“Birdman,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s drama about a crumbling Hollywood star, landed one of the first major prizes of awards season as best feature at the Gotham Independent Awards on Monday night.
The film, starring Michael Keaton, was selected over favorites “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by a small panel of only five film aficionados. But the event hosted by the Independent Film Project has in recent years become an important early stop in the Oscars campaign trail. This year’s ceremony was perhaps the glitziest yet, with presenters like Meryl Streep, Jake Gyllenhaal and Scarlett Johansson all attending the dinner at Cipriani Wall Street.
“I will say this award will help move forward the conversations that Michael Keaton and I have been having with Marvel Studios to make ‘Birdman 4,’” joked Inarritu when he took the podium. “Since its inception, this film has given me joy. Independent films, no matter what, they have something to say.”
The Fox Searchlight drama was the big victor of the night, since Keaton also took home best actor. He comical, rambling speech at times sounded like a monologue that could be delivered by his character. “I want to thank the folks of Gotham,” Keaton said, making a “Batman” joke. “It’s good to be home.”
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Julianne Moore was the winner in the best actress category for her performance in Sony Pictures Classics’ “Still Alice” as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. “I love independent film,” Moore said. “It’s where I finally found myself as an actor.”
Uma Thurman kicked off the Gotham Awards as a subdued host, who didn’t crack jokes or sing any musical numbers, but instead paid earnest tribute to the nominees. She called “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s ambitious film that was shot over twelve years, “one of a kind,” and “Love Is Strange,” Ira Sach’s drama about an eldery gay couple’s marriage, “an instant classic.”
“Citizenfour” won best documentary. The film, in which director Laura Poitras chronicles whistleblower Edward Snowden, edged out the other favorite “Life Itself,” about movie critic Roger Ebert. “When I started receiving these emails, I knew there was going to be a massive investigation,” Poitras said. “A leak investigation that no only involved me, but everyone I worked with.” She said she gave her team a chance to leave the project, but none of them did.
Tessa Thompson won the first award of the night for breakthrough actor for her performance in “Dear White People,” the Sundance darling from first-time director Justin Simien. “I didn’t expect for this to happen, so I made jokes about losing all week,” Thompson said. “Thanks to filmmakers who take risks. Those are the ones that make me excited about doing what I do.”
A surprise winner in the breakthrough director category came when Ana Lily Amirpour (who made the Iranian horror film “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) beat out Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) and Simien (“Dear White People”). She said she loved making films, and had a special request for one of the other attendees. “Maybe if I could say hi to Tilda Swinton and take a picture with her, it would be really cool,” Amirpour said.
“Foxcatcher” nabbed the best ensemble award, which was introduced by a certain three-time Oscar winner. “For Meryl Streep to come here and present us with this award, suck on that,” Carell joked. “I am so proud to be part of this film, and be part of this ensemble. Best ensemble. A higher compliment could not be paid to an actor unless he was to be singled out for his own extraordinary work.”
Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”) received the career tribute award in directing. His friend Catherine Keener, who presented him with the honor, talked about living with him for two years, how Miller would study chess matches on YouTube and described him as a devoted filmmaker who refuses “to do anything that is a compromise.” She added, “Four masterpieces are better than 50 buildings and Bennett Miller is 4-and-0.”
“Thank you Catherine,” Miller said. “That was a lot of personal information. I think it’s a cruel joke that an introvert who likes to spend a lot of time in the dark, if successful, ends up at a podium in front of many strangers.”
Miller was one of three career tributes. Another went to Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, who was introduced by Will Arnett. “I’m a lover first and foremost of independent film,” Sarandos said. “It’s what really got my exciting about the business.” He talked about how independent films were the “core” of Netflix, naming the DVD of the 2004 documentary “Born Into Brothels” as the service’s first exclusive title straight from Sundance.
Amy Schumer scored the biggest laughs of the night with her introduction for Tilda Swinton, the final career tribute honoree. “She can scare the s—t out of you, break your heart and give you a boner at the same time,” Schumer said.
“Amy f—ing Schumer,” Swinton said as she took the stage. Swinton spoke about starting her career by making seven films with director Derek Jarman over nine years. After he died in 1994, she found other independent filmmakers who took her into their creative arms. “I was an alien from Scotch-land,” Swinton said. “You’re all a bunch of freaks. I’m a freak too.”
Full list of winners (Updated):
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, director; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan, James W. Skotchdopole, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Richard Linklater, director; Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, producers (IFC Films)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson, director; Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson, producers (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
“Love Is Strange”
Ira Sachs, director; Lucas Joaquin, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Ira Sachs, Jayne Baron Sherman, producers (Sony Pictures Classics)
“Under the Skin”
Jonathan Glazer, director; Nick Wechsler, James Wilson, producers (A24 Films)
Robert Greene, director; Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Robert Greene, producers (The Cinema Guild)
Laura Poitras, director; Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy, Dirk Wilutzky, producers (RADiUS, Participant Media, and HBO Documentary Films)
Steve James, director; Zak Piper, Steve James, Garrett Basch, producers (Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films)
Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez, directors; Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel, producers (The Cinema Guild)
“Point and Shoot”
Marshall Curry, director; Marshall Curry, Elizabeth Martin, Matthew Van Dyke, producers (The Orchard and American Documentary / POV)
BINGHAM RAY BREAKTHROUGH DIRECTOR AWARD
Ana Lily Amirpour for “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” (Kino Lorber)
James Ward Byrkit for “Coherence” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Dan Gilroy for “Nightcrawler” (Open Road Films)
Eliza Hittman for “It Felt Like Love” (Variance Films)
Justin Simien for “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Bill Hader in “The Skeleton Twins” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood (IFC Films)
Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year (A24 Films)
Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Miles Teller in Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)
* The 2014 Best Actor nominating panel also voted to award a special Gotham Jury Award jointly to Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum for their ensemble performance in Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics).
Patricia Arquette in Boyhood (IFC Films)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights (Relativity Media)
Julianne Moore in Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics)
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (A24 Films)
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks (The Weinstein Company)
Riz Ahmed in “Nightcrawler” (Open Road Films)
Macon Blair in “Blue Ruin” (RADiUS)
Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood” (IFC Films)
Joey King in “Wish I Was Here” (Focus Features)
Jenny Slate in “Obvious Child” (A24 Films)
Tessa Thompson in “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)