The winners were pre-determined, but Monday night's New York Film Critics Circle Awards at the Crimson Club in Manhattan was anything but predictable.
What started out as a celebration of the members of the local press society -- with a roll call of names and applause for its voting participants -- soon became a forum for the scatalogical and political pronouncements of the visiting Hollywood stars.
James Gandolfini was irreverent when he presented the best cinematography award to Zero Dark Thirty's Greig Frasier. Then again, he also admitted to having little idea what a cinematographer actually does on a daily basis -- and his best guess was more a dark take on the film industry than any rosy, awards show-friendly spin.
"This is a generalization of what I think being a DP entails: It's the ability to work in different genres of wildly different films, with mostly insane directors; who want the impossible done quickly to appease selfish and annoying actors, most of them with drug and alcohol problems; working closely with a crew -- most of them in AA because unlike the actors, they can get fired if they're drunk or f----- up, so they have to stop drinking, they're usually very angry about it," the Emmy-winner rattled off. "If you're in different country, you're with a crew that doesn't speak English, and they usually don't like you, because you're trying to accomplish the impossible shit that the crazy director has asked you to do; and you are pissed off and you're yelling at them because you've had no sleep and because your asshole is raging because of the diarrhea is raging from the bad food. That's pretty much what I think the DP has to deal with most of the time."
That seemed hard to top, until Steven Soderbergh, who directed Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike, went even deeper while presenting the star with the best supporting actor trophy.
"While we were shooting Matthew's strip sequence, one very impassioned woman extra -- background artist, sorry -- pulled his g-string off and tried to stick her finger up his butt," the Oscar-winning helmer revealed, to raucous laughter from the crowd.
McConaughey, in his acceptance speech, corrected Soderbergh, asserting that the over-eager woman wasn't going for the butt, but somewhere else. Also notable: the actor, having gone scarily gaunt for his role as an AIDS patient in the upcoming Dallas Buyer's Club, had gained back 25 pounds and was looking far less skeletal than the man recent paparazzi photos had depicted.
Steven Spielberg presented the best actor award to his Lincoln star, Daniel Day-Lewis, and read the rejection letters that the two-time Oscar winner had written when initially pitched the part. On the other hand, Sally Field, the best supporting actress, was introduced by Katie Couric, who described how desperately Field, herself a two-time Oscar-winner, fought to earn the role of Mary Todd Lincoln.
There was Michael Moore, who presented the best first feature award to David France, a veteran journalist who made the transition to film with his documentary on the 1980s AIDS epidemic, How to Survive a Plague. Moore, the outspoken liberal filmmaker, touched on his memories of the tragic era, which saw thousands of gay and lesbian people suffer and die from what was then a mysterious and uncontrollably lethal disease.
He called out President Ronald Reagan, who is still maligned by activists for not acknowledging the epidemic for several years, as well as Pope John Paul II, whose Catholic Church opposed the use of condoms. He blamed the pair for being responsible for the deaths of thousands. Moore also said that he personally enjoyed the 1989 ACT UP protests that interrupted Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor's service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, a comment that drew heckles from a member of the audience.
"Okay, I've upset the Catholics," Moore cracked, before launching into a full Latin prayer, drawing cheers and hollers from the rest of the crowd. He continued, praising France's film for "showing exactly what happened in this era, but more importantly, how a group of people that were otherwise shat upon by society, rose up and were able to turn this thing around, to where now, we don't go to so many funerals, do we?"
Chris Rock presented an award to the other documentary honored on the night, Ken Burns' Central Park Five. He called the doc, about five minority teenagers who were forced to confess to a rape they did not commit, the best film he'd seen all year. At the same time, he was careful not to be too funny on stage. As he said, "It's hard to make a bunch of jokes about a movie with rape in it."
The year's best director and best film award went to Zero Dark Thirty, which pitched itself as at once a true story and a work of fiction. Embroiled in several controversies, over the film depiction of torture and the potentially leaked classified information used to inform the movie's scripting, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal were defiant, with the writer saying, "In case is anyone asking, we stand by the film. I think at the end of the day, we made a film that allows us to look back at the past in a way that gives us a more clear-sighted appraisal of the future."