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Robert De Niro Unleashes on Trump at Politically-Charged National Board of Review Gala

The dresses had a little more color, but the National Board of Review’s 2018 Awards gala — honoring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Greta Gerwig, Jordan Peele and “The Post,” among other creators and projects — continued the charged, often political awards-season conversations begun at the Golden Globes on Jan. 7.

NBR’s annual awards ceremony, the winners of which were previously announced, got off to a speedy, focused start, but it didn’t take long for the events of the last year, from #MeToo to the Trump presidency, to come up.

Robert De Niro proved the most direct in his introduction of Meryl Streep, who was picking up the best actress award for her performance in Stephen Spielberg’s “The Post.” De Niro encouraged applause for an off-hand dismissal of Trump. “Let’s clap for that,” he said. “This f—ing idiot is the president. It’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ The guy is a f—ing fool. Come on.” He went on to call the president the “jerk-off in chief.”

“If only Bob wouldn’t hold back,” Streep joked to the tightly packed, starry crowd at midtown Manhattan’s Cipriani 42, before issuing a plea to a Hollywood community grappling with sexual harassment. “How much we really need to trust each other – I don’t want that to go away,” she said. “Because that’s where art lies. Right on the edge.”

Meanwhile, Julianna Margulies put the success of “Wonder Woman” in a wideview lens as she introduced Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins to receive the Spotlight award for the film. “So 2017 was a noteworthy year in our industry, for women especially,” Margulies said. “It was challenging, enlightening and empowering. We found our voices and we spoke up, loud and clear. We found the courage to stand together and initiate a transformation. One of the early indicators of this changing tide was the unprecedented success of a film starring a woman, directed by a woman.”

“Having the film included in an event like this is an incredible honor, and one we realize is not given easily to tentpole films,” Jenkins noted when she got up to the podium.

As an indie horror flick with serious thematic undertones, “Get Out,” which won the NBR’s award for directorial debut, makes for another unusual awards-season candidate — a “cinematic unicorn,” according to Geoffrey Fletcher, the screenwriter who introduced “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele.

“I knew this movie was resonating when all of a sudden all white people stopped bring up Obama in conversations with me,” Peele cracked, referring to a memorable scene in his film. “A bit of an overcorrection, but thank you.” Then he got serious: “The fact that we’ve never seen this movie is exactly the reason that it needs to exist.”

Angelina Jolie, sharing the Freedom of Expression award for the movie she directed, “First They Killed My Father,” touched on the Cambodian genocide that is the subject of her film, and also nodded to the situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, while addressing why artists and journalists are often targeted by corrupt regimes. “It is because the free sharing of ideas and information is how we hold power accountable to the people,” she said.

Tina Fey, introducing the best actor award for Tom Hanks in “The Post,” kept it political too, but brought some levity. “When I hear the words ‘stable genius,’ I, of course, think of a very smart horse that I once knew. And then I think of Mr. Tom Hanks.” She added, “Tom Hanks is such an American treasure that the president has said it’s official — we’re going to start drilling him for oil.”

Hanks talked about the current-day resonance of the story of “The Post,” which focuses on the Pentagon Papers and freedom of the press. Spielberg, who rushed the movie into production after the presidential election, touched on the same subject. “I really felt this movie had to come out this year,” he said. (The film’s award was introduced by journalist Christiane Amanpour, and accepted by Spielberg with producers Amy Pascal and Kristie Macosko Krieger.)

Earlier in the evening, actors from “Get Out” — including Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams — accepted the award for best ensemble, while Timothée Chalamet, introduced by co-star Armie Hammer as the actor who “burst on the scene like the Kool Aid man through a wall,” went on a few tangents in accepting his breakthrough acting award for “Call Me By Your Name.”

He talked about everything from the history of the NBR to “The Dark Night” to the Meisner technique. (“Two kids will be saying ‘tomato’ to each other, and before you know it everyone’s crying about their dad,” he cracked.) But he ended by talking about the influence that Paul Thomas Anderson films “Punch Drunk Love” and “The Master” had on him.

Anderson was in the house to receive the award for original screenplay for his film “The Phantom Thread,” so Chalamet took the chance to mention how much he’d love to work with Anderson sometime. “I mean, if you want to work, let’s talk,” he said, only half joking. “We’ll make something happen.”

“You’re on, Timothée,” Anderson said, accepting his own award right after.

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