“It’s a very sad day in the history of America,” said Spike Lee in a video recorded on Jan. 6, shortly after the riot at the U.S. Capitol, accepting a special prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, the 86th annual and first virtual awards ceremony of which was disseminated on Sunday.
Lee, who was being honored for his pandemic-era short film New York, New York, continued, “The whole world is laughing at the United States of America, the so-called cradle of democracy. … We’re at a crossroads now, and everybody please be safe. This is not a game. These people got guns with ammunition. I hope to God that I’m wrong, but people are gonna get killed behind this bullshit. This president, President Agent Orange [Donald Trump], will go down in history with the likes of Hitler. These guys — all his boys — they’re going down on the wrong side of history.”
Lee’s award was introduced by fellow New York filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who teased Lee by saying of the film for which Lee was being honored, “The title is very familiar to me [Scorsese’s New York, New York came out in 1977], but we can talk about that some other time,” before adding more seriously, “Spike loves this city passionately — every inch of it, even Brooklyn.” He closed, “Thank you for helping all of us New Yorkers somehow get through this moment.”
Lee’s other 2020 film, Da 5 Bloods, was recognized with two prizes, best actor for Delroy Lindo and best supporting actor for the late Chadwick Boseman. Lindo’s Crooklyn co-star Alfre Woodard said, “Delroy’s performance in Da 5 Bloods is a demonstration in how to raise a character up into a human being — a human being who challenges our preconceived ideas about the man and about ourselves.” And Boseman’s Da 5 Bloods co-star Norm Lewis said, “He’ll forever be remembered for his versatility and his immense talent.”
Boseman’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, accepted on his behalf: “Chad was a New York actor. He knew the New York hustle. So he was unfazed by much when he got to Hollywood, because in New York he was at war. So thank you, New York Film Critics Circle.”
The best film prize went to indie First Cow. Bong Joon Ho, whose Parasite won the best foreign language film prize at last year’s NYFCC Awards, said that First Cow director Kelly Reichardt is “someone who always creates beautiful works. … I was awed many times by her delicate films. … They all show such insight into the human condition.” He said he saw First Cow at its 2019 Telluride Film Festival world premiere, and “the film left such a lasting impression on me.”
Best director, however, went to Nomadland‘s Chloe Zhao, who was introduced by her film’s star Frances McDormand. Zhao, for her part, noted, “It was in the city, at NYU, that I learned how to take my first steps as a filmmaker.”
The two female acting awards both went to actresses in their early twenties who thanked their directors for “the opportunity of a lifetime.” 21-year-old Sidney Flanigan was feted as the best female lead for Eliza Hittman‘s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, a film about a young woman seeking an abortion. She was toasted by fellow indie actress Chloe Sevigny, who became emotional while stating, “This is what we mean when we say that art is not only timely, but urgent. Thank you, Sidney, for this beautiful reminder.” (Never Rarely Sometimes Always also won best screenplay, and Hittman noted, “It is so meaningful to be sharing this platform with so many incredible female filmmakers — Chloe Zhao, Kelly Reichardt and Radha Blank,” the winner of best first film.)
And 24-year-old Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova was the winner for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, introduced by her costar Sacha Baron Cohen, who said, “In the audition, in a breakup scene, she literally moved me to tears. In that moment, I knew we had found our Tutar. … This her first major award, but is surely will not be her last.” Bakalova, fighting back tears, thanked Cohen for the “opportunity of a lifetime,” noting that she only graduated from drama school about a year-and-a-half ago and “even in my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined for a moment like this. It’s a huge honor for me and my fellow Bulgarian actors.”
Other winners included Wolfwalkers for best animated film, accepted from Ireland by co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart; Small Axe lenser Shabier Kirchner for best cinematography; Bacurau for best foreign language film, with co-directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho sending thanks from Brazil; and Garrett Bradley‘s Time for best documentary.
A second special award went to the Kino Lorber film and video distribution company, which, according to NYFCC chair Stephanie Zacharek, “sprang to action” at the outset of the pandemic and helped to save art house cinemas by creating a virtual cinema platform in which they have a stake, Kino Marquee. Kino Lorber chief Richard Lorber said, “We immediately knew that our best path forward would be to partner with art house cinemas; after all, their survival and our survival, as as a company dedicated to the theatrical experience, are inextricably linked. It was imperative to our mission to keep them afloat.” Kino Marquee was up within a week of theaters shutting down, and now has almost 500 art house theater partners.