Michael Keaton gave not one but two speeches at the National Board of Review ceremony in Manhattan on Tuesday night. The first time he took the podium, to accept his best actor award for “Birdman,” he aimed a big net: “I’d like to thank everybody I ever met,” he said. But that evidently didn’t include Oscar Isaac (“A Most Violent Year”), who was supposed to share the actor’s prize with Keaton. When it was Isaac’s turn to talk, he acknowledged Keaton: “And also, ‘Mr. Mom.’ A f—ing awesome movie.” After he was done, Keaton leapt back onstage.
“My selfishness overtook me,” Keaton said. He wanted everybody to know he was thrilled to be honored with Isaac. “This dude is a mothef—er.” Keaton insisted that he had Isaac’s name in his notes, and he’d just forgotten to read that part. “I don’t want to look like a bigger jerk,” Keaton said. “The longer I stand up here, I’m starting to rethink this whole thing.”
The National Board of Review, the cryptic group of film aficionados who dole out random acting prizes each year, hold their annual gala just days before Oscar ballots are due. As a result, the seated dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street is one of the last stomping grounds for campaigning, and it conveniently features some of the longest speeches of awards season. It became clear early in the night that there was no time limit, as the winners of best original screenplay (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for “The Lego Movie”) ran down a lengthy list of thank yous, including their lawyers.
The big winner of the evening was an oddball choice–not “Boyhood” or “Birdman” or “The Imitation Game”–but “A Most Violent Year,” J.C. Chandor’s indie drama about an oil merchant set in 1970s New York. It picked up best picture, best supporting actress (Jessica Chastain) as well as best actor (Isaac). The two stars of the film, who presented awards to each other, talked about meeting as students at the Juilliard School 12 years ago. “He was a good friend of my boyfriend at the time,” Chastain said. “He was incredibly charismatic and funny and a bit of a troublemaker.”
But the two never appeared in a scene together, and Chastain wrote a lengthy email to Chandor, urging for him to cast Isaac. She read excerpts for the first time to Isaac onstage: “He reminds me of Al Pacino in the 70s,” Chastain had written. “There’s so much vulnerability and explosive passion in his work.”
Perhaps because of the free-flowing bottles of alcohol, there was a Golden-Globes-like aura of unpredictability to the event. When Chandor took the mic, he warned the audience he’d had three glasses of wine, and admitted he had a tendency to ramble. He said the star of his last film, Robert Redford in “All is Lost,” used to tell him: “For a guy who wrote a script with no words in it, you sure talk a lot.” Bruce Willis, who presented Keaton’s prize, looked wobbly. “How do I look on the screen?” he asked the puzzled crowd (there was a screen onstage, but the dinner wasn’t televised). “Big? Shiny?”
Paul Thomas Anderson, winner of best adapted screenplay for “Inherent Vice,” gave credit to author Thomas Pynchon. “I didn’t really write,” Anderson said. “I was just a secretary to a great book.” He continued, “This is a nice night. It’s like being on ‘The Poseidon Adventure.’ I hope the ship doesn’t sink, though.”
Clint Eastwood, the best director winner for “American Sniper,” started his speech with an impromptu limerick to his star Bradley Cooper, who presented him with the award. “There once was a man named Bradley, who never acted too badly,” Eastwood said, before cutting himself off. “No, I can’t tell it. The rest is too dirty.” He made a point of noting that he had been in the movie business for 63 years. When the audience clapped, the 84-year-old Eastwood admonished them. ”Don’t do that,” he said. “I’m not done yet.”
Julianne Moore, the best actress recipient for “Still Alice,” said she preferred her introduction from Timothy Spall to the last time she attended the NBR, when Tommy Lee Jones asked her if she was pregnant. “It was just my big puffy dress,” Moore explained. She then told the story about how “Alice,” a drama about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, was shot in only a month last March, after she got permission from the producers of “The Hungers Games” to take time off. “I made it because of the way it made me feel,” Moore said. “When I read the script I started to cry, and I couldn’t stop crying.”
Chris Rock, who won the audience award for “Top Five,” gave the best speech of the night. He addressed the Sony hacking scandal that rocked Hollywood, after revealing a racially charged email exchange between the studio’s chairwoman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin. “Scott Rudin is not a racist. Scott Rudin hates everybody,” he told the laughing audience. He also said that he auditioned to play Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for director Ava DuVernay (who won the Freedom of Expression award). “I would have done ‘Selma,’ but she didn’t pick me,” Rock said. “I came in and looked like I had marched. Nothing. Not a freaking thing.”
The event was emceed by Today anchor Willie Geist, who kept the proceedings zipping along despite the never-ending speeches. “Welcome to your latest stop on the long death march that is award season,” he said. Then he promised that what happened at the NBR would stay at the NBR.
Here are a few other notable moments: