Film Awards


By • Dec 23rd, 2004 •

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“Wasn’t that the best dinner? I didn’t have lunch, so that helped. That fishy thing…it was so good, and it was easy to eat with one hand, allowing you to shake hands with the other. I was blown away.”

All those encomiums referring, of course, to the elegant meal served to approximately 550 attendees at the NBR Awards Gala. But who was it that said such things? Was it our proud President, Annie Schulhof? Was it me (it certainly could have been: those desserts!!)? Or was it the Tavern on the Green’s chef, in a boastful mood?

It was, in fact, Jeremy Irons, during his presentation speech to Annette Bening for Best Actress, and he added, “I ate it all, and so did Annette.” He was sweet, casual and self-deprecating, with that endearing Boris Karloff lisp. It was another memorable weave on the loom, hundreds of which combined to make the event the colorful fabric we enjoy year after year in one of New York’s most festive settings.

January 11th was the earliest we’ve ever thrown this shindig. And yet we had good weather. I don’t remember it ever being so mild. The perennial throng of photographers flanked the entrance as vehicles arrived and guests made their way in. NBR’s Executive Director, Bob Policastro, and the organization’s Managing Director, Carol Rapoport, were on the move at all times, overseeing the ebb and flow of the event as it unfolded. Attentive NBR aids, mainly students from The School of Visual Arts and Marymount College, kept the stream of humanity moving along the corridor of mirrors toward the pre-dinner rooms where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres flowed generously. and a few celebrity faces made their appearance.

Then 7:00 pm came, and we all moved into the two dining rooms, where tables were situated in a less cramped configuration than last year, allowing for more space to travel to and from the podium – not unlike the new legroom one gets on American Airlines between aisles 13 and 30. At this point it became clear, as it always does about this time in the evening at an NBR event, that we were knee-deep in luminaries. It was a toss-up between eating and gawking. Fortunately my wife chose to gawk, allowing me to swipe her dessert!

At 8:00 pm Annie Schulhof took the podium, not an enviable slot in the evening lineup due to the fact that the crowd was still in food-epilogue-mode, chatting enjoyably and not focused on the dais. But Annie handled them with aplomb, rattling off a tongue-twisting script penned by Historical Consultant John Gallagher in which every celeb in attendance was somehow connected to Kevin Bacon by fewer than six degrees of separation. It was a clever intro, got everyone thinking, and Annie was smiling widely as she left the stage, to be followed by the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, Jon (SWINGERS, MADE, and Host of IFC’s ‘Dinner For Five’) Favreau. He was an inspired choice, as it turned out. There was no doubt that he was on top of his game as he led off with “In the interest of time, let’s have the first ten winners come up and get their awards.” After the laughter settled down, he trumped himself with “We honor the ‘Best Film Without Jude Law In It’.”

First up was the Animated Feature Award, presented to THE INCREDIBLES by Thelma Adams, who related a longish story, the second act of which could have been judiciously pruned. After the director accepted, Favreau added, “It was a great film and hopefully some day, commercially, these films will be viable as well.”

Marc Forster, the director of Best Film FINDING NEVERLAND, gave the music award to Polish composer Jan A. P. Kaczmarek (read Max Pemberton’s filmusic review elsewhere on the site). Then Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber presented the Female Breakthrough Award to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA’s leading lady, Emmy Rossum. He looked up at the over-the-top décor of the Tavern and said, “The National Board of Review makes you feel at home. I thank them for renting out these chandeliers.” That got a big laugh. Emmy, alabaster-skinned and visually perfect (the ideal Dario Argento ‘giallo’ heroine, which I mentioned to her before the meal started, and she seemed intrigued), accepted in a tactful-yet-sexy white dress.

Jamie Foxx got Best Actor, but was a no-show. Accepting was his co-star, Kerry Washington, who played Mrs. Ray Charles. She won us over by saying, as she admired the award, “We’ll see if he gets it…” In the film, one of the few things that bothered me was the lack of chemistry between them. However, in the recently released DVD, restored footage fixes that problem.

