Kristen Stewart New York Film Critics
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The New York Film Critics Circle gala usually offers its share of highbrow speeches (just ask presenter Tony Kushner gushing over “Carol’s” screenplay), but this year’s celebration included an unexpected reference — to the MTV Movie Awards. One of the early winners at the dinner at TAO Downtown was Kristen Stewart. No, she hasn’t made another “Twilight.” The NYFCC recognized her as best-supporting actress for her turn in the little-seen Cannes drama “Clouds of Sils Maria,” where she plays an assistant.

“I’ve received a lot of MTV Popcorns and stuff like that,” Stewart said. “This is a little different.” Her speech — which began with a laid-back salutation (“hey guys”) — was characteristically short. “The movie is thoughtful and quiet and kind of diagonal and not extreme in any way,” she said. “It came out a year ago. This is nuts.”

Stewart was introduced by her “Still Alice” co-star Julianne Moore, who was grateful their category arrived early in the evening. “I thought I was going to get too drunk before I got up here,” Moore joked. Although the critics’ group is largely male, one of the themes that dominated the evening was girl power. As it’s been said many times, 2015 was a strong year for women at the movies, and the NYFCC winners reflected that. “Carol,” a lesbian romance set in the 1950s (between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara), picked up best film, best director (Todd Haynes), best cinematographer (Ed Lachman) and best screenplay (Phyllis Nagy). But the only curveballs of the night came in the form of the presenters, which included Nathan Lane, Susan Sarandon and Bennett Miller, since the winners had all been announced in advance.

Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore at TAO Downtown for the New York Film Critics Circle gala
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Liam Neeson introduced Saoirse Ronan as best actress for “Brooklyn,” comparing the young starlet to the late Irish legend Maureen O’Hara. Ronan revealed that she moved to the Ireland when she was only 3, after she was born in the Bronx. “‘Saoirse from the Block’ is what they called me,” she said, nodding to the lyrics from a Jennifer Lopez song. “A lot like Miss Lopez. A little more attitude, though.”

Best actor went to Michael Keaton for playing a journalist in the drama “Spotlight.” Keaton, who landed his share of prizes during awards season 2015 for “Birdman,” gave a speech that seemed to stop, before he kept rambling on—in what’s become his trademark style. “Look man, I’m a blessed dude,” Keaton said. “I work hard. I deserve it. It took me a long time to get there.” He thanked the reporters at The Boston Globe who broke a 2001 story about sex abuse in the Catholic Church. “This is for all the survivors of the horrific situation,” Keaton said.

“Spotlight’s” Michael Keaton and “Brooklyn’s” Saoirse Ronan
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George Takei awarded Pixar’s box office juggernaut “Inside Out” with best animated film, noting that one of the first films he ever saw was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” at age 5, in a Japanese internment camp. “It moved me, and I wanted to get beyond the fence where people like that could live,” Takei said. Director Pete Docter told how the story about a young girl with conflicted emotions was based on his own 11-year-old daughter. “It’s very personal.” He said he held animated films to the same standards as live-action films — “to tell a good story and to move people,” he explained.

Alec Baldwin made a surprise appearance to present Haynes with the best director prize. When the night’s emcee — Star Magazine critic Marshall Fine — introduced him, tongue-in-cheek, as a future governor of New York, Baldwin shot down his political prospects. “That’s never going to f–king happen,” Baldwin said, before he read a lengthy interview from Haynes, where the director talked about making movies about strong female characters.

When he took the stage, Haynes, who grew up in Los Angeles, recalled visiting New York for the first time at 9. “It was 1970,” he said. “I remember the force of the cab ride.” He later came back for college, where he matured as a young gay filmmaker. “It’s hard to imagine my career taking place outside of this place,” he said.

Kushner, who awarded Nagy with best screenplay, offered a passionate salute to “Carol.” He said that when he read Patricia Highsmith’s “The Price of Salt,” on which “Carol is based, he kept turning to the title page, thinking: “Holy s–t, she wrote this in 1952.”

Producer Elizabeth Karlsen, who accepted the best picture prize with her co-producers Stephen Woolley and Christine Vachon, reminisced about the 10-year-journey to bring “Carol” to the big screen. She said that when Harvey Weinstein, who distributed the film, saw an early cut, he turned to the film’s director and said: “Don’t change a thing.” She went on to thank the film’s distributors in Turkey, the Middle East and Russia, for showing “Carol” despite laws in the region that are intolerant of LGBT rights.

David Hyde Pierce recognized Mark Rylance as best supporting actor for “Bridge of Spies.” But Rylance wasn’t at the dinner, because he was rehearsing a play in Boston. “Years from now,” Pierce said, “when Mark Rylance is gone, and all of us have passed away, someone will watch ‘Bridge of Spies’ and say, ‘Look at that man. He glows.’”

Richard Kind, Christine Vachon and “Carol” director Todd Haynes
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“The Hateful Eight’s” Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins
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