Judging by the elated vibe in the Fairmont Century City Ballroom, where smiles and laughter prevailed, the downpour of rain in Los Angeles didn't place a damper on the 28th Critics Choice Awards. Airing live on The CW channel this past January 15th, talent and critics joined in celebrating the year in film and TV in an event hosted by the hysterical Chelsea Handler. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" won Best Film, taking home the most awards with five. Best Actor went to Brendan Fraser for "The Whale," and Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett for "TÁR."
My evening began three hours before the show on the Red Carpet inside the hotel, where talent conversed with journalists while showing off the latest fashions. Talk about style; the guys looked incredible as the obligatory tux has been redesigned. Jack Champion, who plays Spider Socorro in "Avatar: The Way of Water," also my favorite character from the film, wore a double-buttoned down gray suit. He spoke about his audition: "It was a long process with four screen tests, I flew to California many times from my small town in Virginia, but I finally got the job. I was so excited."
And how did he rehearse for his part? "There were many years of training to run around in the forest like Mowgli, [a boy from "The Jungle Book" raised by wolves] who is very comfortable in the woods." His favorite visual effects were the gigantic whale scenes and his favorite line is when he is told to make sure his mask doesn't fog over, and he says, "I'm good, dumbass!" Champion continues, "I loved his rude, in-your-face attitude; I'm not like that, but I had a great time playing that kind of character that is so abrupt."
Rebecca Lenkiewicz, a British playwright and screenwriter, looking gorgeous in a long sleeve silver sequin dress, wrote the script for one of my favorite films of 2022, "She Said," starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan as the New York Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story. I asked her about the biggest hurdle in writing the screenplay. Lenkiewicz said, “You feel a responsibility because it's a huge story, and there aren't that many films coming out about sexual violence against women, so I wanted to get it right and to honor the survivors.” Later that evening, I spoke with Zoe Kazan, praising her work in the film; she said, "Working with Rebecca was an incredible experience; she cares so much about getting the facts correct, and she also worked with the original journalists—at times they were even on set."
Singer, musician, songwriter, record producer, actor, and author, Weird Al Yankovic is best known for his accordion playing and creating comedy songs that joke about pop culture; they are often parody specific songs by present-day musicians. Wearing a classic black suit and tie, he spoke with me about his new 'exaggerated' biopic film, "Weird: The Al Yankovic Story." He talked about his fake downward spiral in the film and his big comeback and said, "About every ten years, we need a farce biopic like 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,' or 'This is Spinal Tap,' or 'Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,' to remind us how utterly stupid biopics really are."
Pixar's "Turning Red" director Domee Shi, an Academy Award-winner for her short-animated film "Bao,” said about the writing process of her new film, "I was directly inspired by my own life growing up in Toronto; I was Ming Lee [voiced by Sandra Oh], I was struggling with being my mom's perfect daughter, and was a raging hormonal beast. I thought, wouldn't it be a funny and weird metaphor for puberty if Ming Lee turned into a huge fluffy red panda every time she got emotional, excited, or worked up."
"All Quiet on the Western Front" writers and executive producers Leslie Paterson and Ian Stokell acquired the rights to the book of the same name 16 years ago. With a setting near the end of World War I in France, the film follows a newly enlisted German Army soldier and his friends as they are exposed to the bloody realities of war, shattering all hopes of becoming heroes; they all do their best to simply stay alive. I asked the duo about the lead actor, Felix Kammerer, as his performance is riveting. They auditioned over 500 young men for the part, and every time Kammerer came back, he was even better; it's as if he grew into the role. "That was his first film; all his work has been on the stage up to our film. I'm so proud to be a part of this film and the work Netflix has done and the director Edward Berger's vision," said Paterson.
Jude Hill, 12, the Irish child actor from "Belfast," chatted about his role last year, his Critics Choice award for Best Young Actor, and his upcoming film with Sir Kenneth Branagh, the director and writer of "Belfast." When I asked about new projects on the horizon, Hill said, "I'm cast in the new film, 'A Haunting of Venice' [opening September 15, 2023] that Kenneth Branagh is directing and acting in. I can't say much about the plot, but I'm so happy to be working with Kenneth again. Did you know we are best friends? He's such a great person, and I love having him in my life; I can talk to him about anything."
