The New York Film Critics Circle Awards is a confounding reprieve in the middle of awards season. Nestled between the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, the annual ceremony brings A-list celebrities and standout filmmakers and writers who critique their work together in a gloves-off evening where actors trade jabs with their detractors and disciples.
“I am tired of campaigning. I am tired!” bemoaned Antonio Banderas, who accepted his award as best actor for his turn in “Pain and Glory” on the stage at Tao Downtown in New York City Tuesday night. “I am not a politician. I am an actor. We want to the Cannes Festival, then we were in Toronto, then we were in New York. I go to Spain, and I can’t sleep because I’m on New York time! I am thinking what the hell? I am not a politician!”
Banderas, who received his award from Ethan Hawke, was joined by a host of Hollywood names including fellow honorees Lupita Nyong’o (best actress for “Us”), Joe Pesci (best supporting actor for “The Irishman”), Josh and Benny Safdie (best director for “Uncut Gems”), Bong Joon-ho (best foreign film for “Parasite”), Quentin Tarantino (best screenplay for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro (best film for “The Irishman”).
For some, the ceremony presented a singular opportunity to honor the special, often symbiotic relationship between artists and critics.
“As a young girl, learning about film, I loved film criticism and particularly New York film criticism, which is why this is a particular honor for me tonight,” Laura Dern told Variety on the red carpet. “Critics here really were my college education about film,” she said.
While on stage accepting her best supporting actress trophy for “Marriage Story,” she echoed that sentiment.
“If it weren’t, frankly, for Pauline Kael or critics like her, I wouldn’t have realized the gift that I had, because I didn’t understand what was happening. I went from 10th grade to, like, brains splattered at my feet while being a virginal girl on set. It was really overwhelming, and I looked to critics who taught me about film.”
Others took the opportunity to lambaste a few of the writers who’d given them a hard time. Not the least of which was Tarantino, whose 10-minute-long acceptance speech called out by name time-honored writer Peter Rainer.
“You have never given me a positive review in 30 years,” Tarantino teased from the stage. “Not to make you feel guilty, but I read you every weekend when you used to write for the Herald Examiner in Los Angeles, from 15 years old! Not only did I read you — I still have those f –ing Herald Examiners in my f–ing office!”
Tarantino wasn’t alone in chastising the crowd.
“I know what you have said about me over the years,” Adam Sandler, whose dramatic turn in “Uncut Gems” has earned him widespread acclaim, said dryly to the gathered critics. “It’s fine. I have two words to say to you: you’re mean.”
Where the NYFCC has aligned expectations for awards on Oscar night in the past, its interest in craft and artistry can also surprise, holding up actors and performances noticeably left out by popular voting bodies.
That was the case this year, when the Circle awarded Nyong’o, whose thrilling performance of not one, but two roles in a single film, has struggled to hold any frontrunner status in the Oscar race. The possible omission has highlighted the mountain some actresses of color must climb for equitable recognition.
Accepting the award for best actress, Nyong’o owed to her father’s indomitable love of Shakespeare her grasp of dramatic language and thanked “Us” writer and director Jordan Peele.
“He offered me a chance to exist in an imaginative world uncontextualized by the color of my skin or the content of my cultural history, and that is a radical, meaningful and liberating act,” she said. “Jordan is creating a space for people like me to exist front and center in a narrative and genre that has often relegated us to the sidelines. He is radicalizing perspective on who the everyman and every-women get to be, and in so doing he is expanding our collective consciousness.”