The star-studded National Board of Review gala, held Wednesday at midtown Manhattan’s Cipriani 42nd, honored A-listers like Brad Pitt for best supporting actor (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), Renee Zellweger for best actress (“Judy”), Quentin Tarantino for best director (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for best film (“The Irishman”).
But the toast of the evening was arguably the team behind “Uncut Gems”: Directors Josh and Benny Safdie and their star Adam Sandler, drawing praise from the likes of Pitt and Drew Barrymore, who presented Sandler with his best actor trophy.
Even Sandler, who received one of the night’s few standing ovations, might admit he was surprised to take home an acting statute from an awards ceremony that’s not the Razzies.
“If you are one of the wise few who took the three-million-to-one odds that Vegas was offering on me ever winning the National Board of Review best actor award, I have two words for you: You’re welcome,” he said.
Though Sandler received a rapturous reception for his performance, a rare dramatic turn for the actor best known for broad comedies, he humbly kept attention on the Safdies.
“I’m so happy I got the chance to do this type of movie — a New York movie — with the Safdie brothers,” he said. ‘They made me feel confident and secure about every turn we made. You wrote me a part every actor dreams to have.”
Timothee Chalamet, appearing to be the biggest Safdie brothers’ enthusiast in the room, was on hand to bestow the prize for best original screenplay to the filmmaking duo and their writing partner Ronald Bronstein. “Uncut Gems,” Chalamet noted, upped the anxiety-inducing stakes that’s become central to a Safdie production since 2017’s “Good Time” with Robert Pattinson.
“If ‘Good Time’ was a shot of tequila,” Chalamet said, “Then ‘Uncut Gems’ plays like cocaine and mushrooms with a sprinkle of Alka-Seltzer on top.”
Chalamet, effusive in his praise, called the film “a tornado of stress, swag, f–ed up intrigue and unapologetic raw truthful filmmaking.” In short: “These are movies people my age would not get bored as f— watching.”
When taking the stage, Benny Safdie thanked the National Board of Review for “likely the only award this screenplay will get.” In the decade they spent refining the script, the trio wrote over 160 drafts. The goal, ironically, was for “Uncut Gems” to feel improvisational.
“Someone came up to me and said, ‘There was a script for that movie?’ Believe it or not, there was. So thank you everyone for that,” he said.
Josh Safdie added, “I’ll take this chance to apologize to the script itself, the long-suffering script. We’re very anxious people by nature, we’re anxious about the process of screenwriting.”
The annual ceremony, one of the quirkier and more laid back stops during awards season, surprisingly steered clear of politics. Instead, honorees and presenters opted to leave the spotlight on the movies, filmmakers and actors themselves. The committee behind the gala announces winners weeks in advance, taking pressure off the potential to lose and giving time for honorees to prepare speeches, most of which were overflowing with candid anecdotes.
In another touching moment, Pitt credited Bradley Cooper with his sobriety after the “Star Is Born” actor presented him the best supporting actor trophy.
“Bradley just put his daughter to bed and rushed over here to do this,” Pitt said. “He’s a sweetheart. I got sober because of this guy, and every day has been happier ever since.”
The opportunity to give an acceptance speech wasn’t lost on Melina Matsoukas, who was awarded best directorial debut for “Queen & Slim.” The National Board of Review has been one of the few organizations this year to fete a female filmmaker. The Golden Globes failed to nominate a single women director, and some fear the Oscars may follow suit.
“I appreciate the honor and the recognition. The privilege is not wasted on me, the recognition is not wasted on me,” Matsoukas said. “I appreciate the effort to move into the future, to begin to break down the confines which discredit and disregard films like mine and so many filmmakers that have come before and will come after me. Thank you for being on the right side of the future, the right side of the revolution. Thank you for coming on this black ass ride that is ‘Queen and Slim.'”
Lena Waithe, who wrote and produced “Queen and Slim,” lauded Matskoukas for bringing cultural injustices to light.
“I’m honored to be in the trenches of this business with her, and trust me when you are a black person trying to make movies, it is like going to war every single day,” Waithe said. “We might not always win, but Melina and I are not going down without a fight.”
By the time Bruce Springsteen graced the stage after 10 p.m. to present Scorsese, De Niro and Pacino (who was not in attendance) with the icon award, the crowd that hadn’t left yet was growing weary. But Springsteen brought the audience back to their feet, giving the legend a rockstar’s welcome as he waxed poetic about “The Irishman,” a mob epic that he calls “three-and-a-half blessed hours.”
“The public long ago told us how important the work of these three men have been to them,” said Springsteen. “I remember standing in long ‘Avengers’-like lines stretching around the block, thrilled, waiting to see ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘The Godfather.’ Your commitment is what makes an actor or a filmmaker obsessively watchable.”
De Niro was less convinced.
“The three of us — icons? I’m not so sure,” De Niro riffed. “I think of Marty, Al and me more as the three amigos. Except that title has now turned to ruin by Trump’s Ukraine conspirators. But anyway, I’m happy to be in any trio that puts me with Marty and Al.”
Scorsese, who shopped the script around for years at traditional studios before Netflix agreed to make the $175 million movie, was self-effacing in his remarks.
“For me, an icon apparently is a great influence for others,” he said. “I think it’s a great responsibility; I hope I live up to it in whatever time I have left. [Being an icon] is something that has a very deeper meaning than just someone who is appreciated. It’s a heavy responsibility, I’ll try to do the best I can with it.”
There was at least one person in the room willing to extend that kind of praise.
Bong Joon Ho has become something of a rock star on the awards season circuit after the ubiquitous affection for “Parasite,” his twisty dark satire that tackles themes of greed and class warfare.
“It’s my first time at the National Board of Review and I’m very excited to be here,” said Bong, who was recognized for best foreign language film. “This award is very meaningful.”
But what’s more meaningful, he said via his translator, was seeing Scorsese, the Safdie brothers and Tarantino three times since the Golden Globes on Sunday.
“This will not happen in my life ever again,” he said.