After leaving the Red Carpet, I walked downstairs to the Ballroom—to say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement; the DJ played pre-party tunes while talent and guests mingled before the show. Everywhere you turned, talent was either sipping, chatting, or swaying to the music. My table near the front of the room was considered the FX channel table, with the cast of the hit show "The Bear." A fitting table, as the TV series is in Chicago, which is very close to my hometown. Actors Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Matty Matheson, Lionel Boyce, and Liza Colón-Zayas from the series chatted with me throughout the evening. At one point, I was seated next to White, who plays a chef in the show, at the exact moment he won Best Actor in a Television Comedy. I took a quick video of him hugging his cast and walking to the stage. Afterward, I asked him if he'd like to see the video; he liked it so much that he sent it to himself from my phone. It was fun chatting with White as I'd seen every Season of "Shameless" also filmed in Chicago, of which he was a member of the cast. He started on that show just after he graduated from High School.
"The Woman King" table was very close to mine. Before the show began, I spoke with Viola Davis and told her I screened "The Woman King" in Toronto at TIFF, and unbeknownst to both of us, Chaz Ebert walked into the theater before the film started and sat next to me during it. I told her how much I appreciated showing strong women on film and that her performance was tremendous. She smiled and thanked me, saying, "We had a great team."
Speaking of the team, I was delighted to meet Thuso Mbedu, as I was riveted by her starring role in Barry Jenkins TV series "The Underground Railroad" and her portrayal of Nawi in "The Woman King," an ambitious new recruit to the all-female military unit lead by Nanisca (Davis). I asked her about the camaraderie between the actors in the film as director Gina Prince-Bythewood was so grateful for the cast's support of each other. Mbedu replied, "Yes, and thank you for my work with Barry; it was an honor. In regards to Gina's comments, yes, at times it felt so special, a sisterhood, as the comforting and nurturing attitude of the women helped me relax, knowing they wanted me to succeed."
It's always fun to see the talent you've met in the past. Having met Gina Prince-Bythewood, director of "The Women King," at the Critics Choice Celebration of Black Cinema and Television Awards, it was delightful to talk about the accolades the film has received. Prince-Bythewood said, "Yes, it's been a great ride, and I also appreciate journalists like yourself who love the film."
As the show began, the electricity in the air was fantastic, and the interaction with the film and TV clips shown before each award were cheered and applauded before the award was presented. Each table was smiling and wishing each other good luck, a true feeling of anticipation and celebration. After covering the live show for nine years, it also felt like more was at stake here; these awards validate that a job well done is important and it does matter. When the award winners were announced, the crowd's reaction was heightened again, some standing and applauding, some cheering. The speeches were heartfelt and genuine as well; some were crying tears of joy.
Another aspect of the talent which has changed is the taking of photos. I purposely asked to take a few photos of talent by themselves and discovered that, for whatever reason, they wanted me to be in the photo. I'd say, "That's okay, thanks; I'd like a solo shot of you for my article." After taking one of Paul Dano, he said, "You know, you should be in one with me; it will be better." He smiled and cocked his head, so how could I turn down Steven Spielberg's father?
Similar conversations were repeated throughout the night by talent. Austin Butler said to me, "You have to be in it!" Now, am I going to turn down Elvis? And, when those photos are taken, the talent will often ask for your phone to snap them.
Jennifer Coolidge, winner of the Best Actress, Comedy Series “White Lotus” said to me, “I’m just so surprised at the success of 'White Lotus.' I’m really blown away.” Again, I asked for a solo, and she asked if I’d be in it as well.
Speaking with Jeff Bridges, this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award, I commented on his father. He said during his acceptance speech that today was his father's birthday and that his dad Lloyd Bridges is why he's an actor. He talked about his dad's influences on him and his support and encouragement. I spoke with him briefly, saying that I've seen almost all of his films and that I met "The Dude" Jeff Dowd, the real guy his character is based upon in "The Big Lebowski" at EbertFest; he chuckled and shook his head, saying, "That had to be a real trip!" I also praised his work in "Crazy Heart" as his singing was phenomenal; he won our Best Actor Award in 2010 and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.
