After sweeping several categories, director Kenneth Lonergan received top honors at the National Board of Review dinner on Wednesday night for the drama “Manchester by the Sea.” But as he took the stage at Cipriani 42nd Street to accept the award for best film of 2016, he opened the scope of his speech beyond the typical thank-yous.
“We are living in very troubled times,” Lonergan said, alluding to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. “How troubled, we don’t know yet.” Then Lonergan offered a remedy in the form of inclusiveness. “We have to stop marginalizing each other,” he said.
It was a theme that resonated throughout the night. In the two months since the election, many have wondered how the mood in Hollywood would shift under a Trump administration. As that question is still being answered, a shadow has been cast over the typically jubilant awards season packed with free meals and cheerful Q&A’s.
But in an intimate setting among peers, the National Board of Review dinner offered an early glimpse of how Hollywood might resist a President Trump. And it also foreshadowed how this year’s Oscar ceremony, scheduled for next month, may reflect this unrest. The conversations at the tables weren’t confined to which movies people loved the most. Instead, A-list actors loudly chatted away about the hazards that a Trump presidency would bring.
Held one night after the New York Film Critics Circle, which saw many of the same winners, the audience of actors and industry members enthusiastically applauded at every win for “Manchester by the Sea” (which also picked up best actor for Casey Affleck and best script) and “Moonlight,” two of this year’s underdog favorites on the awards circuit. Another Oscar frontrunner, “La La Land,” didn’t receive any recognition from the enigmatic group of self-proclaimed film fans.
Early in the night, Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) said that he didn’t plan on revealing that he was the first black person to win the NBR’s directing prize, but it felt necessary. Jenkins, who was introduced by celebrated culture writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, said he went through the list of previous winners dating back to 1939.
“There were certain people who just weren’t considered for so long,” Jenkins said. “The country is changing. The world is changing. We are trying to ‘Make American Great Again.'” The Trump slogan drew nervous laughs. “As we ‘Make America Great Again,’ let us remember some inconsiderable things in our legacy, because there was a time when someone like me was just not considered.”
In presenting Jeff Bridges for best supporting actor for “Hell or High Water,” Maggie Gyllenhaal reminisced about the time he portrayed a president in 2000’s “The Contender.” “What would you give,” Gyllenhaal asked, “to have that fantasy be a reality now? I know he doesn’t have any political experience, but that doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite anymore.”
Bridges, for his part, kept the running political commentary going. He ended his speech by thanking the protestors at Standing Rock. “They are looking out for not only their own interests, but all our interests,” Bridges said. “I support them and I applaud them and I accept this award in honor of their behalf. We’re all in this together.”
Later, “OJ: Made in America” director Ezra Edelman, singled out for best documentary, made a pointed remark about journalistic filmmaking. “People want the truth,” he said. Seth Meyers, who introduced him, joked about how relieved he was that the NBR winners had been announced prior to the dinner. “It’s very traumatic to learn who won a thing the night of,” he said, with a nod to Hillary Clinton’s supporters.
Not every moment of the night, emceed by NBC’s Willie Geist, was so serious. Amy Adams, the best actress recipient for “Arrival,” apologized to her cinematographer. “I hit the camera a lot,” Adams said. She talked about her restless dreams as a young woman. “I would wake and wonder how I was going to get to my Colorado home to New York City,” Adams said.
Naomie Harris, the best supporting actress winner for “Moonlight,” said that Jenkins asked her if she had any experiences with addiction to play a crack-abusing mom. She said her worst vices were “dark chocolate and really bad reality TV.” She added: “I would like to dedicate this award to all the single parents out there, like my mother, who are struggling to raise their children under very difficult circumstances.”
The breakthrough-acting awards were handed out to Royalty Hightower (‘The Fits”) and Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”). “I just wish that somebody would give Kenneth Lonergan $150 million to make whatever movies he wants to make,” said Hedges, 20. “It would be the greatest movie ever made.”
In an unscripted introduction for Affleck, Edie Falco said that being able to escape these dark times with a film like “Manchester by the Sea” offered her hope. “We’re going to be ok,” Falco said. “Movies like this are being made — it’s what’s going to save us.”