Casey Affleck, the best actor winner at Tuesday night’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, took the podium with some ammunition; a stack of bad reviews written about previous performances in his career. “Fortunately, he’s not the lead,” read an old clipping. “I would say that’s fair,” the actor chimed in.
Affleck, the star of Kenneth Lonergan’s drama “Manchester by the Sea,” is a frontrunner to win the best actor Oscar, and his stop at the NYFCC dinner held at Tao Downtown was another momentum-building moment on the campaign trail. Although the NYFCC doesn’t always overlap with the Oscars, they have singled out previous soon-to-be Academy Awards winners like Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) and Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”).
Since all the prizes had been announced in advance, the event was a celebratory lap with relaxed speeches and a few jokes at the expense of the critics. Affleck noted that four of the five bad reviews he quoted were by David Edelstein, from New York Magazine, who was emceeing the evening.
“Believe it or not, there was a time that I really loved to read film reviews, because they helped me understand films in a way I didn’t,” Affleck said, citing critics like Pauline Kael, Peter Travers and Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, who once compared the appeal of Joseph Fiennes in “Shakespeare in Love” to Prince. “Yeah, I get that,” Affleck said, singling out that review. “That makes sense.”
Michelle Williams, the best supporting actress winner for “Manchester by the Sea,” delivered a valentine to New York. “When I was a little girl, my dad would describe a terrible place where people lived on top of each other and bought clothes second-hand and gave money to homeless people. I thought, fucking take me there.” She said that her first apartment in the city, almost 20 years ago, had a dishwasher in the bathroom. “I thought, ‘I’m home.’”
The best picture award went to “La La Land,” presented to director Damien Chazelle by “Moulin Rouge” musical visionary Baz Luhrmann. “I grew up in New Jersey; I basically spent my childhood taking the train into the city whenever I could” to watch movies, said Chazelle in a long speech that included a discussion about the ending of the 1927 movie “7th Heaven.”
Although “La La Land” won the top prize, the affection in the room was clearly on the side of “Manchester by the Sea” (which also nabbed best script for Lonergan) and “Moonlight,” the coming-of-age story which won best director (Barry Jenkins), cinematographer (James Laxton) and supporting actor (Mahershala Ali).
“I would say as a director, I’m usually sitting behind a camera,” said Jenkins, who accepted his award from Jonathan Demme and shot “Moonlight” in only 25 days. “No one ever sees me. I didn’t realize in making this film at some point, I would be seen. Holy shit. I’m being seen.”
Isabelle Huppert received best actress for a duo of performances in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” and Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things to Come.” “I feel like I have twins tonight — two films,” Huppert said. “We love Paul Verhoeven in France. I hope you love him in this country.”
The night’s biggest laughs came from comedian Robert Klein, who gave “Zootopia” the award for best-animated film. He called the Disney movie about talking animals “totally subversive,” before adding: “I’m going to report it immediately to the Trump administration.”
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