A topsy-turvy awards day began with “Boyhood” and matured into “Birdman,” as the two dramas traded prizes at a pair of East Coast institutions.
The Richard Linklater film kicked off the post-Thanksgiving awards burst by taking top honors of best film and director at the New York Film Critics Circle. But after following that up with an audience award at the Gotham Awards, the coming-of-age pic gave way to Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman,” which notched wins for best film and Michael Keaton’s performance as lead actor in the downtown ceremony Monday. “Boyhood” was nominated in both categories but came away empty.
The Gothams, staged by the Independent Film Project as a kind of East Coast equivalent of the Spirit Awards, are not considered a huge bellwether of the Oscar race, in part because each prize is decided upon by a separate five-person panel with more of the eclecticism of a film-festival jury than the voting-block tendencies of a Hollywood guild. (Jon Hamm, Oren Moverman and Jane Fonda were three of the five people who voted “Birdman” best film.)
Still the primacy of “Birdman” Monday night was bound to help it seize back some of the Oscar momentum that had gone to “Boyhood” in recent weeks, with the latter film topping pundits’ and pollsters’ lists for best picture.
The two movies each saw their creators take the podium at the Gothams, the first large-scale forum for winners to put on their best faces and workshop material they're likely to use later in the season.
Upon winning, Linklater nodded to the unusual process by which his film was made, describing his pitch to IFC chief Jonathan Sehring as “Start giving me money and you might see some of it back [in 13 years].” But then, given how many films lose money, he noted, he might have been doing Sehring a favor. “This was a way he could lose money very slowly and no one would notice,” the director said.
Reinforcing the notion of two movies on parallel tracks, Inarritu took the stage about an hour later and immediately shouted to Linklater, saying he had seen "Boyhood" and was moved by it, so much so he even sent the Austin helmer a thank-you note. Turning his attention to his own movie, Inarritu then said that he made for the movie for everyone “in our age that are still wandering and questioning what....life is about, what’s the point of all this.”
Inarritu's star Keaton got off some of the best lines of the night in accepting the actor prize, particularly a riff in which he said, "I want to thank the fine folks at Gotham. It feels good to be back home," then added, “Not to toot my horn, but when was the last time you saw the Penguin or the Joker cause any problems?”
Emceed by Uma Thurman, the events also offered first looks at contenders likely to make a few more speeches before all is said and done.
Julianne Moore accepted the prize for best actress for her role as a professor suffering form early-onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice" and noted in her speech that independent film is “where I found myself.” Laura Poitras' Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour” took the doc prize, besting the Roger Ebert film “Life Itself” in what many believe will be the key showdown in the doc category at the Oscars.
Absent from the voted awards Monday night were “Foxcatcher” and “The Imitation Game,” two contenders in the larger Oscar race, though the former did land a special ensemble award for leads Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Carell appeared and faux-dissed the other two for no-showing due to a Marvel pic (Ruffalo) and a newborn (Tatum).
Separately, “Foxcatcher’ director Bennett Miller was given a lifetime achievement award. Introducing him was "Capote" star Catherine Keener, who gave a meandering speech that involved metaphors as diverse as wormy apples and sophisticated chess games. As he took the stage, Miller quipped that "Harvey Weinstein has never had anything to do with any film I've ever made,” though it was unclear, as my colleague Glenn Whipp noted on Twitter, whether such a comment was a boast or a lament. (Miller said he would one day work with Weinstein.)
The movie business also took advantage of the night to fete Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, a moment that seemed well-timed given the deep–pocketed company’s foray into the film business over the last year. In a video tribute, boldfaced names including David Fincher, Harvey Weinstein and Brian Grazer all praised the executive and Netflix, a sign of how much the digital company is perceived as an emerging cinema player.
As he took the stage, Keaton immediately poked fun at all the reflexive praise. “I want to say first off that I love Ted Sarandos,” he quipped. Keaton's was one of the jokiest speeches of the night, and a sign that, if the actor keeps winning, viewers could be in for a playfulness to rival Matthew McConaughey's run through awards-land last year.
Some of the most lively on-stage banter came from comedian Amy Schumer, who in introducing lifetime achievement recipient Tilda Swinton, said, "She's the greatest hang you will ever have. Hanging out with her makes me furious at everyone else I've ever met that they're not her.” It was the kind of day in which “Birdman” and “Boyhood” were inspiring that kind of jealousy too, in alternate measures.