The stars were out abundance at the 56th annual awards dinner of the New York Film Critics Circle, with Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Jessica Lange and Nick Nolte among the presenters.

Under NYFCC chairman Rex Reed, this year’s ceremony at the Pegasus Room atop Rockefeller Center took on some aspects of a roast, with Reed making often unprintable but amusing cracks in his lengthy introductions of the participants.

Reed referred to the incestuous nature of the event, and indeed many of the winners and presenters were teamed up on current or upcoming film projects. Annette Bening, co-star of “The Grifters,” presented the NYFCC best picture award to producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina for Warner Bros.’ “Goodfellas.” She is co-starring with Robert De Niro in Winkler’s debut film as director, WB’s “Guilty By Suspicion.”

This presentation near the end of the long evening was followed by Martin Scorsese (who also acts in “Guilty By Suspicion” portraying a Joseph Loseyesque director) receiving the best director scroll for “Goodfellas” from Lange and Nolte. Lange, Nolte, Scorsese and De Niro had all flown in from the Florida location of Universal’s “Cape Fear” remake and were headed back to warmer climes for a Monday morning shoot.

Big surprise was Madonna as the presenter for the best foreign film to a picture she said she was particularly taken with, Miramax’ “The Nasty Girl.” She handed the scroll to German director Michael Verhoeven, whose wife, Senta Berger, also took a bow in the audience. Madonna was seated with Harvey and Bob Weinstein at the Miramax table; distrib is prepping release of her concert film “Truth Or Dare.”

Miramax was also repped with two awards for its current pic, “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.” Producer Ismail Merchant celebrated a 30-year teaming by handing scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala the scroll for best original screenplay, and Paul Newman gave his wife, Joanne Woodward, the best actress scroll for the Merchant Ivory pic. Newman noted that Woodward was “the igniter, the initiator of the project.” James Ivory, who directed, took a bow in the audience.

De Niro picked up his best actor honors for both “Goodfellas” and Columbia’s “Awakenings,” thanking both directors Scorsese and Penny Marshall. Presenter was Liza Minnelli, who had co-starred with De Niro in Scorsese’s “New York, New York.”

Another reunion took place during the presentation of the best supporting actor award to Bruce Davison for the Goldwyn release “Longtime Companion.” Award was presented by director Frank Perry, who recalled how Davison was “the armature” that made his 1968 production “Last Summer” work (it was Davison’s film debut).

Best supporting actress Jennifer Jason Leigh paid tribute to her two directors, George Armitage (“Miami Blues”) and Uli Edel (“Last Exit To Brooklyn”), with latter taking a bow in the audience. Jonathan Demme, a producer of “Miami Blues,” gave Leigh her scroll.

Kathy Bates, currently starring in “Misery” and a supporting actress in “Dick Tracy,” accepted best cinematography honors on behalf of “Tracy” lenser Vittorio Storaro for his lensing of Bernardo Bertolucci’s WB film “The Sheltering Sky.” Storaro could not attend, as he was filming in the Italian alps.

Wendy Keys of the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented the best first film award to Whit Stillman for his New Line release, “Metropolitan,” which had been shown by the Film Society and Museum of Modern Art in last spring’s New Directors/New Films series.

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