The 25th Critics Choice Awards ensued with sunny skies and a brisk, windy chill, the norm for a winter west coast day. Enclosed under a tent, weather aside, stars walked the red carpet dripping in sparkling jewels and couture fashion. As a reporter and a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, there is an annual high anticipation to celebrate stars who have shied away from the Hollywood scene in recent years, reconnect with past talent and welcome newcomers.
The red carpet had a lively vibe, talent beamed, and were keen to engage with press, which always makes our job easier. Dean-Charles Chapman of Universal's WWI film, "1917" plays Lance Corporal Tom Blake, a young inexperienced British soldier who is sent on a mission to deliver a message to the front lines of an impending attack that would not only save 1,600 men's lives, but would save his brother, also a soldier on the front line. He spoke about the challenges of working on those long takes. "We rehearsed for two months before filming, and got into director Sam Mendes's vision for the film." When asked about the pressure of not having the option of several takes, he said, "I believe there was pressure on all of the crew, not just the actors to get those takes right. After so many months of preparation, and after the initial filming, the process became routine."
Warner Bros. "Joker" makeup and hairstylist Kay Georgious, provided insight into Joaquin Phoenix's personality on set. First, and foremost she or Niki Leaderman (makeup artist duo) were always by his side on set. "Joaquin's character has such a deep psychotic tone that he wanted to stay in character most of the time. He does have tremendous trouble sitting still; naturally, he's constantly moving, which can be challenging in my work, I also think to lose 50 pounds was a factor in his fidgeting; hunger can create physical trauma to the body. He's very hard on himself, and at the end of the day, he blames no one but himself, yet he would always thank us and tell us how grateful he is to have us with him. He's generous, kind, and forever a perfectionist."
Moving on to a lighter note, Pixar's ""Toy Story 4," director Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen shared with me the inspiration for my new favorite character, "Forky." In working with children in my previous years as a writer of children's curriculum and an educator, teaching and promoting creativity is key in developing critical thinking. My question, "Please tell me how Forky originated?" Cooley replied, "We were sitting in a story room with the "Toy Story" team and were just talking about the rules of the world of the toys of "Toy Story." We then started talking about our own kids and that our kids will play with anything as a toy, they will pick up a rock and start playing with it. So, we didn't want to unravel the world of toys in "Toy Story," so we said, 'what if we have her (Bonnie) make a toy and play with it?' Also, we received emails throughout the country from Kindergarten teachers who were making Forkys' with their classrooms and thanking us after the movie premiered."
I mentioned that the Alliance of Women's Film Journalists has a film category of Best Female Animated Character and that as a member, I voted for "Bo Peep," and she did end up our winner. I asked about the importance of role models for children. Nielson answered, "We knew we wanted to amplify Bo Peep's character from her 6 minutes in the last film, in which she is portrayed as strong. In the new film, she's strong, dynamic, and interesting." Cooley, said, "Not just stereotypical strong. Strong because that's what she wants, and this time Bo Peep is in the entire film."
Continuing with family films, it was great to reconnect with visual effects supervisor Rob Legato of Disney's "Lion King," the three-time Academy Award winner for ("Titanic," "Hugo," and "The Jungle Book"). I started by telling Rob that we talked about "The Lion King" two years ago on the Critics' Choice Red Carpet and asked him about the challenges. Legato replied, "”The Lion King” was an incredible challenge because people love it so much, it's not like you can skate by and simply improve it. You really have to dig deep and give audiences something they haven't seen before even though they know the story." In terms of what he's most proud of, "I'm really proud of the look, and the actors, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner were hysterical to work with, there was a great camaraderie on set." In following my tradition of asking Rob about future projects on the horizon, he replied, "I might work on the next Martin Scorsese film, I'm hopeful."
Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematographer for Martin Scorsese's Netflix film "The Irishman," spoke about the de-aging of the cast. I asked what it's like to work with Martin Scorsese as he appears to be involved in so many of the aspects of filming. "Yes, that is for sure, although he's a very generous director, very talented, but he expects and allows his team to bring ideas to set. I've been fortunate enough to work on "The Wolf of Wall Street," and "Silence."
I asked him to tell me about the filming conditions of "Silence," as I heard they were rough. Yes, we filmed in Taiwan, there was freezing cold weather, and scorching hot weather, gusty winds, and rains, you name it we had it. When scouting, I'd say, "Marty let me go up to the top of that hill, I'd turn around, and he'd already been climbing up there." Getting back to "The Irishman," I asked what makes this masterpiece so special? "Well, it is one for the ages, one that people will be looking at decades from now. Unique and ground-breaking to cinema to see the de-aging effects. To see the actors in different periods in their lives."
Gloria Calderon Kellett, the co-creator, and executive producer, of "One Day at a Time," a Netflix comedy series, spoke with me about their star, Rita Moreno. I asked what she brings to the show, "She brings all that is Rita Moreno, she is 87 years old and so funny, and smart, and she's getting the attention she deserves because she is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time. She's a legend, and she's the first Latino I saw on television. In the show, her accent is what her mother [Rosa Maria] sounded like, and it's a tribute to her."
After the red-carpet interviews, I quickly found my table as the show was about to start. Taye Diggs returned as host of the show, with a contagious relaxed attitude, keeping everyone at ease. He ventured out into the crowd a few times, asking talent random questions, but made sure to keep the crowd laughing and to keep the show on schedule.
The atmosphere inside Santa Monica's Barker Hangar was jam-packed with film and television's most prominent entertainment names. During the commercial breaks, the critics and talent mix and mingle. Jennifer Lopez chatted with Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern, while Rita Moreno asked if I would watch her purse as she talked with Quentin Tarantino. The tables are arranged by film or television show, I stopped by the "This is Us" table to speak with Sterling K. Brown and Susan Kelechi Watson, as I had interviewed Watson a few months ago for her role in, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." I stopped by the "Bombshell" table to say hello to Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman and was able to snap a quick photo.
The first award of the evening was given to Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix. He started by praising the plant-based food, as he did during his Golden Globes acceptance speech, "First, I'd like to thank the awards for going plant-based and trying to offset our carbon footprint."
He went on to thank his mom, Arlyn Phoenix saying, "I need to thank my mom. Mom, you've always been my greatest inspiration. Even when self-pity led me astray, you didn't give up on me, and I appreciate your support."
Phoenix continued by thanking director Todd Phillips and writer Scott Silver saying, "Scott Silver and Todd Phillips, you checked us. You took a comic book character and used it to talk about childhood trauma, gun violence, isolation and mental health. And instead of inciting violence, you invited the audience in to see what it feels like when you're one of the forgotten."
The Best Supporting Actress went to Laura Dern, who started by saying thank you for holding the awards in this beautiful room in Santa Monica as she's a native, and it meant a lot to her to receive an award in her native city. Later in the show, I was walking in the middle of the room and was able to speak to her. I asked her what she'd like to say about "Marriage Story" she told me that Noah Baumbach's written words were a privilege to speak and that she will be forever grateful to him as a writer and a director.
Kristen Bell was presented with the #SeeHer Award by Ted Danson. The #SeeHer Award recognizes women who "push boundaries on changing stereotypes and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women across the entertainment landscape." The "Good Place" star is the fourth recipient of the #SeeHer Award. The previous honorees include Viola Davis, Gal Gadot and Claire Foy. She gave an inspiring speech in reflecting on the roles she's taken on in her career, including private investigator Veronica Mars and the voice of Anna in "Frozen."
She said, "I do get asked what it means to be a woman today. My immediate reaction is always to answer with words like 'strong' and 'brave' and 'powerful,' but if I'm being honest, to me, being a woman is not about being brave or being strong or being powerful. It's not about being anything specific," Bell said. "It's just about giving yourself permission to be the things that you already are, which seems very easy, but it is not. Because women have been conditioned to fit into boxes; usually tiny, pretty, sparkly boxes with bows on them."
"To me, the idea of womanhood is someone who sheds the perfect little box and owns their complexity, and I've been really lucky to be able to play some really complex women — Veronica Mars, who was sassy and strong but also soft and sad. Eleanor Shellstrop, who's tough and independent, but was also capable of love and community. Princess Anna, who's probably the most unprincessy princess that's ever been animated. And Sarah Marshall, who, let's be honest, was kind of an assh*le, but to me, she was a really likable assh*le." She finished with an important message about women. "What I've learned from all is that is that nobody is just one thing, we are all the things, so thank you for this."
Eddie Murphy received the lifetime achievement award, as the crowd gave him an uproarious standing ovation. He started by saying, "Being able to make a living as an actor is a privilege and a blessing. And to make a living making people laugh, there's nothing higher — you're the luckiest person on Earth to be able to do that," Murphy said. "And I've gotten to do so many different types of things. I've played everything. I've been a cop and a robber and a doctor and a professor. And different ethnicities. I've been animals; I've been a donkey. I even played a spaceship once!" He concluded by saying, "This is a perfect time because I've had a really great year. Thank you so much for honoring me." Murphy's referring to his Netflix film "Dolemite Is My Name," in which he plays the lead character Rudy Ray Moore.
Netflix won the Best Limited Series, "When They See Us," and Ava DuVernay accepted saying, "Thank you to the critics for finally letting us take the stage and thank you to Netflix for letting a black woman do her thing." She also said, "Cases like this are happening in this country, on our watch, people who are poor and innocent."
The Best Director category honored two people as there was a tie, Sam Mendes of "1917" and Bong Joon Ho of "Parasite." The Best Picture of the evening went to Columbia Pictures, "Once Upon a time…in Hollywood," the producers thanked their cast and crew and explained that this is Quentin's love letter to growing up in LA. Tarantino thanked his family of the film crew that has been with him for so many years. He also thanked Harvey Keitel for reading his script and helping him get into the film business years ago.
The highlight for me was chatting backstage with Renée Zellweger just after she won the Best Actress Award for her role in Roadside's "Judy." She thanked her fellow nominees, director, actors, cast and crew. She said, "My Mom and Dad always told me to "just try," and to her big brother, who said, "Don't screw it up." She continued by saying, "I feel so lucky to be part of this part of this celebration of Judy Garland's legacy, and her humanity and everything that she taught us. Thank you for the ride of a lifetime."
Zellweger was lovely and appreciative of our fortuitous conversation. As I walked away, I said, "I do think you need to start preparing your Oscar speech." She smiled.
WINNERS OF THE 25TH ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony)
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker (Warner Bros.)
Renée Zellweger – Judy (Roadside)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Laura Dern – Marriage Story (Netflix)
BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS
Roman Griffin Davis – Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight)
BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
The Irishman (Netflix)
BEST DIRECTOR (TIE)
Bong Joon Ho – Parasite (Neon)
Sam Mendes – 1917 (Universal)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Greta Gerwig – Little Women (Sony)
Roger Deakins – 1917 (Universal)
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Lee Smith – 1917 (Universal)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Ruth E. Carter – Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)
BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avengers: Endgame (Disney)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Toy Story 4 (Disney)
BEST ACTION MOVIE
Avengers: Endgame (Disney)
Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)
BEST SCI-FI OR HORROR MOVIE
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
BEST SONG (TIE)
Glasgow (No Place Like Home) – Wild Rose (Neon)
(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again – Rocketman (Paramount)
Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker (Warner Bros.)
BEST DRAMA SERIES
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jeremy Strong – Succession (HBO)
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Regina King – Watchmen (HBO)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Billy Crudup – The Morning Show (Apple)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jean Smart – Watchmen (HBO)
BEST COMEDY SERIES
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Bill Hader – Barry (HBO)
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Fleabag (Amazon)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Andrew Scott – Fleabag (Amazon)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Alex Borstein – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
BEST LIMITED SERIES
When They See Us (Netflix)
BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (Netflix)
BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Jharrel Jerome – When They See Us (Netflix)
BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Michelle Williams – Fosse/Verdon (FX)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Stellan Skarsgård – Chernobyl (HBO)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Toni Collette – Unbelievable (Netflix)
BEST ANIMATED SERIES
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
BEST TALK SHOW (TIE)
The Late Late Show with James Corden (CBS)
Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)
BEST COMEDY SPECIAL
Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons (ABC)