‘Twas the night before Oscar nominations and all through the ballroom, the Barker Hanger was buzzing as critics mixed and mingled with A-listers inside the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday night. Life Achievement winner Eddie Murphy, #SeeHer honoree Kristen Bell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bong Joon Ho were among the big names who played to the audience in the room and at home with top-notch speeches, but Variety was inside the ballroom bringing you everything you didn’t see on television.
Accepting the first award of the night, Joaquin Phoenix thanked the Critics’ Choice Association “for going plant-based and trying to offset our carbon footprint. It’s a really amazing message.” And overall, the menu change seemed to be received quite well.
Waiters carried trays of food in the early hours of the show, so guests could choose between Impossible burgers from The Counter and veggie burritos from Baja Fresh. “The Farewell” writer-director Lulu Wang was still carrying her impossible burger as she walked over to say hello to Adam Driver, giving the meal a thumbs up. For dessert, Olivia Wilde and Beanie Feldstein grabbed Pinkberry from a server, while Coldstone served ice cream and sorbet named for some of the nominated films, like “Spoons Out” (a play on “Knives Out”) and “Fudge and Glory” (a reference to “Pain and Glory”).
Between commercial breaks, critics and stars buzzed around the ballroom aiming to congratulate their fellow nominees or take the opportunity to meet their idols. In the front of the room, Jennifer Lopez headed straight for Laura Dern during one break, giving her a big hug. Lopez also embraced fellow Best Supporting Actress nominee Nicole Kidman. “Honey Boy” star Noah Jupe made his way over to talk to Cynthia Erivo, while Norman Lear got a visit at his table from Christine Baranski, and Nico Santos and Awkafina had a “Crazy Rich Asians” reunion.
Saoirse Ronan was one of the most social stars, seemingly friends with everyone in the room. Ronan was spotted bringing “Downton Abbey’s” Allen Leech to give Greta Gerwig a hug before she and Leech headed across the room to chat with “Wild Rose’s” Jessie Buckley. And a fan-frenzy nearly erupted when Ronan headed to the “Booksmart” table to say hello to Olivia Wilde and reunite with her “Lady Bird” co-star Beanie Feldstein. The “Little Women” table erupted when Gerwig won her award for Adapted Screenplay off-camera; Gerwig stood as her friends cheered before making a beeline to celebrate with partner Noah Baumbach and Laura Dern.
Asante Blackk and Jharrel Jerome were also big winners, as both “When They See Us” and “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons” took home trophies. Blackk sat at a table with his “This Is Us” co-stars and when “When They See Us” was named Best Limited Series, Sterling K. Brown yelled for the young star to get up to the stage to celebrate with his cast.
Zhao Shuzhen was also spotted posing with “Uncut Gem’s” Adam Sandler, who kindly posed for selfies with fans all night long. On the blue carpet,Shuzhen told Variety the one star she hoped to meet at the event was Al Pacino — and during the broadcast, it happened! Wang snapped this photo of the two stars and, in the background, you can see Charlize Theron having a chat with “Fleabag’s” Phoebe Waller Bridge and Andrew Scott. In fact, Theron was one of the first to give Waller Bridge a standing ovation when she won the award for Best Actress in a Comedy. Anne Hathaway also sat with the “Fleabag” cast during the night, happily chatting away with the comedic crew.
Speaking of “Fleabag,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s NSFW speech got bleeped and the iconic cast of “The Irishman” got cut off after Pacino spoke on behalf of “The Irishman’s” acting ensemble. Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel would not be denied, finishing their speeches to loud applause from the audience. “The great Stanislavski … said there are no small parts, only small actors. And I tried to convince Al [Pacino] of this, but he wouldn’t switch parts with me,” Keitel joked.