12 Years a Slave, Spring Breakers' James Franco, an independent experimental film called Cabinets of Wonder and the Criterion Collection: these were just a few of an eclectic group of honorees at the 39th Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) Awards. It was a long and colorful Saturday event -- if one without any hecklers, unlike its New York counterpart last week -- which was held at L.A.'s InterContinental Hotel.
The 50-something member group, led by Stephen Farber, drew even more big names than usual this year, if only because its voting, back in December, resulted in a record three ties: best picture (Gravity and Her), best actress (Blue Is the Warmest Color's Adele Exarchopoulos and Blue Jasmine's Cate Blanchett) and best supporting actor (Franco and Dallas Buyers Club's Jared Leto). The majority of the honorees were in attendance -- at least until after their award was presented.
My unofficial applause-o-meter, during both an introductory reel of clips of the winners' work and then their introductions to the stage (following remarks about them by different LAFCA members), suggested that the most popular winners in the room were Franco and Leto, best director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), best actor Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and 27-year-old Megan Ellison, who received the New Generation Award for helping to guide both American Hustle and Her to the big screen this year.
Gravity's Emmanuel Lubezski, was honored with his third LAFCA Award for best cinematography for a project in which he employed a 13-minute tracking shot of actors acting opposite nothing (CGI later put them in space) under the direction of Cuaron, whom he called "a visionary director." The film's co-editors, Cuaron and Mark Sanger, also won for their craft, and Cuaron noted of the unusual film, "We had to complete post-production before beginning pre-production!"
Franco gave a gracious acceptance speech, noting that he had recently decided to focus only on projects that he considered to be truly artful and that, contrary to the views of some others, but not LAFCA, he felt that Harmony Korine's film for which he was being honored was such a film. He thanked LAFCA "for seeing beyond the surface of the film and of the character" he played, Alien.
Best song/score winner T Bone Burnett (Inside Llewyn Davis) offered brief and general thanks. Meanwhile, the best screenplay winners for Before Midnight -- Richard Linklater and Julie Delpy were present, Ethan Hawke was in a play in New York -- joked that the only reason they won was that their film is so verbose. "Someone raised their hand and said, 'We're not gonna have a tie in this category,'" Linklater joked.
Cuaron returned to the stage to accept the best director award, noting that critical support "was fundamental for the life of [his] film," which otherwise might have sounded too out-there (pun intended) for most moviegoers. He called lead actress Sandra Bullock "the heart of the film," said his son/co-writer Jonas Cuaron "injected my work with a new energy" and told "Chivo" Lubezki, "This belongs to you as much as it belongs to me."
19-year-old Frenchwoman Exarchopoulos collected her half of the best actress award by remarking, "I don't really believe that I have this prize. It's huge for me. I have the same prize as Cate Blanchett?!" Blanchett later took the podium and called Exarchopoulos' work "one of the most heartbreaking performances of the year," while noting that it was "a thrill indeed" to join the club of wonderful actresses who have appeared in the films of Woody Allen -- "who is never here," she cracked.
Blue Is the Warmest Color was also awarded the best foreign language film. It is somewhat noteworthy that Exarchopoulos and director Abdellatif Kechiche, who, along with the film's other star Lea Seydoux, have sometimes publicly clashed, were seated at the same table. Exarchopoulos thanked "Abdel" in her speech, noting that they had a complicated relationship, and, upon accepting the best foreign language film prize, his translator said, "He extends a special thank you to his actress Adele."
Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o was the group's best supporting actress winner for her work in 12 Years a Slave, a film for which she said "My cup runneth over with gratitude." She noted, "I am still in awe of [director] Steve McQueen. (Earlier in the evening, the film's creative team was presented with a "special citation" from LAFCA for beautifully telling a story that "challenges us to reconcile who we are now with what we did then." Screenwriter John Ridley, flanked by Nyong'o and others, accepted on behalf of the group for the "fairly unprecedented" recognition.)
The supporting actor award's second half went to Leto, who, after putting down his head and plugging his ears while clips of his work played, took the stage, hugged presenter Kirk Honeycutt and described his work on Dallas Buyers Club -- including, he joked having "to tuck away the balls" -- as "painful but a pleasure."
Her's K.K. Barrett claimed the best production design award for his sleek rendering of L.A. in the not too distant future after being introduced, to laughs, as "hopefully the future mayor of L.A."
And Annapurna Pictures founder Ellison, who is famously shy, agreed to accept her honor in-person, despite admitting to feeling terrified at doing so. She thanked filmmakers like Her's Spike Jonze for putting their trust in "someone as young as me and a company as young as mine," adding to them, "You make me feel less alone in the world."
The directors of the French winner of best animated film Ernest & Celestine were stuck in Paris but sent along an animated video thanking LAFCA. Also absent but accepting via video were Stories We Tell documentarian Sarah Polley and 81-year-old director/career achievement award winner Richard Lester (following a special introduction by former studio exec David Picker, who worked with him on his famous films with The Beatles a half-century ago).
The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a musical trio led by Rhiannon Giddens, performed a three-song set in the middle of the show, during which rock star Leto was entranced, led the audience in clapping along and yelled -- after the group received a standing ovation -- "That was great! One more song?!"