The Oscar Warrior: Reactions from the Gothams

On Monday night, ComingSoon.net attended the annual IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards, a night that was full of surprises as it kicked off the first week of awards-giving this season and we were backstage to talk to all of the winners and we wanted to share a few of their reactions.

The big winner of the night was Mike Mills’ Beginners, which won Best Feature and Best Ensemble, and it was quite a moment for Mills who based the movie on his experiences having a father who came out of the closet in his 70s before suffering a battle with cancer. He was still shocked when we spoke to him after the film’s first win. “I like this one and I love all the people that are in it,” he told us. “I know it sounds cheesy, but I’m great friends with everybody and obviously the film is about all these things I love so I have no problem having it stick around. It’s about my Dad but beyond that, just everything in it ended up being things that are dear to me, so I was shocked that we won, I have to say. I thought it was very nice that we were nominated and I meant what I said that there are so many directors in the room that got me into filmmaking – it’s really nervewracking. It was hard to get my film made, I was lucky to get it made, I’m so lucky Focus picked it up. All these things are against the grain so the fact that all these things happened is a miracle and I’m just resting down there going ‘Oh, this is great. I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to say and I got nominated and I’m in the group and that’s really sweet,’ and when they said it, I really f*cking flipped out.”

Having spent a year promoting the movie since its Toronto debut, Mills is back at his writing desk, although his next movie won’t necessarily be as personal or autobiographical. “I like writing about things I’ve seen. I like observing and having some reality stuff there, so it won’t be as directly autobiographical as this, but I learned in doing this that I like working from observation.”

The surprise win for Breakthrough Actor went to Felicity Jones for her performance as one-half of an impossible long distance romance in Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy.

“I was just thinking that everyone was so good and everyone’s so different. It’s just such a privilege to be chosen,” she told us shortly after winning, feeling honored with who she was nominated alongside. “I’ve been meeting them throughout the journey and I think they’re all incredible and really unusual films with performances that are surprising and I think that’s what you want as an actor and that’s what you want to see as an audience member.”

She also dropped us a few hints about the second untitled movie she recently shot with Doremus in and around New York. “It’s a companion piece in some ways in that it’s a love story, but it’s a different characters for everyone and a different scenario, more complicated in some ways because it’s about falling in love with someone who is married and being in love with someone you shouldn’t
be in love with. She’s very different from Anna in ‘Like Crazy.’”

Jones was also recently named as the female lead in Warren Beatty’s untitled Howard Hughes movie. “I’m hoping it’s going to happen next year,” she said. “I’m just completely enamored with his work and I think he’s phenomenal and everything he does is perfection. He’s never made a bad movie.” She says that he has seen her in Like Crazy but she auditioned and they had a read-through. “It’s just a collaboration I’m very excited about.”

Director Terrence Malick wasn’t around to accept his award for Best Feature (tied with Beginners) for his critically-praised tone poem The Tree of Life, but his producers Sarah Green and Bill Pohlad were pleasantly surprised by the victory – they hadn’t even called or texted Malick to let him know when we spoke with them about how the project came into being and tried to get some idea about some of these various projects Malick has been filming in recent months.

“You don’t go into something like this expecting one thing or another, so we were completely caught off guard,” Pohlad said about the unprecedented tie for Best Feature. “This means a lot. I think the whole independent spirit of the Gotham Awards, it’s really what Terry is about and I think what the whole production was about, doing something different and not being encumbered by any kind of market considerations and just allowing the project to develop on its own.”

Pohlad thought that the enigmatic filmmaker would appreciate the honor even if it’s doubtful we’ll see him doing any sort of awards campaigning for the film even after winning the Gotham. “He doesn’t put on airs about anything so he genuinely doesn’t get caught up in these things. I’m sure he will be happy about it, but he doesn’t hang his whole life on something like that but when it happens, he feels very honored I’m sure.”

Green was very tight-lipped about Malick’s original script for the project, saying he was pretty specific about what he wanted to do, presenting a fairly detailed script. “He chooses not to publish his scripts for a reason. I think they’re a private blueprint for him, so I’m not real comfortable talking what’s in them because I think the film itself says what it needs to say.”

“Obviously, Sarah’s worked with him before and I’ve known him for a long time,” Pohlad added. “We’ve worked with him over the years, easing into it type of thing, talking about the ideas and it just came into being.”

While she couldn’t say anything about them, Green was optimistic we’ll be seeing these other films Malick is working on over the next few years rather than having to wait another four or five years as was the case with The Tree of Life. She didn’t think he could repeat The Tree of Life and thought his new projects were quite unique.

Filmmaker David Cronenberg was thrilled by his recognition by IFP for his body of work. “It’s great because it’s just confirmation from your peers, people who know what you’re filmmaking is, that you’re doing something of interest to them that’s valuable,” he told us after his presentation by actor Corey Stoll. “I take it as it comes as a very sincere expression of enthusiasm and respect. You can certainly get a lot of the opposite in this business so when you get that, and especially from people who really know what filmmaking is – that’s the key. They really know what goes into filmmaking, so it is very sweet.”

Actor Gary Oldman agreed with this sentiment. “I hope it’s not over. I probably got some more years in me yet, but if someone likes your work enough and a group of people get together and they nominate or vote or whatever they do, and they give you something like this, it’s wonderful.”

One of the more interesting honorees at this year’s Gotham Awards was 20th Century Fox CEO Tom Rothman, who these days is mostly associated with the studio’s bigger budget movies than the indie fare normally honored by IFP, but his roots lie in indie filmmaking, working with the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Ang Lee, who presented his tribute. “Audiences don’t care what a movie costs. They care how it makes them feel,” he told us when asked whether it feels surreal being honored at a ceremony that mainly showcases indie films. “They care whether it moves them, they care whether it touches them. They actually don’t know what it costs, they’re not interested in what it costs, they’re interested in emotion. It doesn’t feel surreal. I’ve worked on the cheapest movie we ever made at Fox, ‘The Brothers McMullen,’ and ‘Avatar.’ What counts is how emotionally involved is the audience. My whole career has celebrated films across the spectrum, that’s what I think is great, to tell you the truth.”

We also asked about the differences between 20th Century Fox and its “indie subsidiary” Fox Searchlight who had three films that were nominated in all of the major Gotham Awards categories. “What’s mostly different is the marketing approach because in big studio movies, it’s very much an all or nothing Friday win or lose, but Searchlight practices the art of slow building roll-out distribution, that’s what’s happening with ‘The Descendants’ right now. We use some of those techniques. If you look at the sneaks that were done this weekend for ‘We Bought a Zoo,’ which actually worked terrifically well–they were sold out around the country–but that’s a page out of the indie book, if you will, which is you use the movie to help sell the movie, which is their approach to marketing I guess.”

Sadly, we didn’t get a chance to talk to Charlize Theron, the fourth honoree who received a hilarious tribute from Patton Oswalt, but overall, it was another fulfilling Gotham Awards show full of surprises. (You can read more about the winners here.)

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