Gotham Crix honor pix at brisk, emotional gala

Stars of stage and screen glamorized the 58th annual New York Film Critics Circle dinner Sunday at Rockefeller Center.

With the ceremony, hosted by NYFCC chairman Marshall Fine of Gannett Newspapers, lasting just over an hour, event was a model of crispness and emotions. E! Entertainment Television will broadcast the event Jan. 23, marking the first TV exposure for the group.

Highlight of the evening came from the choice of Vanessa Redgrave (winner of a 1987 NYFCC scroll for her supporting role in Stephen Frears’ “Prick Up Your Ears”) to present the best actor honors to Denzel Washington for “Malcolm X.” Redgrave praised Spike Lee’s approach in the film, (including use of the Rodney King beating tape): “What happened so long ago is happening now in so many places.”

Washington adopted a militant stance in accepting his kudos, noting that the last three best actor Oscars went to British thesps. “In England they prepare actors for films with the theater. We have to support theater here, too, to get actors to show up on nights like this,” he said.

Britain was well respresented, with vivacious Emma Thompson receiving her best actress award for “Howards End” from current co-star (in Merchant Ivory’s “Remains of the Day”) Christopher Reeve. Thompson paid tribute to Merchant Ivory’s 33 years of filmmaking, and urged that, like E.M. Forster and screen adapter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, writers must “create more heroines to match and even challenge all the heroes.”

Another popular winner was Miranda Richardson, named best supporting actress for her 1992 films “The Crying Game,””Enchanted April” and “Damage.” Her “April” co-star, Joan Plowright, gave her the award.

Britain and neighboring Ireland were represented with a victory for “The Crying Game” as best screenplay of 1992. Pic’s star Stephen Rea presented the award to writer-director Neil Jordan, who thanked U.S. distributor Miramax for its marketing campaign on a film others had tagged “unreleasable and unpublicizable.”

Supporting actor winner Gene Hackman, for “Unforgiven,” was filming “The Firm” in Memphis and couldn’t attend. Representing him were two colleagues from previous projects: Willem Dafoe (“Mississippi Burning”) and Glenn Close (the legit “Death and the Maiden”).

Ceremony also gave New Yorkers a chance to meet two popular cult directors. Best cinematography award was presented by Alan Rudolph, onetime protege of Robert Altman, to Jean Lepine for Altman’s “The Player.”

To present the foreign-language film award, the NYFCC tapped Hong Kong action director John Woo, who appeared deeply moved at the chance to honor his colleage from China, director Zhang Yimou of winner “Raise the Red Lantern,” who could not attend.

Lindsay Law of PBS’ American Playhouse series presented the documentary award to Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger for “Brother’s Keeper.” Both directors thanked the NYFCC for opening doors around the country and encouraging people to attend documentary films.

John Sayles gave the new director award to Allison Anders for her debut feature, “Gas Food Lodging.” Anders said she was proud to follow in Sayles’ footsteps “to represent people on screen who are often unrepresented.”

Awards concluded with top honors going to “The Player.” Fine introduced last year’s best director winner Jonathan Demme who introduced director winner Altman.

Altman was in droll form, noting that the New York Times did not allow its critics to vote. “If you rescinded that rule you could have prevented this,” he said, speculating that Clint Eastwood and “Unforgiven” would have won. He gave much of the credit for the film to writer Michael Tolkin, noting “I have less auteurism in this film than any other I’ve done.”

Tolkin, with David Brown and Nick Wechsler as producers of “The Player,” accepted best picture award from Jack Lemmon.

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