada and the US should be friends. His intro had been delivered by a truly eccentric John Patrick Shanley (screenwriter of MOONSTRUCK), hunched over, talking like someone out of Damon Runyon, tossing the pages of his speech over his shoulder as he finished each one — and a great speech it was.

Best Film: MYSTIC RIVER. Janet kept pestering me about how they could give it Best Film and not give Eastwood Best Director. That’s a question I’ve heard often over the years, and while sometimes I can explain it, all I can say most of the time is that it boils down to the intricacies of a group vote. Clint Eastwood was introduced by Laura Linney, and he was the only recipient of the evening to drag others up with him, namely his two intimidated producers who stuttered out their words of thanks. Clint later returned to the podium to present:

Roy Frumkes greets Morgan Freeman at The 1989 D.W. Griffith Awards Ceremony, unaware of what was coming....

The Career Achievement in Film Award to Morgan Freeman who, by 10:40, suggested that although he’d prepared some words, he agreed with a previous recipient that “…we all gotta pee” and cut it short. I wondered if he’d remembered his last, precedent-setting appearance at our Awards Ceremony. It was back in 1989, on my watch. He was presenting an award to Denzel Washington, and took the opportunity to chide the Board, in a painless enough way, about the irony of his being asked to present a ‘D W Griffith’ Award, as it was called then, and to be presenting it to another black actor no less. Cut to the following year, and the Award’s name had been changed from “D W Griffith” to ‘NBR’.

As part of the prelude to Hans Zimmer’s Achievement in Filmusic Award, a deft montage of film and score clips of the composer’s work had been prepared. In fact, knowledge and taste had been hallmarks of all the edited clips shown that evening, save for one: as an intro to Ed Zwick’s Best Directing award, the clip chosen for THE LAST SAMURAI felt improper, a battle sequence reeking of second unit work. Something that better showed off the ‘imminence’ of the cinematography and the sense of the Zwick’s direction would have been more appropriate. But all the clips, I’m told, were prepared by the studios, so I’m glad I loved as many of them as I did.

Janet’s favorite presenters were Tom Brokaw (to Errol Morris for THE FOG OF WAR) and Lauren Bacall (for the Ensemble Award). We talked about these, and the other celebs, all the way home, and will be recounting the highlights of the evening to friends for many weeks to come. I wish our loyal readers all could have been there.

As a postscript, let me mention that there were several lovely coffee-table books on our tables that evening, including ones for COLD MOUNTAIN (Newmarket Press), THE LAST SAMURAI (Time Inc Home Entertainment), and THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (Harper Collins), including pictures of Christopher Lee, who did not make the final theatrical cut, much to his fans’ chagrin.

And for those eager to get a little deeper into middle earth on an intellectual level, there’s another book which wasn’t on the tables that night which I can recommend: ‘Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon’ by Brian Rosebury (Palgrave Macmillan)

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