As one of the early film awards events of the season — and a venue where attendees already know they've won — the New York Film Critics Circle awards is a fine opportunity to see leading Oscar contenders try out their speech material.
And indeed, that's what Tuesday's event in downtown Manhattan — which saw Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" take best film and "Moonlight" helmer Barry Jenkins win best director — wound up demonstrating. There was an endearingly idiosyncratic speech by Chazelle (he talked mainly about the various interpretations of the ending to the 1927 romance "7th Heaven" as an argument for more fanciful readings of films) and a piece of acid comedy from "Manchester by the Sea" star Casey Affleck that had him, in accepting best actor, excerpting the many bad reviews given him over the years by New York Magazine critic and evening emcee David Edelstein. "Affleck's line readings would be too mumbly and mulish even for the glory days of '50s Method acting; he might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says 'Shoot Me," read one. Edelstein was clearly annoyed and made several attempts to fire back/deny the charges at subsequent stage appearances.)
And the citation of a James Baldwin quote by "O.J.: Made in America" director Ezra Edelman, about how history is something we carry with us, suggested that several future acceptance remarks this season will be of the meaty variety.
But for sheer speechifying goodness, nothing compares to the comments of presenter Robert Klein. Klein's appearance at the event was a bit of a mystery in the first place. The comedian was there to introduce Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush's "Zootopia" as best animated film — but, unlike most presenters, he had no connection either to the film or to its creators, making his appearance confounding both to him and to us.
This bafflement was hardly the only subject that caught his eye, however. In what has to rank as one of the greatest, and certainly the most Dadaist, speeches in the modern history of award shows, Klein spent several minutes ranging through comedy bits and various musings before circling around, sort of, to the matter at hand. For everyone who's ever considered thanking their agent — and to any of us audience folks who had listen to a laundry list of CAA and WME names — we present Klein's speech (mostly) in its entirety.
"I made love to Joan Rivers in a movie. That's not important. She sold me four bracelets. I'll tell you something about this 'Zootopia.' I was always confused by Porky Pig. Because he had no pants and no genitals. No wonder he stuttered. Where's Kyra Sedgwick? [Looks around for an earlier presenter.] I played her father in a terrible movie where I made love to Mary Tyler Moore. She told me not to eat lobster because they mate for life. And then I saw a Learning Channel documentary and they do mate for life. So now when I order lobster I order two.
"I've made a lot of movies. Not all were meritorious. [But] even my colonoscopy-- to me, it's more Jules Verne. The idea: If some futurist had told me in 1963 when I was in graduate school that they'll one day stick a television camera up your … to see if you're sick…. You know what a television camera looked like in 1965? 'Unfortunately as a little technicality hair and makeup have to go up there too.' Having a film crew in your colon is nobody's idea of a good time. 'And then craft services.' I saw this movie ['Zootopia'.] In Disney movies the bear was always good [pauses to do cartoon-bear imitation] and the fox was always bad. [Does another imitation].
"And in this movie it all comes home to roost. It's subversive. I'm going to report it immediately to the Trump administration to keep these people out of our society. I just thought it was a wonderful, wonderful movie. You think I'm kidding. I'm not. It brought up all these interesting questions. I have one child. He's 372 months old. I wouldn't let him watch it. It's too subversive. It's hammer and nail, not incredibly subtle, but it takes a stand. A wonderful effort. I wish I was one of the voices in it It would have put me a few bucks ahead for my medical.
"I should talk about [the movie in a good light.] Disney sent a car. I owe them that. [Looks down at paper.] They didn't gave me any names here. I just met two guys who made the movie. Oh wait. 'Best animated movie. Robert Klein. Hennessy whiskey. [To Edelstein, sort of, off stage] You're in charge of this thing. There is a little slip-up. No names here. [Back to audience] Luckily I was in Second City. Give me a book title; I'll improvise. I just met these guys. They're wonderful. Rich Moore. Byron Howard. Jared Bush. These guys are the big machers behind this movie 'Zootopia.' Which I totally enjoyed."