The SeeHer award, established in 2016, is always a favorite moment in the show. The goal is to recognize a woman who embodies the values set forth by the SeeHer movement. It's given to women who 'push boundaries, defy stereotypes, and acknowledge the importance of authentic portrayals of women and girls across the entertainment landscape. Kate Hudson presented SeeHer to her co-star Janelle Monáe of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery."
Accepting the honor, Monáe announced that her pronouns are "she, her, they, them." She continued saying, "I am non-binary, I am queer, and my identity influences my decisions in my work. I've always believed that through storytelling, we are able to shed light on a human experience, an experience that most people around the world won't get an opportunity to see. And I keep this glimmer of hope in my heart that when someone meets a character like the ones I've had the opportunity to play, you'd be more empathetic to their experience. You want to be more like them. You want to be more kind, less judgmental, and more eager to advocate for them."
Brendan Fraser accepted the award for Best Actor in a Drama; I wondered if he'd break into tears as he has done at film festivals. He took a while getting to the stage, and when he began, he was actually joking around about his career, although when he began talking about "The Whale," the floodgates opened.
"The Whale" is about love, it's about redemption, and it's about finding the light in a dark place. And I'm so lucky to have worked with an ensemble that is incredible and includes Hong Chau, who should have her own movie based on every character she's ever played, and Sadie Sink, who is incredible. Your talent precedes your age; it took me 32 years to get here."
"Ty Simpkins, you won the game ball every day. Sam Hunter, you're my lighthouse. And Darren Aronofsky, I was in the wilderness, and I probably should have left a trail of breadcrumbs, but you found me, and like all the best directors you merely just showed me where to go to get to where I needed to be."
"If you, like a guy like Charlie that I played in this movie in any way struggle with obesity, or you just feel like you're in a dark sea. I want you to know that if you too, can have the strength to just get to your feet and go to the light, good things will happen."
All and all, the 28th annual Critics Choice Awards felt like a celebration of talent as the atmosphere was heightened by excitement, gratitude, and enthusiasm.
WINNERS OF THE 28th ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE AWARDS
Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24)
Brendan Fraser – The Whale (A24)
Cate Blanchett – Tár (Focus Features)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ke Huy Quan – Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Angela Bassett – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
BEST YOUNG ACTOR
Gabriel LaBelle – The Fabelmans (Universal Pictures)
BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert – Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24)
Claudio Miranda – Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount Pictures)
Paul Rogers – Everything Everywhere All at Once (A24)
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Ruth E. Carter – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP
Elvis (Warner Bros. Pictures)
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Avatar: The Way of Water (20th Century Studios)
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix)
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (Netflix)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
RRR (Sarigama Cinemas)
Naatu Naatu – RRR (Sarigama Cinemas)
Hildur Guðnadóttir – Tár (Focus Features)
BEST DRAMA SERIES
Better Call Saul (AMC)
BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul (AMC)
BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Zendaya – Euphoria (HBO Max)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Giancarlo Esposito – Better Call Saul (AMC)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jennifer Coolidge – The White Lotus (HBO Max)
BEST COMEDY SERIES
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Jeremy Allen White – The Bear (FX)
BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Jean Smart – Hacks (HBO Max)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Henry Winkler – Barry (HBO Max)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Sheryl Lee Ralph – Abbott Elementary (ABC)
BEST LIMITED SERIES
The Dropout (Hulu)
BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel)
BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Daniel Radcliffe – Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (The Roku Channel)
BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Amanda Seyfried – The Dropout (Hulu)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Paul Walter Hauser – Black Bird (Apple TV+)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION
Niecy Nash-Betts – Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERIES
Pachinko (Apple TV+)
BEST ANIMATED SERIES
Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
BEST TALK SHOW
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO Max)
BEST COMEDY SPECIAL
Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Netflix)