A wild whirlwind of a mess, without any coherence, without even a guiding principle.
The 2017 IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards officially kicked off the awards season yesterday night, crowning many of this year’s favorite films including "Get Out," Jordan Peele’s contemporary horror that tackles modern-day racism (which nearly swept the categories it was nominated for), Luca Guadagnino’s sensual gay romance/coming-of-age tale "Call Me by Your Name," Greta Gerwig’s semi autobiographical “Lady Bird” and Dee Rees’ novelistic "Mudbound." During a long night hosted by John Cameron Mitchell where speeches weren’t played off and alcohol was free-flowing, young actors like Brooklynn Prince mingled with legendary veterans like Lois Smith, tributes including Dustin Hoffman, “Wonderstruck” cinematographer Ed Lachman, Nicole Kidman, innovative producer Jason Blum and former Vice President Al Gore delivered spirited speeches and "The Big Sick"'s Kumail Nanjiani shared a red carpet hug with "Call Me by Your Name"'s Timothée Chalamet in nearly-matching suits.
As the night progressed, legendary journalist Dan Rather referred to “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”s Al Gore, his friend of more than 40 years, as a “get-up fighter and climate crusader.” After saluting his fellow Nashville locals Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies was awesome,” he said enthusiastically,) Gore prescribed hope to the industry crowd that filled the vast hall at the fancy Downtown Cipriani. “Political will itself is a renewable resource,” former VP reminded. Among the fieriest presentations of the night, Ethan Hawke saluted his friend Jason Blum as a “silly, loyal, spontaneous and ebullient person who uses his power to empower and puts the highest value on the word friendship.” There came a time Nicole Kidman kicked off her shoes (showed up backstage barefoot) and Ed Lachman settled in a seat next to me to watch the ceremony from the comfort of the Press Room. This year, he loved Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “Loveless” among other films, as he told me in passing.
Here are some highlights and exclusive backstage moments from a memorable night.
The zeitgeist was captured through the night.
And not just with multiple wins from "Get Out," which undoubtedly is among 2017’s most urgent and relevant films, and the big prize given to "Call Me by Your Name." The tone was set with John Cameron Mitchell’s opening monologue early on. While his delivery was mostly prickly and stiff (with jokes that didn’t quite land), his words transmitted the joint anger felt in the turbulent times of the past year. “Everything’s unacceptable. Everything’s fucked up. We can’t read the news,” Mitchell said, adding that the present-day feels like the films of the 70s like "Taxi Driver," “Network” and "Nashville." “The young are fetishizing the past, over-curating the present, because they are scared they don’t have a future. And old people are punk now, smashing shit up, using words like alt. We hashtag #Resist because we’re panicking. If all news is fake, all stories are true. There are a lot of people here telling good stories that haven’t sanded off the prickly complexities.” He continued, “Our worst casualty lately is empathy,” celebrating independent film’s ability to harness compassion.
IFP Executive Director Joana Vicente acknowledged the long and tough year it’s been, both in the film industry and across the world, with so many painful truths unfolding. “We would like to take this moment to recognize and honor those women and men who have stepped forward,” Vicente said, referring to the countless sexual assault victims of Harvey Weinstein and others who spoke out. “And the journalists for telling their stories. Thank you, you are all helping us to build a better future.”
"Get Out" started off strong in the awards race leading up to the Oscars.
Sure, Gotham Awards are voted by tiny committees consisting of a handful of names and they can never be compared to the Oscars one-on-one, as they are decided by the thousands of members of the Academy. But, momentum is momentum and there is no denying that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out," a fascinating and genre-defying blend of horror, drama and comedy will sail through the season with renewed confidence after having won multiple awards at the Gothams, including Best Screenplay, Breakthrough Director and the Audience Award. “When I started to write this film, I set out to make a movie that would be my favorite movie that I’ve never seen,” said writerdirector Jordan Peele, when he accepted his first award for Best Screenplay from actors Lois Smith (“Marjorie Prime”) and Brooklynn Prince (“The Florida Project”). Thanking Blumhouse Productions and Universal Pictures for fighting for and taking a risk with his film, “It’s so important that we support these voices from the outside, these perspectives we haven’t seen,” continued Peele. “If you help these stories be told, they will resonate. We need these stories.”
