The 23rd annual Gotham Independent Awards were handed out tonight at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, and it was the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” However, “Fruitvale Station” walked out with a pair of awards in the breakthrough categories.
It’s a huge boost for the Coens’ film, which is set for limited release on Friday. Interestingly, though, nominations leader (both here and with the Independent Spirits) “12 Years a Slave” walked away empty-handed. But more on the winners and losers in a moment.
The ceremony marked the first awards show of consequence this season and featured a quartet of tributes, beginning with Katherine Oliver, Commissioner of The New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, who was introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Elsewhere, “Enough Said” star James Gandolfini, who passed away in June at the age of 51, was honored by actor Steve Buscemi. Buscemi has starred with the late actor in “The Sopranos” and the films “Romance & Cigarettes” and “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” and counted the late actor as a close friend. “As an artist, Jimmy gave everything he had,” Buscemi said as he started to choke up. “I absolutely cherished working with him.”
Also receiving a tribute was “Before Midnight” director Richard Linklater, which was presented by his stars and co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Hawke recalled being told once upon a time about Linklater’s debut “Slacker,” how a friend told him he had to see it because “there’s a new voice in the universe.” Great way to put it. “Most filmmakers love to dazzle,” Hawke said, but Linklater understands that life itself is dazzling. Said Delpy to the filmmaker, “I want to thank you from the bottom of my big, fat, French heart.”
It was heartening seeing Linklater up there accepting an award, by the way. “Dazed and Confused” was a pretty big event in my film-going life and he’s continued to be, throughout his career, so uncompromising. He said an honor like this tends to get you to think retrospectively, but he turned his attention to the New York film world and how eternally grateful he was for it. “The template for personal expression in film, that will always be New York for me,” he said, calling out Scorsese, Cassavetes and Jarmusch, among others.
Also: “Before Midnight” took 10 weeks to write and 15 days to shoot. A little over 80 days to crank out a masterful piece of work like that? Wowsers.
“Fruitvale Station” producer Forest Whitaker was also recognized with a tribute, presented by director Lee Daniels. It was a classy intro, even when Daniels had to chide the notoriously rude Cipriani crowd (as did Jared Leto earlier in the evening) for talking too loud through the evening. “Forest told me to keep my anger in, to not be a stereotypical angry black man,” Daniels said, before mentioning the unfortunate Upper West Side situation Whitaker recently dealt with. “I would have been arrested,” Daniels said. “But he lives on a higher plane.”
Said Whitaker upon taking the stage, “I’m just trying to lift the veil that’s in front of my eyes, to try and discover my place in this world, my connection to the universe. So when I approach a character, I’m attempting to pull back the layers of the soul of the person I’m portraying.”
Full list of winners with some commentary on the next page.
2013 GOTHAM INDEPENDENT AWARD WINNERS
Best Feature: “Inside Llewyn Davis”
It’s a movie made in New York about New Yorkers, filled with New Yorkers,” Oscar Isaac said, playing well to the home town crowd. Sweet justice for the film after the Coens were somehow passed over in the directing and writing categories at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Jared Leto was on hand to accept in McConaughey’s stead. He read a statement from the actor, who he had on the telephone while reading it (that’s a first). At the end Leto left it with a “just keep livin’.”
Oh, and Leto jumped on the loud crowd: “Shut the fuck up… you can eat your crème brûlée later.” Git ’em, Jared.
Best Actress: Brie Larson, “Short Term 12”
Really, it’s an embarrassment of riches in this category. But Larson might be the best of the lot. Her work in this underrated gem is so raw and authentic. “This may be the only time I accept an award,” she said, which may or may not be true for “Short Term 12,” but is certainly not true of her future. We’ll be talking about her for years to come.
Best Breakthrough Actor: Michael B. Jordan, “Fruitvale Station”
I say again, there’s a lot of love for Jordan out there on the circuit. He’s charmed a lot of people along the way and is just such a bright young man. He thanked his parents tonight for their sacrifices along the way as he was growing up across the river in New Jersey, dreaming of becoming an actor. “Oscar [Grant]’s story needed to be told,” he said.
Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award: Ryan Coogler, “Fruitvale Station”
A strong voice and a vibrant new talent, it’s hard to argue with this, even if it was the bigger player in the category. This film’s story stretches way back to Sundance, where it picked up a few key prizes. “A few years ago I was just a film graduate student trying to figure things out, and I went into Forest [Whitaker]’s office to tell him what kind of movies I wanted to make,” Coogler said about his producer and a tributee tonight. “He said he wanted to make this one, and I’m indebted to him for that.”
Best Documentary: “The Act of Killing”
One of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Just topped the Sight and Sound poll. Will it translate to a nomination or will the branch, as ever, go its own way?
Audience Award: “Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings”
This beat out a couple of heavy-hitters. “12 Years a Slave” and “Fruitvale Station” were in the mix. “I think it’s cool that all the films in this category were about strong, dynamic people of color,” writer/director Tadashi Nakamura said. No doubt.
Euphoria Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers: Gita Pullapilly, “Beneath the Harvest Sky”
Tributes: James Gandolfini, Richard Linklater, Katherine Oliver and Forest Whitaker