The William K Everson Award for Film history went to Richard Schickel, and was presented by previous Everson Award winner, and newly elected NBR Board of Directors member Janine Bassinger, who bawled out Favreau for mispronouncing her name. Schickel, who recently was involved in the restoration of Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, recalled, “Bill was a kindly and generous man.” And about Everson’s lifelong devotion to film, he acknowledged, “In those days it must have been a very lonely passion.” Which made me recall a day at the School of Visual Arts decades ago when Everson was teaching his film history class, and a student asked if it would be alright if, on the following week, he didn’t show up because it was a Jewish holiday. Everson assured him that it would be alright, but added, “To me, the only true religion is Cinema.”

Milos Forman received the Billy Wilder Award for a career in directing. A dreadfully edited tribute reel from the San Francisco Film Society preceded his appearance, as did a sweet presentation by his producer, Saul (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, AMADEUS) Zaentz, who related a Wilder story: Billy was playing poker with five friends, all of whom were attacking an absent filmmaker. Finally Billy tapped the table and said, “Enough. Let’s not even bother to ignore him.”

Forman, who had presented the award eleven years earlier to Wilder the first time it was given (Sidney Lumet was the recipient on Wilder’s behalf that evening), acknowledged two writers in the audience – Jean Claude Carriere and Robert Lans.

Then came the moment many felt was the pivotal point in the evening’s energy level. Rosie Perez took the podium to present the Best Original Screenplay Award to Charlie Kaufman for ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. She had been in the film made from Kaufman’s screenplay HUMAN NATURE, and gushed first about his work, and then about him. She yakked and yakked, explaining how sexy Kaufman was on the set, not despite, but because of his horrible beard, flannel shirt and socks with earth shoes, all of which alchemized somehow into sex personified. “If I was single, I would do this man in a hot second.”

Kaufman came quietly forth and said, “Jesus, if I’d only known.” His economical response to her stream of consciousness was great screenwriting. I never had more appreciation for his work than I did at that moment. And Favreau one-upped both of them with his final appraisal: “Those of you who had Charlie Kaufman in the over-under pool, you’re looking pretty good for the speech-length competition.”

Time for the Freedom of Expression Award, one of our indigenous prizes. It was presented by teacher/historian Annette Insdorf, who was quick to point out that VALMONT was not in the selection of clips used to illustrate Milos Forman’s career, but despair not, she was going to be showing it momentarily at the 92nd Street YMCA. She also said, “A film never ends on the screen, it’s when you talk about the film afterwards, when you argue, and when a motion picture forces you to take a position, to define how you see life and yourself, and not just the way people are telling you to do so.” It was Annette at her eloquent best. She presented to “THE PASSION OF CHRIST – which re-imagines theology,” to Michael Moore for FAHRENHEIT 9/11, and to John Deery for CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE.

Moore lumbered up. “I hope this award helps me to express myself freely in the future.” He related an interesting piece of his past in which, as a teenager, he started and ran an art house, using 16mm projectors, showing impossible-to-see-in-Flint Ingmar Bergman films, etc. And he ended with a provocative tale, which seemed to support his bizarre thesis that “I wouldn’t be a filmmaker if it wasn’t for the Bush family.”

The Special Achievement in Filmmaking, reserved for those multi-faceted creatives who essay more than two roles in a production – Billy Bob Thornton and Mel Gibson having been recipients in the past – went this year to NBR fave Clint Eastwood, for Directing, Producing, Starring in, and Scoring MILLION DOLLAR BABY. John Gallagher’s rhapsody of six degrees refocused itself as Favreau introduced Kevin Bacon himself, as Eastwood’s presenter. Bacon could pass for Eastwood’s son; so similar are their facial structures. He took the podium with loosened tie, and quipped, “Apparently on his next film he’s also gonna be catering.”

Eastwood, laconic and cool in his green sport jacket, blue-gray shirt, and gray tie, allowed “It’s great to follow Michael [Moore]. We have a lot in common.” After the laughter died down he continued: “Actually we do. I believe in freedom of expression very much. Very glad to be in a country where we can do that. (beat) But Michael, you ever show up in front of my door, with a camera…you’re dead meat, man. Dead meat!”

