The Critics’ Choice Awards

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SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actors Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae and Naomie Harris, winners of Best Acting Ensemble for 'Moonlight', pose in the press room during The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

On a morning where I have to go to the San Diego Film Critics Society for award voting, and announcements of the Golden Globes just occurred…I’m still on a buzz from the Critics’ Choice Awards last night. I had been in the third day of a bad cold, so with the meds, and the amount of champagne and wine, it was a lovely night. That’s partly due to the fact that since it’s a black tie affair, it gives me an excuse to wear the tuxedo I spent way too much on a few years back. But if they keep serving such amazing food, I might not be able to fit into it next year.

As I was enjoying a kobe beef slider, my girlfriend said, “Hey…here comes Lenny from ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and ‘Better Call Saul’.”

I turned to look, excitedly blurting out his name, “That’s Michael McKean!” He smiled as he got closer and I said, “I just want to say…Best in Show and Spinal Tap are two of the best comedies ever made.”

He replied, “I certainly agree, but…I’m glad you took such a stand on that!”

He looked at his wife and said, “How about a red wine?”

As they walked over to the bar, I saw Cynthia Nixon. I asked my girlfriend, “Is it bad if I tell her how much I loved the show ‘Sex and the City’ but hated the movies?”

Instead I told her that Lymelife was one of the most underrated movies of 2008. She thanked me, and my girlfriend told her how beautiful she looked.

SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actresses Tracee Ellis Ross, Michelle Monaghan and Cynthia Nixon attend The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards)

SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actresses Tracee Ellis Ross, Michelle Monaghan and Cynthia Nixon attend The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Critics’ Choice Awards)

When Felicity Huffman and hubby William H. Macy walked in, I almost had a cow. Macy is one of my favorite actors, and I was trying to decide which movie I’d bring up if we got into a conversation. Would I tell him Boogie Nights was one of the best movies ever? Would I tell him how much I loved House of Games? Nah, he was only in one scene in that movie. I was surprised how short he was.

When I grabbed a glass of wine from somebody walking by with a tray, I turned to look, and he was gone. Oh well.

I was thrilled that writer/director Kenneth Lonergan showed up early. I told him how much I loved You Can Count on Me, and how Manchester by the Sea blew me away. He thanked me, but I think it’s what my girlfriend said that he really liked. Her parents died when she and her brother were very young, and she talked about how he nailed the special bond between the brother and sister in You Can Count on Me, and how he’s so great at capturing grief.

Then I was surprised at how tall Nicole Kidman was. She was easily over six feet, and perhaps she looked taller because she was holding the hand of her young Lion co-star. I told her Rabbit Hole was one of the saddest, most beautiful films I had ever seen. She said, “Awww, thank you so much. That’s so nice to hear.”

Since I’m a movie critic and am only allowed to vote on the movie related awards for Critics’ Choice, I never know what TV stars are going to be there. When Jon Voight walked over and smiled, I was thrilled. The movies that came to mind that I loved him in were Deliverance, but I didn’t want to mention that. Coming Home was terrific, but in these political times…I opted not to mention it. I went with the safe choice. I said, “When I was a kid I watched The Champ and loved it. As an adult I saw it, and still cried just as much. Such a terrific movie.”

He grabbed my hand and shook it, thanking me. He then looked around the room and said, “This is so lovely. Isn’t this nice? You guys did a great job. All this food, and drinks, and we can all come here and talk.”

I agreed, and felt guilty that he may have thought I had a hand in putting this terrific soiree together.

I didn’t realize he would be the second most famous “John” I was meeting. John Travolta walked by me a minute later. Since we made eye contact and he smiled, I figured I’d mention another one of my favorite movies. I simply said, “Thank you for ‘Pulp Fiction’. Such a great movie.” He stopped, shook my hand, and said “Thank you! That’s so nice of you to say. I truly appreciate that.”

He would later give a funny opening to an award he was presenting. He said he wanted to give out the ‘best picture’ award since he was 8-years-old, and now he finally gets to do it. Then he said, “So best picture….Lawrence of Arabia.”

The crowd laughed.

Warren Beatty and Annette Benning were there. Her movie 20th Century Women got some nominations, but Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply only got a nod for the song. It’s what I voted for, but the City of Stars song from La La Land won. I told Lily Collins I loved her song and said, “I hate to say this, but…I was a fan of your dad (Phil Collins) before you were even born. I’m an old guy, so…”

She laughed and said, “There’s never anything wrong with saying you love my dad. Thank you.”

SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Actress Emma Stone (L) and actor Ryan Gosling attend The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards )

I did meet the La La Land cast (well, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were at their table, we were outside). I was telling composer Justin Hurwitz how fun the film was. Director Damien Chazelle smiled. I couldn’t believe how young he looked. He’s 31, but looks 21. I said, “Look, everyone is praising ‘La La Land’ and it’s good. But ‘Whiplash’. Oh man.” I took my friend to that. Her son is a drummer….”

He interrupted to say, “I was a drummer, too.”

I knew that from the research I did when Whiplash came out. I went on to tell him that this drummer recently killed himself….”

He put his hands over his face and said, “Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear that.”

I told him how much they loved the movie, and we talked for a few more minutes.

[Note to self: probably not a good idea to be a buzz kill by talking about a recent suicide. And with the girlfriend mentioning her parents dying, we should probably stick to happier topics].

Denzel Washington was there, but to be honest, I would’ve rather met his co-star in Fences — Viola Davis. She’s such an amazing talent, and she won a few well-deserved awards last night, including the first annual #SeeHer Award honoring her career of strong female roles.

Tom Hanks was in good spirits, joking around with everyone. He was sitting at a table with his wife (Rita Wilson), and the pilot he played — Sully and his wife. He looked like he enjoyed taking this all in.

T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley) was so funny in the recent Office Christmas Party, and he was a terrific host for the awards last year. My girlfriend said, “I’ll bet they bring him to the stage in handcuffs.” He had been arrested a few days earlier for hitting an Uber driver that praised Donald Trump. He never really mentioned the arrest, but did have a few jabs at Trump that were well-received by the crowd.

Ryan Reynolds, Miller’s co-star in Deadpool, won for “entertainer of the year” and for best actor in a comedy. He got my vote for that, as Deadpool was easily one of the best comedies of the year (I was thrilled Don’t Think Twice got a nomination from us, but was disappointed Keanu didn’t).

Singer turned actress Janelle Monae looked stunning. Not just her dress, but that face! I told her the subtle performance in Moonlight was just the right note (that film would go on to win best “ensemble”). I continued, “But it’s Hidden Figures that we both loved. It was so…inspirational. It just made us so happy watching it.”

She then told us a lot about the film and the making of it. I ended by saying, “I know this sounds horrible, but…when John Glenn died, I thought that may bring a bit more attention to the film when it’s released, because it’s the type of movie that might be a hard sell.”

[note to self: didn’t you tell yourself you’d stop mentioning deaths when talking to celebs?]

I went to get a mimosa at the back bar, figuring some vitamin C in the OJ might help with my cold. My girlfriend, looking over my shoulder, said, “Only James Marsden could pull off that suit.”

It was a plaid outfit.

I said, “Dang. Dude is a lot better looking in person. I didn’t think that was possible.”

She responded, “Yep. He is a fine looking man.”

She asked if I wanted to talk to him. I didn’t really have anything to say, and he was by himself texting. I would’ve said I dug Robot and Frank (find that movie, it’s fun).

The food at the tables was great, and it was fun meeting the people sitting with me. When a female critic in Los Angeles asked if I’d pour her some champagne from the bottle on our table, I didn’t realize if you take a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket, you probably shouldn’t have your phone nearby, or the water from the bottle will drench it. I’m just not usually rolling with a crowd that has bottles of champagne on ice.

Moonlight won an award for best “acting ensemble.” It was a good movie, not a great one. I didn’t vote for it in that category.

I had gotten a nice letter in the mail from Tom Ford, thanking me for my review of Nocturnal Animals. I didn’t talk to him, but saw my girlfriend across the room chatting him up. I could see him hold his face in shock as she laughed. It wasn’t until later I found out she had told him she worked for a crisis center, and the scenes he did with the kidnapping were realistic and terrifying and how they freaked her out. He responded, “Oh dear, now you freaked me out!”

We kept passing Courtney B. Vance, who ended up winning an award. We laughed each time we walked by him, thinking of his insane party scene in Office Christmas Party, which ends with him falling into a filing cabinet and losing some teeth.

Vance gave a terrific acceptance speech. In fact, all the speeches were wonderful. Even some throw-away lines cracked me up.

