While Sunday’s Golden Globes were notable for their lack of political speeches, Donald Trump couldn’t be avoided at Tuesday night’s National Board of Review Awards which, it turned out, were scheduled concurrently with the president’s nationally televised address advocating for a border wall with Mexico.
The awkward timing made for a ceremony that seldom strayed far from politics. Most of the previously announced winners at the star-studded, untelevised gala at Cipriani’s in Manhattan — including Lady Gaga of ‘A Star Is Born’ and director Peter Farrelly of ‘Green Book’ — made some mention or allusion to Trump and his policies.
Barry Jenkins, accepting the award for best adapted screenplay for James Baldwin’s ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, happened to take the stage as Trump was addressing the nation from the Oval Office.
“Literally right now the president is talking about walls and borders. I don’t know how this happened. So I can’t help but talk about the president and borders and all these walls,” said the ‘Moonlight’ director. “There’s a film being celebrated called ‘Minding the Gap,’ by Bing Liu. Bing Liu and his family emigrated here. The president does not want them here.”
Jenkins also cited two of the year’s most acclaimed movies — Chloe Zhao’s ‘The Rider’ and Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’ — as other brilliant films made by immigrant filmmakers that Trump would dismiss. He concluded by quoting Baldwin — “One can only face in others what one can face in oneself” — and declaring “No walls. No borders,” along with an expletive directed at Trump.
The annual dinner was hosted by Willie Geist and put on by the National Board of Review, a 109-year-old organisation of film enthusiasts, academics and professionals. It’s one of the many traditional stops in Hollywood’s awards season. While it has little bearing on the Oscars race, the NBRs can be a frothy pit-stop between other honours and a welcome chance to polish acceptance speeches that might have gone unused at the Globes.
Both Lady Gaga (best actress) and Bradley Cooper (best director) were presented with awards two days after their film went home with a disappointing solitary Globe. Cooper was introduced by Steven Spielberg, who lauded Cooper’s directorial debut as a birth of a filmmaking talent. “Bradley’s a survivor and Bradley’s a sponge,” Spielberg said.
Introducing Gaga was Stephen Colbert, who happily noted that “being here meant I had to miss the president’s stupid speech.” In lengthy and poised remarks that lasted 13 minutes, Gaga said she was very different from her character.
“I knew that although she was a strong woman, she would feel the pressures to succumb to what other’s saw her future as, whereas in my career I have over and over tried to subvert the influence of powerful men in my life had on me and create something unexpected all on my own,” said Gaga. “If they told me to go left, I would take a sharp, sharp right.”
Her co-star Sam Elliott was also celebrated Tuesday as best supporting actor. The 74-year-old actor’s speech, spoken in Elliott’s trademark, modest drawl, earned the night’s most raucous standing ovation.
For Farrelly’s 1960s interracial road trip ‘Green Book’, which won best film (comedy or musical) at the Globes, it was another night of celebration. The NBRs bestowed best picture and best actor (Viggo Mortensen) on the divisive film despite complaints over its racial sensitivity and its authenticity. ‘Green Book’ got another boost earlier Tuesday, too, when Farrelly was selected among the five directors nominated by the Director’s Guild for its annual — and often quite predictive — honours.
Farrelly said he hoped his film, made as a feel-good throwback, could bring people together — as he hoped a future president could, too.
“All it takes to find common ground is to talk and to listen and to learn,” said Farrelly. “You know I’m voting for next? The politician who represents all of us.”
Some awards were handed out before Trump’s speech. Breakthrough performance honouree Thomasin McKenzie, the young New Zealand actress of ‘Leave No Trace’, said a better world can’t be made “if we build a wall to keep people out.” Geist called her comments a “pre-buttal.”
Honoured as the best documentary of the year, the makers of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg portrait ‘RBG’ — Betsy West and Julie Cohen — said that the justice’s family had told them that Ginsburg, who has lately missed oral arguments, is recovering well from surgery and plans to participate in upcoming decisions — an announcement that drew some of the loudest cheers of the evening. As tribute to Ginsburg’s exercise regimen, both West and Cohen ended their speech by planking on the stage.
Another constant theme of the evening was the usual mystery of just who exactly the National Board of Review is. The Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, whose ‘Cold War’ was honoured as best foreign language film, chuckled at the confusion. “I like you whoever you are,” he said. “I hope I meet you one day.”