ComingSoon.net Attends the 20th Annual Gotham Awards

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An abundance of A-list celebrities walked the red carpet at this year’s Gotham Independent Film Awards held Monday night in New York, but in this night of upsets, star power didn’t guarantee any wins, not even for the favorites and young upstarts who were all but guaranteed a Gotham launching pad. (A calmer night was had by those who were to receive one of the night’s four tributes).

Although Winter’s Bone won Best Feature and Best Ensemble Performance, its much lauded lead Jennifer Lawrence failed to nab Breakthrough Actor, losing out to self-proclaimed non-actor Ronald Bronstein from Daddy Longlegs. Lena Dunham, the celebrated writer/director/star of Tiny Furniture may already have a deal with Judd Apatow for an HBO pilot (look for our exclusive story on that soon), but it was Holy Rollers director Kevin Asch who scored Breakthrough Director. Even director Martin Scorsese wasn’t a shoe-in for Public Speaking, his portrait of author Fran Lebowitz, as Laura Poitras’ The Oath took the honor for Best Documentary.

“I’m shocked,” Poitras told ComingSoon.net after she won. “Scorsese is why I make movies.”

Since larger profile films such as Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Were All Right seemed to have more buzz before presenters such as Steve Buscemi, Melissa Leo and Ethan Hawke got to the podium to rip open the envelopes, director Debra Granik was also shocked that her “Winter’s Bone” was the night’s top winner.

“I’m not even really breathing,” Granik told us, “but if we’re going to win, it’s nice that it’s in this environment, because people understand collaboration here.”

“I’m over the moon,” concurred Winter’s Bone cast member Lauren Sweetser. “This is my first professional work. This is my first feature. So this is crazy.”

“I think this is not real,” Asch said. “I’m in a dream. When they announced my name, it was just too much. I was so nervous that I had to get up and speak, and I didn’t have anything written in advance, so I just looked at the people at my table and named them. I couldn’t see them. But when I was walking away, Jesse Eisenberg was the first person I hugged.”

Many of the winners actually admitted that they had expected to lose given the competition, and had even prepared themselves for it beforehand. Littlerock director Mike Ott, who ended up winning “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You,” which nets him $15,000, consulting and publicity services, and a week’s run for the film at New York’s Cinema Village, purposely got drunk before the ceremony with his cast. “We were prepared for total depression,” he said. “I wish we had saved it so we got drunk after. We need a shot, right now. I still don’t believe this happened. I didn’t think we were going to win. Holy f*cking sh*t.”

“I was at peace with not winning,” Bronstein said. “I thought, ‘If I win or don’t win, I won’t internalize it at all.’ Like it won’t mean anything to me on any kind of level that would affect my growth. Not career-wise, but existentially. But winning, it actually feels nice.”

After the news sunk in a little more, the winning directors started to realize they could seize the moment – what better time to actually walk up to actors who previously might have been out of their league and pitch them on upcoming projects? Ott realized he has two roles in his next film Teenage Wasteland that would be good for John Hawkes and Dale Dickey from Winter’s Bone, and before the end of the night, they were spotted exchanging information. Are they in talks? “We’re talking,” he grinned.

“I just spoke to them,” Dickey told us, “and I got his card and I hope to be working with him.”

Asch, too, got a casting brainstorm of his own, after spotting Mark Ruffalo in the audience. “I want Mark Ruffalo to play the lead in my next film ‘King’s Highway,'” Asch said. “I’m going right to him now that I won this. Yes!”

“All of this is awesome,” said Waiting for “Superman” director Davis Guggenheim, who won the Festival Genius Audience Award, “but awards can be confusing. I try not to play the game of who’s going to win or not.”

Indeed, for others, the rest of the Gotham Awards were pretty much a lock, either as tributes, in the case of director Darren Aronofsky and Hilary Swank, or lifetime achievement honors in the case of Robert Duvall.

Swank was honored for her most recent film, Conviction, but she was quick to share the recognition with her cast. “Sam Rockwell, I’ve loved his work over the last couple of decades, but I think this is his best work to date,” she said. “And Melissa Leo, she shines in a lot of movies this year, this as well as ‘The Fighter.'”

Aronofsky was honored for his latest film Black Swan, which he said “almost killed” his cast and crew. “‘The Wrestler’ was hard, but this was the most painful of them all,” he said. “It took us a long time to get the money, and I thought once we had Natalie [Portman] aboard and a sexy, scary movie in place, it would be easy, but it was tough. My girl Natalie worked really hard, as did Mila [Kunis], Barbara [Hershey], and Vincent [Cassel]. They all broke their necks for me, and it’s nice to see that rewarded.”

Duvall, who plans his own funeral in Aaron Schneider’s Get Low to take place while he’s still alive so he can hear what everyone thinks about his life, gave his own life retrospective from his theater days in New York to life in Buenos Aires. Having been on the receiving end of many an accolade, Duvall provided some perspective on the upcoming awards season – in his version, there are no losers.

“It’s not like two and two equals four, or four and four equals eight,” Duvall told us. “This is all entirely subjective. It’s just opinion. And there are lots of wonderful actors out there. There’s room for all of us.”