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Ryan Coogler Accepts LA Film Critics’ ‘Challenge’ and Issues His Own

Award recipients deflect the love back on journalists and critics at the LAFCA's annual awards dinner.

“We may have cheated a bit in creating a film that has been called a love letter to journalism,” admitted “Spotlight” producer Blye Pagon Faust in accepting the drama’s best film honor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn.’s annual awards dinner Saturday night. It was a comment that summed up an evening where all the love from honorees was deflected right back to the critics and journalists in the room.

But “Creed” director Ryan Coogler took things a step further. In accepting the New Generation Award, an honor he was relieved didn’t carry a “best” connotation and accepted as a challenge to continue putting his voice into the world, the 29-year-old recalled the first time he ever saw a critic actually doing the work of film criticism. It was at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, his first trip overseas. With a short film in tow, he found himself spending a lot of time at the Variety press tent.

“There was this guy that was going crazy, typing on his laptop, then he’d run off. Then he’d come back, type away, run off,” Coogler recalled. “He typed like a madman, and I recognized that. It was passion, trying to get the words out. He looked Asian, and I found out it was Justin Chang.”

He came home after the fest and looked back at “that crazy typing dude’s” reviews, particularly of a film he now counts as his favorite, “A Prophet.” As he read the reviews he thought to himself, “‘This is artistry, how he’s putting these words together.’ I had a newfound respect for what you guys do, and I want to tell you how important it is. It connects the world to what we do.”

He encouraged the room, “in this world of Rotten Tomatoes and clickbait,” to continue that work, and issued a challenge in return. “Reach back into the community and find the next Justin Chang,” he said. “Find the diversity. Find the voices that are in those places you might not think to look, because it will be amazing to see the next generation. Maybe more of them will look like Sue [Kroll, president of Warner Bros.]. Maybe more of them will look like me and Mike [Jordan, star of ‘Creed’]. Maybe more of them will look like Justin.”

Best director winner George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) echoed Coogler’s sentiments, reflecting on how influential film criticism has been in the history of filmmaking.

“Every film is hard to make, and you don’t really know what you’ve wrought until you see it in front of an audience and you see whether or not they’re engaged,” he said. “And then you dare to read the reviews from the people who have taken the time and have the ability to articulate what they might see in a movie. Because one of the prime movers of the process is a deep sense of inquiry. It becomes a very valuable education.”

Speaking of “Fury Road,” Colin Gibson also accepted the production design award from the group, commenting that it was “award enough to be spending 10 years inside George’s head and an hour and a half in all of your hearts.” John Seale, meanwhile, accepted the cinematography honor, calling it “a great honor to be dragged kicking and screaming out of retirement” to participate in the high octane sequel/reboot.

In accepting the supporting actress prize for “Ex Machina,” Alicia Vikander made it a point to note the importance of critics in exposing Alex Garland’s indie science-fiction film to audiences. “Our film is an example of the impact the critics can have on a film’s success,” she said. “It’s the support and praise from you that truly helped to get people to the theaters.” The film received a surprise nomination from the Producers Guild of America last week, while Vikander has dominated the critics awards circuit for her work in the film.

Asif Kapadia even spoke about playing a journalist for his film “Amy,” which received the best documentary award. “There was never a script,” he said. “There was no document or treatment. This was my version of being a reporter, I suppose. I didn’t know why I wanted to do this film but I just felt something weird was going on [with Amy Winehouse]. I wanted to try and understand what the hell was actually going on and maybe show that in a film.”

Lead actor and actress recipients Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”) and Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”) were not able to attend, but in a pre-recorded acceptance speech, Rampling spoke eloquently of critics’ relationship to artists. “That you have felt as deeply about my work in ’45 Years’ watching it as I did making it is truly a gift,” she said. “We both come together, performer and viewer, and we make one, and we understand, the same way, what we’re seeing.”

“Steve Jobs” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin accepted on behalf of Fassbender, reading a humorous and playful speech from the actor that left the room in stitches. But not before Sorkin took a moment to celebrate best screenplay winners Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (“Spotlight”). “Your movie is magnificent,” Sorkin said. “Your screenplay is perfect…you sons of bitches.”

Michael Shannon appeared quite affected and encouraged by his best supporting actor recognition for a performance in Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes” that has also netted nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. He recalled living in his first apartment in Los Angeles in 1999, feeling it a great distance from his current good fortune.

“If you had told me when I was living in that apartment that some day I’d be standing here in this room accepting an award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. “I’m so moved that my life has gone in this direction and I’ve been fortunate to have these opportunities and that each and every one of you has taken the time to watch these movies and think about them and think about my work. The fact that you would do that is tremendously moving to me.”

He also noted once again his respect for the work Bahrani put into researching and developing the project.

“I don’t think he made a dime making the movie,” Shannon said. “I think he actually lost money making the movie. I think he spent his salary on music for the movie. He’s a hero of mine and he always will be. I’ll do whatever he asks me to do.”

Elsewhere in the evening, legendary editor Anne V. Coates (“Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Elephant Man,” “Out of Sight,” “Fifty Shades of Grey”) was on hand to accept the Career Achievement Award, receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation. Best film editing winner Hank Corwin (“The Big Short”) couldn’t help but comment on the tall order of following her with his own acceptance.

Other winners included “Anomalisa” and “Carol” composer Carter Burwell for best music (who sent in a pre-recorded thank you), Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa” for best animation and László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” for best foreign language film.

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