ABOVE: MATT DAMON (RIGHT) WITH LUCIANA BARROSO AT THE AWARDS. IMAGE COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES FOR IFP
The Gotham Independent Film Awards have an indie perspective and a very NYC address (it doesn't get much more Manhattan than Cipriani Wall Street), but make no mistake: they are the first important awards show of the season, and their impact will be felt at major Hollywood ceremonies over the next few months.
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's witty film about preteen romance, won Best Feature. The award's jury included Meg Ryan and Willem Dafoe, who presented the award to first-time actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. "He is so kind and fun and very specific and exacting," the preternaturally poised, 14-year-old Hayward said about working with Anderson. "He comes to set with every detail worked out already."
First-time director Benh Zeitlin won Breakthrough Director and The Bingham Ray Award for Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was the first screenplay from playwright Lucy Alibar, who told us, "I wrote a play about my dad when he got sick and how it changed the way he was a father and the way I was a daughter. I sent it to Benh, who's been my best friend since we were 14 years old. Sundance Labs were phenomenally instructive. Ben did the film program at Wesleyan [University] and he gave me his syllabus. I watched every movie, read all the books and took scripts apart." Alibar says she was able to write in the voice of Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhane Wallis (who was nominated for Breakthrough Actor) by "remembering what it was like being six."
Ethan Hawke and Juliet Rylance presented the Best Ensemble Performance award to Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass for Your Sister's Sister. Blunt, who was wearing a Calvin Klein gown, said, "We had such a lovely time making the film; it was a special experience. I'm just glad that it's a little gem that people see, and not just sitting on the shelf." Blunt's husband, John Krasinski, wrote Matt Damon's new film, Promised Land, directed by Gus Van Sant; and Blunt is appropriately chuffed. "Isn't it incredible? I'm beyond proud."
Duplass gave us a high-five when we asked him about eliciting the kind of heartfelt, moving performance that Jason Segel gave in Duplass' Jeff, Who Lives at Home. "It requires the actors really wanting to do it," he explained. "If they are good people and are sort of students of the human condition and want to do that, then they are very capable, which makes my job really easy." And his advice for young filmmakers? "Make five-minute movies cheaply, on the weekend, and keep doing it until they find something they feel represents their personality. Once they do that, write a feature film based on that, and try to take it to the world."
Blunt, along with Jack Black, presented the Breakthrough Actor Award to Emayatzy Corinealdi in Middle of Nowhere, for which filmmaker Ava DuVernay won the Directing Award for U.S. Dramatic Film at Sundance. After the first acceptance speech of her career, a stunned Corinealdi told us, "The only thing I've ever dreamed about was sitting on Oprah's couch!" She said that her character "required a lot of inner strength, which I get from my mom."
Black's film, Bernie, was also nominated for Best Ensemble Performance and Best Feature. We told him that a critic friend of ours who generally hates everything said that Richard Linklater's Bernie was his favorite film this year. Black gave us a fist pump and then said, "Buzz feels good, but I'm not counting my chickens. This is an exciting night for me, right here, because we're getting recognized for Ensemble cast and I had such an incredible time with Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey." As for Black's comedy hero, growing up? "Peter Sellers."
David France's How to Survive a Plague, which chronicles the AIDS activist group, ACT UP, won Best Documentary. Other winners include An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Award) and Artifact (Gotham Audience Award). Matt Damon, David O. Russell, Marion Cotillard, and Jeff Skoll were honored with career tributes.
Amy Adams, who starred in Russell's The Fighter, presented his tribute. In his acceptance speech, Russell listed his filmmaking heroes, including Capra, Scorsese, Ashby, Wertmuller, Jarmusch, Van Sant, Campion, and Tarantino and credited both Sundance and NYC jury duty with fostering his screenwriting. As for the tricks of his trade? "Tell a story from the heart, and keep it both real and emotional."
Damon, in his acceptance speech, recalled his first time attending the Gotham Awards: "Ben and I came; I think Gwyneth was getting an award, or Harvey was getting an award and... Calvin Klein gave me a suit. As I was putting it on that night, 15 years ago, I realized—and this is not a joke—that if I added up the amount of money that all the clothes I ever owned in my entire life were worth, they wouldn't cost as much as that suit. That was kind of the first moment that my life got really surreal." Damon was wearing Calvin Klein again on Monday.
How does it feel coming full circle with Van Sant, after 15 years, for Promised Land? "I hope it's not full circle; I hope we're just a little way into the circle," Damon told us. Does Damon, who won Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting along with Ben Affleck, feel he has another screenplay in him? "Yeah, I hope so," he said. "It was something we wrote and never compromised on it and just wanted to make it good by our standards. We did the same thing with Promised Land, and Ben did the same thing with Argo. It's kind of revising and working on it until you get the thing that you really want."
The Independent Film Project, which presented the Gotham Independent Film Awards, is a not-for-profit advocacy organization for indie filmmakers. At the ceremony, IFP Executive Director Joana Vicente announced that IFP will be administering the NYC's new Made in New York Media Center.
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