Some misquoted headlines were spun out of this in the press, but the truth is Clint spoke in good-natured fun, and Moore took it entirely in the right spirit.

Dennis Quaid presented the Male Breakthrough Performance Award to Topher Grace for IN GOOD COMPANY and P.S. Referring to Eastwood’s earlier declaration that anyone under 50 was a young actor, Quaid offered “Thank you, Clint, I’m 50; I guess that puts me right on the cusp.” And Grace, when his turn at the microphone came, generously thanked his co-star thusly: “I never went to an acting class, but actually acting with Dennis and Laura (Linney) for three months straight, I got schooled.”

Caleb Deschanel received our Career Achievement in Cinematography Award, and his climb to the dais was preceded by a beautifully assembled video-montage, as well as a presentation by Walon Greene, the screenwriter of THE WILD BUNCH, and for me one of the most exciting celebs of the night. “I’d like to praise his work tonight openly,” he began. “It’s a chance to say things in a public forum that I would never do in private, out of deference to his modest nature, and my own inability to convey true sentiment.” Also, a lovely observation was made about what distinguishes Deschanel’s work: “Tradition that goes back to the classical Greeks. True art communicates not only information but emotions.”

The modest Deschanel acknowledged THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and BEING THERE, aligning these disparate films by stating, with droll intent, “I like characters that can walk on water.”

Best Adapted Screenplay went to SIDEWAYS, presented by Virginia Madsen and Thomas Haden Church to Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne. Said Payne, “First of all, can we turn up the heat, please.” Deference was paid to Milos Forman, whose TAKING OFF and FIREMAN’S BALL influenced their work.

Jeremy Irons presented to Annette Bening, but then that’s where we came in. Annette thanked Annette (Insdorf). And she went on thanking a lot more people, an Academy Award speech rather than an NBR speech, really. On the other hand it was good she got it all out of her system and hopefully they all heard it (or about it), because a few months later, Hillary Swank knocked her out of the ring for the second time in five years. I remember Ms. Bening when she was young, green and sweet, at a screening of the Robert A Harris produced film noir, THE GRIFTERS. What a long way she’s come.

The Best Documentary Award went to BORN INTO BROTHELS, presented by the father of the modern documentary, Albert Maysles, who was soon to embark on his latest documentary about Christo’s work, this time the shower curtains of Central Park. He had recently appeared at a documentary symposium presented by the NBR. When Zana Briske and Ross Kauffman ascended the dais, they confessed to having snuck into the Tavern during the opening night party for the Lincoln Center Film Festival’s PULP FICTION. ( I remember that event well – particularly the Lincoln Center screening, where a member of the audience went into convulsions during the syringe-in-the-heart sequence, the lights went on as doctors bolted in the poor man’s direction, and you could see Tarantino staring nervously down from the celebrity box on the left.)

Supporting actor went to Thomas Haden Church, presented by director Payne. Church, a friendly guy with a sculptured face, gave generous thanks to Paul Giamatti.

Directorial Debut went to Zach Braff for GARDEN STATE, the DVD of which is apparently for sale on the street already. George C. Wolf presented, and picked up a previous thread by affirming that “…you’re correct, Mr. Irons. The fish was amazing.”

Best Supporting Actress went to Laura Linney for KINSEY. Bill Condon, former winner for GODS AND MONSTERS, accepted in her absence, reporting that Laura was in Vancouver, devastated at not being there, and that the most important thing she stressed he should do was send her love to Clint, who she considers a surrogate father. (I’m guessing that Clint was gone by then.)

Special Achievement in Producing went to Jerry Bruckheimer. This is an interesting award, fliying in the face, as it does, of the Oscar’s uncomfortable tradition of having the producer accept the Best Film award, leaving the bewildered TV audience to wonder why this person is up there instead of the director. The past century is strewn with brilliant producers whose mark can be found on the films they helped create (often in the very veneer of the production, a sign that the director and his team were protected, coddled, and respected). Sam Spiegel, Alexander Korda, Bert Schneider, Saul Zaentz, Dino de Laurentiis, Howard Gottfried, Pierre Spengler, Darryl Zanuck… even Robert Evans. A TV series should be done on the subject (perhaps it already has?).

