Politics of course weighed heavily upon the 26th annual Gotham Awards, the first major awards show of the fall, and it’s likely indicative of the tenor this season will set through to the Oscars in February.
Barry Jenkins’ hit coming-of-age drama “Moonlight” was the evening’s big winner, taking home every honor it was nominated for including Best Feature and Best Screenplay as well as a previously announced jury prize for Ensemble and an Audience Award. Jenkins, a second-time filmmaker, couldn’t seem to believe his luck. “When you go eight years without making a [new] film,” Jenkins said at one point, referencing his micro budgeted first film “Medicine for Melancholy,” “you assume no one is going to watch it.”
While the victory for “Moonlight” could be interpreted as a sharp rebuke to racism and prejudice stoked by Donald Trump’s campaign (Jenkins’ film is both queer centric and features an all-black cast), it didn’t fall on Jenkins and his cast to criticize the President-elect.
The show’s emcee Keegan-Michael Key (whose indie comedy “Don’t Think Twice” was a hit at the specialty box office this summer) set the pointedly political tone of the event from the outset, joking that he had missed the election and assumed that Hillary Clinton had won. After learning of her defeat by Trump, he breathed a big sigh of relief. “Thank God he’s not going to live here,” he said. Cue the uncomfortable groans from the audience in Cipriani Wall Street.
“Homeland” star Damian Lewis also went the slyly humorous route. “The film that receives the most votes is the winner! What a brilliant idea!” he said in presenting the Audience prize. Before doling out the best actor award, comedian Nick Kroll drolly noted: “Gentlemen, if you don’t win take solace in the fact that you didn’t win because the Russians interfered in ways we don’t understand.”
Oliver Stone opted for a more urgent plea while accepting a career tribute honor from “A Most Violent Year” director J. C. Chandor. “You can be critical of your government,” the “Snowden” filmmaker said. “We’ve forgotten that. The 1970s can come back if you embody that in your work. So don’t go easy on what you think is wrong, think internationally, there are other values aside from the echo bowl that we have.”
“(Edward) Snowden said clearly that the mechanism is in place so that when there is another terrorist attack, which inevitably there will be, the next president will have the authority to close down the system in most oppressive way than it’s ever been,” Stone continued. “This is a major issue in our time and I hope young people won’t forget this in your work.”
Elsewhere during the evening, talent were generally more buoyant, with Isabelle Huppert taking the cake as the most nakedly elated winner of the night. “I’m breathless. I’m speechless,” a visibly startled Huppert said as she took the stage to collect her Best Actress prize. The icon won for her performance as a cunning and mysterious video game developer in Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” beating out the favored winner, Natalie Portman for “Jackie.” “I didn’t expect that to happen, I promise,” Huppert said, looking flustered. “They told me it’s an American award: ‘You’re French, and you’ll never get it.’”
Casey Affleck, who nabbed best actor for “Manchester By The Sea,” also appeared unprepared, despite his anticipated win — and just as happy. “This feels really good — I didn’t think I would care that much.”
Cate Blanchett, rocking a pair of oversized pink-rimmed glasses, was effusive in her praise of Amy Adams, to whom she presented a career tribute award. The two-time Oscar winner confessed to “falling in love with Amy’s characters every time, no matter what the circumstances,” and cited Adams’ two films in theaters, “Arrival” and “Nocturnal Animals,” as an “extraordinary double whammy.” “Right back at ya,” Adams said to Blanchett, who she then praised as a “legend.”
Adams fondly recalled first attending the Gothams 11 years ago, when she won the breakthrough award for “Junebug” (this year, that award went to “The Witch” breakout Anya Taylor-Joy). “I think it’s a testament to the power of independent film that a movie that was made for under $1 million has given the opportunity and privilege to have this amazing career,” she said of “Junebug,” for which she received her first Oscar nomination.
Ethan Hawke, who was awarded the second actor tribute award of the night by his “Reality Bites” co-star Winona Ryder, was similarly humbled, claiming that he’s been “washed up” several times over the course of his career. “The only thing I know for certain is I will be washed up again very soon,” the “Born to be Blue” Oscar hopeful said.
Check out the full list of Gotham Awards winners and our analysis, and bookmark this link for all of our year end coverage.