NYFCC: Five things we learned about awards contenders at this year's show

Richard Linklater and Boyhood were among the big winners at the New York Film Critics Circle Monday night

One of the more prestigious but informal of the year’s awards shows went down Monday, as the New York Film Critics Circle ceremony was held here at a downtown restaurant. “Boyhood” and Richard Linklater ran through much of the ticket, with some “Whiplash,” “Mr. Turner” and Marion Cotillard spread throughout. And as it does most years, the podium appearance of many of the season’s front-runners offered some notable clues as to how their speeches and campaigns are shaking out.

The lack of cameras--and play-off music--at the NYFCC event is a double-edged sword: it makes the speeches a little less formal and rushed but also can lead to a kind of rambliness. There were some moments that would only happen at this event—Cotillard, winning what will almost surely be her only major actress prize of the season, giving a pair of speeches that might be generously described as low-key, and Bill Murray introducing the octogenarian MOMA curator Adrienne Mancia by making sex jokes.

Jon Stewart introduced best picture winner “Boyhood” by riffing that in hacked emails from IFC, executives “detail the struggle with the studio,” as in “A couple million dollars for a masterpiece that will live forever?...this…egomaniacal…”

Ethan Hawke, intro-ing Linklater, cited Manohla Dargis:‎ "Linklater  seems to achieve the impossible--he makes Ethan Hawke bearable," the kind of sharply funny quip that one doesn’t quite foresee at the Oscars.

There was no sign of Armond White, the contrarian gadfly who was kicked out of the NYFCC after last year’s ceremony for heckling “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen, though after a stretch of dry speeches, the filmmaker Paul Schrader took the stage and said, essentially, “we could really use him right now.”

But plenty of winners were nonetheless warming up their acts that will continue with the National Board of Review on Tuesday night, spike at the Golden Globes on Sunday, continue further with guild awards over the weeks that follow and then culminate in the Oscars on Feb. 22. Here is a sampling.

Linklater. We’ll likely be seeing a lot of him in the weeks to come, particularly at the big show, since he’s sure to be nominated in three major categories—picture, director and original screenplay---and could well win one or more. Linklater is well-known for a kind of unassumingly ruminative style, and he didn’t disappoint here. As he accepted the prize for best director, he began speaking of a critic, and an obscure one at that, in the late George Morris, whom few in the room were familiar with. Then he appeared almost sheepish about it, just saying that the critic was “on his mind” Monday night. It was a refreshingly different approach that seems to emanate from the same everyday thoughtfulness as his films. (Linklater was, it should be noted, wearing a suit, a contrast to the Western-shirt attire he typically dons in the rest of his life.)

Patricia Arquette. Another of the “Boyhood” clan, she spoke movingly and seriously about being a mother and how this film impacted that part of her life. Arquette is one of those interesting awards-contenders—someone who’s been around a long time but we almost never hear in contexts like this. We’ll almost certainly get plenty of chances in the weeks ahead as she starts racking up the wins. Judging by Monday’s performance, they're going to be reach-for-your-Kleenex affairs.

Timothy Spall. OK, he won’t probably won’t win many other big awards for his portrayal of a tortured artist in Mike Leigh's “Mr. Turner.” But he’ll be missed—his speech was humble and revealing, and featured the line, as he talked candidly about the pain of not working for long stretches, of “At least I'd say you're a painter you can paint. If you're an actor you can't walk around acting. People think you’re crazy.”

J.K. Simmons. Simmons tailored his speech to the critics group, talking about a Seattle Times writer (the paper’s late longtime theater critic Wayne Johnson) who gave him his first review. But the "Whiplash" supporting actor offered a clue to the tack he’ll take as he wins what will likely be several more of these, citing Johnson’s line that it’s an actor’s responsibility to “bring joy” with his work. Simmons notably didn’t riff on his tough-guy persona from the film nor reference his “no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job' line, though he should; it could be a thing. Simmons also called out to his still-29 director Damian Chazelle,  the always thoughtful personality who was there Monday as well. Chazelle is one of the intriguing factors at this year’s Oscars—he’s on the bubble for best director but could make the cut, a welcome burst of youth amid a sea of many more in their 40s and 50s.

Chris Miller and Phil Lord. The creative forces behind “The Lego Movie” began what will almost certainly be a long run of speeches (in fact, they’re set to give another one at NBR on Tuesday for the same best animated prize). For their acceptance Monday, the guys did the kind of patter that comes from two people knowing and working with one another for a long time, not the jury-rigged, paired-presenter banter that comes from the met-10-minutes-ago NFL-playoff-refereeing school of teaming up that characterizes most award-show twosomes. Joking that they each wrote lines for the other to read that praised themselves, Lord then brought it home with what might turn out to be one of the gems of the season.  "We'd also like to thank Pixar,” he said, “for not releasing a film this year."

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