NEW YORK -- On Tuesday night, the Oscar race took over much of the Upper West Side. For whatever reason, the 51st New York Film Festival, which spans 17 days, scheduled the first New York screenings of three of its marquee attractions -- Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slave, Lionsgate-Roadside's All Is Lost, and Paramount's Nebraska -- all on the same evening. With each of those films' distributors also hosting pre- or post-screening receptions for their contenders, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences putting on an event of its own to capitalize on the heavy concentration of stars presently in Gotham, the night proved, oddly, to be the busiest evening of the fest.
The Academy event, which was hosted by AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson, took place at the Stone Rose Lounge in the Time Warner Center from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Like another event that the Academy recently hosted in Los Angeles, this one was intended to welcome into the elite organization some of the 276 people that it invited to become new members back in June. I'm told by friends who were at the members-only gathering that 12 Years director Steve McQueen and actress Lucy Liu were among the newbies in attendance, and that the relative veterans who also made it out to toast them -- either as members or plus-ones of members -- included everyone from Nebraska's director Alexander Payne and star Bruce Dern to All Is Lost writer-director J.C. Chandor to actress Sylvia Miles, a two-time Oscar nominee in the '70s who, People magazine famously declared, "would attend the opening of an envelope."
At around 7 p.m., Payne and Dern walked across the Time Warner Center to attend a Paramount-hosted reception for Nebraska at the restaurant A Voce. Dern, the 77-year-old best actor Oscar hopeful (who was last nominated 35 years ago for Coming Home), was the center of attention, and was ultimately joined at the event by his daughter, noted actress Laura Dern. But plenty of guests also had kind words for the film's best supporting actor and best supporting actress Oscar hopefuls, Will Forte and June Squibb. I'm told that the Nebraska team is having a ball traversing the awards circuit with one another, and will be packing into their week in New York a number of other screenings, Q&As, press opportunities, dinners and parties, including one at the Monkey Bar on Thursday night that will be hosted by Forte's old SNL boss Lorne Michaels. They all eventually headed to the film's 9 p.m. premiere at Alice Tully Hall, at which the movie was very warmly received.
Alice Tully Hall was earlier the site of a 6 p.m. screening of All Is Lost, which was greeted with a standing ovation once a spotlight was shone on a box high above the theater in which Chandor and his film's sole star, screen legend Robert Redford, who is also 77, were standing and took a few bows. At the film's after-party at Lincoln Ristorante across the street from the theater, Chandor told me that nothing will ever top the massive and prolonged standing ovation that the two received following the film's world premiere at the Palais Theatre in Cannes back in May, but that Alice Tully Hall was a great venue and the New York reaction was very special. Shortly thereafter, Redford arrived and the two posed together for pics in front of the reflecting pool outside of the restaurant, where the real raft used by Redford in the movie was floating, having been flown in for the event. Among the guests inside: Connie Britton, Carla Gugino, Paul Haggis, Barry Levinson, Oliver Platt, Fred Schepisi and Patrick Wilson, plus former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, a friend of Redford's dating back to the making of All the President's Men (1976), in which Redford played Bob Woodward, Bernstein's collaborator on the Watergate investigation. The two greeted each other with a big hugs and cheek kisses.
Meanwhile, a little after 7:30 p.m. over at the nearby Walter Reade Theater, a highly anticipated screening of 12 Years a Slave got underway. (Among those in the audience was Madonna, who posed for pics with McQueen on her way inside.) The film, which has been the subject of tremendous buzz -- and the presumptive best picture Oscar front-runner -- since its big unveiling at the Telluride Film Festival and subsequent win of the audience award at the Toronto International Film Film Festival, was not included in the main fest lineup but was showcased as part of a special collaboration with Film Comment magazine. At the end of the screening, as the credits rolled, the somber audience broke into sustained applause. In the back of the theater, I spotted cast members Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, lovely people who play horrible people in the film, trying to lighten the mood by dancing to the credits song "Roll, Jordan, Roll" while awaiting their introductions for the post-screening Q&A. When the moderator, Film Comment editor Gavin Smith, introduced McQueen, the audience rose for a standing ovation that lasted through introductions of the entire delegation that was present from the film: McQueen, Fassbender and Paulson, plus actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Adepero Oduye, Alfre Woodard and Paul Dano and screenwriter John Ridley. All of them, along with producers Dede Gardner (Plan B) and Bill Pohlad (River Road), then headed a couple of blocks away for a reception at Boulud Sud restaurant. There, I visited with two terrific young actresses, Oduye (who first blew me away in the two-year-old indie Pariah) and Nyong'o (this year's breakout star and the current favorite to win the best supporting actress Oscar), who, it turns out, are old friends.
It's a small world, after all. (Or at least it felt that way in New York on Tuesday night.)