Pete Hammond

‘The Artist’ Best Pic, George Clooney, Viola Davis Top Actors At Critics Choice Awards

Trying to bring a little more clarity to a confusing season, the 17th Annual Critics Choice Movie Awards, presented by the 250-strong Broadcast Film Critics Association, spread the wealth in a way that still gives most contenders a little hope. A record 19 different films scored at least one win over the 24 categories. This group found something to like about almost everything and  just about everyone in the room got something along the way Thursday night,  but it was still The Weinstein Company’s The Artist, the black and white silent movie which continues to defy expectations that  clearly has cemented its front runner Oscar status  with a leading 4 awards including Best Picture and director for Michel Hazanavicius. Hazanavicius also won for hardest name to pronounce. Presenters are living in terror of screwing it up. Muppets star Jason Segel was sitting right in front of moi and kept asking me how to say it as he practiced “ahhvv-nahhvv-a-shoosh” over and over.  He pulled it off in style, unlike Donald Glover who butchered it in the screenplay category.

Based on recent history the four major acting winners George Clooney,Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer just saw their Oscar chances increase ten-fold.  The BFCA membership has a strong correlation with Academy voters , particularly in acting categories where for the past two years the group has been on a roll and  gone four for four in predicting the eventual Oscar winner. The critics  group (of which I am a member) usually gets Best Picture right too but missed last year with The Social Network which won over eventual Oscar winner The King’s Speech. Harvey Weinstein didn’t leave nearly as happy then as he did tonight.

Certainly there is always an air of anticipation at these awards as they are the first big televised movie awards of the year (on VH1) even if hosts Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel called it only the “9th most exciting  night in Hollywood”.  Everyone walks in feeling they still have a shot. And with its strategic airdate just days before the Golden Globes  the star and industry turnout is impressive. I sat at Harvey Weinstein’s  table with nominees Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh, a real center of action right near the stage. As the clever opening comic film bit unspooled , a takeoff on the motion capture process that earned Andy Serkis a supporting nod for his role as an Ape, Streep winced and said , “this is the thing that will end my profession”. I asked her if she would ever consider doing motion capture and she vehemently said ‘No way, Never’.

Disney chairman Rich Ross came over to pay hommage to Williams. “I always like to talk to nominees who are also making a movie for us,”  he told me and said Williams is terrific in  Oz: The Great and Powerful which will be released next year. Steven Spielberg , at the next table , also came over to sing her praises right after she lost to Davis for the film his company produced.

After winning her supporting actress award for The Help Spencer, looking completely overwhelmed, came straight  to Streep to tell her she was her “inspiration”. The Weinstein Company’s David Glasser told me the long-awaited screen version of August, Osage County should be getting underway around September as both Streep’s and Julia Robert’s schedules seem to be clearing for then. John Wells is going to direct and Glasser said the script by playwright Tracy Letts is fantastic. Another Weinstein Oscar contender for 2013?

Streep seemed to be having a good time even though she lost Best Actress to her former Doubt co-star Viola Davis. When Davis’ name was called Streep stood up and seemed genuinely thrilled. “Oh my God,”  she said. After the show Davis made a beeline for the table and gave her a huge bearhug. In a similar show of class Clooney went over  to fellow nominee Brad Pitt after he was named Best Actor for The Descendants. Earlier in the show Clooney presented the Joel Siegel Humanitarian award to Sean Penn who accepted via satellite from Haiti on what was the exact second anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake there.

These early award shows are great places to try out your potential Oscar speeches and judging from the response in the room Davis took Best In Show after winning her second trophy of the evening for The Help (the first was as part of  the ensemble). “The two most important days in a person’s life  are the day you were born and the day you discover why you were born. I considered it my honor  to pay homage to these women at this time period who were not allowed to dream and not allowed to find their purpose but thank God, praise God they gave birth to me and my mother,”  she said in an eloquent speech that made a great impact and ended by saying “even despite the atrocities of the past, friendship and love can help us find our way”. Cameras caught Spielberg in the audience looking like he was blown away by it.

82 year old Christopher Plummer (who  keeps picking up supporting actor prizes from  critics groups  for his touching work in Beginners ) also won big points with his acceptance. “Being honored by critics is like being on a three week binge with the enemy. I feel terribly young. I’m completely turned on. You  have brought back my youth,”  he said to big applause.

Following the broadcast Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow, winner for Best Comedy, was lingering in the back of the big Hollywood Palladium main floor accepting congratulations from Young Adult’s Jason Reitman among others. His speech was basically bleeped out by VH1 censors  right up to his last line, “Jerry Lewis was quoted as saying that women couldn’t be funny. So with all due respect , fuck you.”

Highlight of the show was a performance from Bob Dylan as part of a Music + Film tribute to Martin Scorsese. Lowlight was Scheer and Huebel introducing a table of people clad only in their underwear as well as an interview with a “drunk” dude in a ‘tree of life’ costume. During that bit Weinstein cracked the guy will probably be at the door taking tickets next year. The game hosting pair, did have some bright lines inluding one passing Iron Lady off as the sequel to Iron Man and some funny stuff including a Charlie Rose -style interview with the horse from War Horse.

With one show down there’s no rest for this crowd. The AFI Awards lunch, LA Film Critics Awards and Golden Globes all come up this weekend. You can just feel presenters everywhere are frantically trying to learn  how to say Hazanavicius.

 

 

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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