Bruckheimer was a wonderful choice, highly visible because of his successful mainstream product, much loved by creative people in the industry, and by the NBR. It was one of the warmest sequences of the evening. Clips were shown from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, BLACKHAWK DOWN, BEVERLY HILLS COP, THIEF, and CSI. Those alone would have merited Award recognition, but his list goes on and on. Presenting was Nicolas Cage, former NBR winner for Best Actor, who can be relied on to give an articulate speech. In this one he mentioned the indelible mark Bruckheimer has made on all the popular art forms – film, TV, and music – over four decades, and that, remarkably, he has never lost his enthusiasm. 30 Academy Award nominations have come his way. Bruckheimer modestly thanked his colleagues.

Sigourney Weaver, who left her speech at home, but aptly labeled it “a terrifying view of romance and relationships”, presented the Ensemble Award, another of the NBR’s cannier ideas, to the foursome from CLOSER. Clive Owen accepted, thanking Mike Nichols for giving them “…the most safe, place to explore that material…”

The five Best Foreign language films were: THE MOTOCYCLE DIARIES, LES CHORISTES, MARIA FULL OF GRACE, BAD EDUCATION, and for Best of the Year, THE SEA INSIDE. Javier Bardem, who copped the best Actor award in 2000 for BEFORE NIGHTFALL, presented to director Alejandro Amenabar, who remembered the NBR Q&A screening fondly, as did the directors of BROTHEL and GARDEN STATE.

Excellence in Filmmaking Honorable Mentions were announced by Kyra Sedgwick, who was sporting a slash of red lipstick under a dishevelment of blond curls. One of them was for THE WOODSMAN, a strong vehicle for Ms. Sedgwick’s husband.

Michael Mann received the Best Director award for COLLATERAL, one of the best films of the year in your editor’s humble opinion, simultaneously sporting one of the year’s worst titles. I still haven’t met anyone who’s been able to explain to me exactly what it refers to. And I’ve asked quite a few. Dais-shy Daniel Day-Lewis, former NBR Award winner (and Hawkeye in Mann’s THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS) presented. Lewis was visually mind-boggling in a dark plaid beret and green plaid sport jacket, underneath which was a rose sport shirt and a pink ascot. Not to mention the single gold earring. If it weren’t Daniel Day Lewis…and even if it was… As part of his presentation, he noted of Mann “His mind belongs to that of a bygone age when the arts and sciences were indivisibly part of the same adventure of discovery.” He then doffed his hat to the director.

Said Mann in return, “Daniel does not like to appear in public, so I really appreciate it.” And he acknowledged one of Lewis’s analogies about the film. “It was a nocturne.”

Best Film went to FINDING NEVERLAND. There was a well-chosen clip. The presenter was John Irving (former recipient for Best Adapted Screenplay for CIDERHOUSE RULES) to Richard Gladstein and Nellie Bellflower. Irving recounted his receiving the NBR award with Lasse Hallstrom, tying the story into an explanation of what a producer does.

The Final Award, the Career Achievement, was for Jeff Bridges. Clips from 1950, as a baby in THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS, all the way to THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR, were shown. It was a beautifully chosen and scored compilation. The presenter was Joan Allen (who had co-starred in THE CONTENDER and TUCKER with Bridges). Thin and so pretty, blonde and radiant, she told a wonderful story about a Cherokee grandfather and two wolves.

“It’s getting kinda late,” Bridges led off. He made loving reference to his parents, and to “My beautiful wife, Susan, who I’ve been with for thirty years now.” He also praised the creative film experience: “Collaboration, man, that’s the high for me.”

And then the party ended, and the throngs exited to the strains of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, carrying a myriad of souvenirs from the tables. CD scores from PHANTOM, FINDING NEVERLAND, and THE AVIATOR. INCREDIBLES memorabilia. The latest film books. And of course, the NBR Award Ceremony program, the loveliest yet produced.

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