Make way for Timothée Chalamet, a star-in-the-making and this year’s awards season staple.
Humbly accepting his Breakthrough Actor award for his performance in Luca Guadagnino’s sensual and romantic "Call Me by Your Name," “I don’t know who I fooled to let me in to a category with someone as talented as Mary J. Blige,” said Chalamet. “The ease with which you’re able to traverse across so many mediums is a tremendous inspiration, and I’m simply honored to be included in a category with you. I’m serious about that.” At the Press Room backstage, Chalamet told me while he’s gratefully enjoying the abundant love he’s been receiving this year, he’s also realistic about the nature of it. “I read a great Emma Stone interview a couple of years ago where she said that there's an understanding, even with the success she was having, that next year there [will] always be ‘a new girl,' and then next year there [will be] a girl after that. So this moment is deeply appreciated,” the young actor. “It goes beyond anything we would have expected making a movie but there's no harm in actually enjoying it either.”
“It was all happenstance,” he added, when asked about how the three films he’s in this year (“Lady Bird” and "Hostiles," in addition to “Call Me by Your Name”) all lining up together. “I had been attached to 'Call Me by Your Name' for three years. I was doing a play called Prodigal Son in New York that John Patrick Shanley wrote and directed. Scott Rudin produced that. And he [also] produced "Lady Bird." He had me read for Greta [Gerwig]. Then she cast me in that. Then while I was in Italy doing "Call Me by Your Name," I taped an audition for "Hostiles.'" Chalamet says his heart is evenly split between stage and screen. “There's a certain thrill and ecstasy of performing on stage that you don't get when you're on film and yet, it's all satisfying.”
Dee Rees’ lyrical epic “Mudbound” made a strong showing despite only walking away with one award.
Notably absent as a nominee in Best Feature, Best Screenplay and major acting categories (with the exception of Mary J. Blige’s nomination in Breakthrough Actor), a special ensemble jury award for “Mudbound” inevitably felt like a diss. But this didn’t stop Netflix’s classical epic, which they acquired in Sundance, from making a lasting impression throughout the night. To accept the ensemble award, actors Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Rob Morgan and Jonathan Banks were present. “We all have connections to this story in different ways,” said Mitchell. “My grandfather actually fought in the Korean War and went through the things my character Ronsel went through. Let’s just take the time to thank our director, the confident, fearless Dee Rees who had a vision.” Hedlund continued, “Thank you [Dee Rees] for making a film that explores timely and contemporary themes of race and our collective history.”
At the backstage, Mary J. Blige told me she loves the fact that people can’t recognize her in the film. “People saw me disappear, because that was what Dee Rees wanted. I wanted it too, because as an actor, if you disappear, you're an actress,” she noted. “I just allowed Dee to just diminish anything that was Mary J. Blige. Anything that I would do, this character wouldn't do. This character would just run around with her own natural texture of hair. She would just be bare; she was just a confident woman from the South.” Blige, who can also land an Oscar nomination as a Supporting Actress for her performance, indicated that she went through so many emotions reading the script, which ultimately meant she had to take on this role. “I was angry, I was happy, I was curious. I was also happy at the ending, because love was the silver lining. Movies like this never really have a happy ending, so I guess those were the things that really made me want to do the film.”
FULL LIST OF WINNERS
"Call Me by Your Name" (Sony Pictures Classics)
"Strong Island" (Netflix)
Saoirse Ronan/"Lady Bird" (A24)
James Franco/"The Disaster Artist" (A24)
Jordan Peele/"Get Out" (Universal Pictures)
Timothée Chalamet/"Call Me by Your Name" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Jordan Peele/"Get Out" (Universal Pictures)
Breakthrough Series (Long Form)
Breakthrough Series (Short Form)
"The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes" (YouTube)
Gotham Jury Award for Ensemble Performance
"Get Out" (Universal Pictures)
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