Ryan Reynolds thanked the screenwriters, which I thought was a classy move. He ended his speech by thanking cast people, adding “…and for no reason at all, I’ll thank my kids.”

It’s always fun at the table to discuss the various people you voted for. Two people at our table wanted Kubo and the Two Strings. That had a terrific 30 minutes, but that was it. I was rooting for Zootopia, and was happy it won (little did I know, Kubo would win at our San Diego Film Critics voting the next day).

Ryan Gosling walked by me, on his way to the La La Land table. We nodded at each other. I told my girlfriend I wasn’t gay, but would consider changing for him.

I didn’t realize Emma Stone was there until the show started.

Sometimes you’re surprised by who shows up. I was shocked that Mel Gibson showed. He should’ve considered it an honor that he was even nominated, and that he can still work in Hollywood. During the commercials, I looked over and saw Denzel had his arm around him. I wondered if he was aware of some of Mel’s racist rants.

SANTA MONICA, CA - DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actor Casey Affleck, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, actor Lucas Hedges and actor/producer Matt Damon attend The 22nd Annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics' Choice Awards )

SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 11: (L-R) Actor Casey Affleck, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, actor Lucas Hedges and actor/producer Matt Damon attend The 22nd Annual Critics’ Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on December 11, 2016 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for The Critics’ Choice Awards )

I thought it was cool that Matt Damon showed up to support a movie he produced — Manchester by the Sea. He was supposed to play the lead role, which Casey Affleck ended up winning the award for. It was a smart move for him not to play the part. It would’ve been a bit too much like his Good Will Hunting role.

It was funny during the awards when T.J. Miller said, about Will Forte, “You and I are the only two in Hollywood that put our career into our facial hair.”

Miller was sporting this weird shaped mustache that connected to his sideburns. Forte had a huge bird, and last year, my girlfriend spent 30 minutes talking to him like everything was normal — and half of his beard and head were shaved. It was so odd.

When I went to the bathroom during the awards, I was surprised to see other stars walking around. Natalie Portman had just won an award, and I told her about a debate I had with my girlfriend about Beautiful Girls. She laughed.

It’s a blast seeing the cast of films or TV shows together. Early in the evening, seeing the cast of Modern Family at a few couches lounging and catching up, hugging and laughing. It puts a smile on your face.

The highlight of people I met has to be the cast of Hell or High Water. It’s my favorite movie of the year. Now, had I seen Ben Foster, I might have completely geeked out. He’s such an incredible actor (and my vote for “best supporting actor” this year). He was already at the table, but Jeff Bridges and his wife were walking in, looking regal and stylish. I walked up and said, “I cannot believe I am getting a chance to meet you! This is so thrilling for me…”

And as Bridges smiled, I extended my hand. Not to shake his hand, but the guy right next to him — Gil Birmingham, his co-star in High Water. They all laughed, and I told Gil he was terrific. My girlfriend brought up a guy from the San Diego Film Festival who knows him. Since Bridges was still standing nearby, I glanced over and said, “Oh. You were pretty good in the movie, too.”

He laughed again.

When Kevin Hart walked by, I wasn’t surprised he was short. He’s been joking about his height forever. You’re more surprised when Mel Gibson or Travolta walk by, and they’re six inches shorter than you. They look larger than life on screen.

Louie Anderson won an award, and it was fun to hear his speech. It was humorous and also a touch sad. It’s nice to see that he went from being a popular comedian in the early ‘80s, to a successful career on TV. My girlfriend mentioned she had a conversation with him earlier and I said, “Where was I? We were apart for 10 minutes, and you had all these conversations with people.”


One of those people was Norman Reedus. He’s on The Walking Dead, and she’s talked about him at length. We never bother these stars for photos, but we do like talking to people we’re fans of. She got to talk to him for a few minutes, but he was quickly getting surrounded, as well as a long interview he did with my colleague Sam Rubin of Fox — so it was brief.

I went to the outside bar for another mimosa, and saw Lucas Hedges. I told him he got my vote, and how he was terrific in Manchester by the Sea. I couldn’t resist bringing up a line from his movie. When his uncle (Casey Affleck) asks if he’s sleeping with two different girls at his school, he tells him that he’s sleeping with one, and the other is just “basement business.” We were trying to get to the bottom of what that meant.

It was a thrill to see him win, and his speech was so heartfelt.

At the afterparty, we saw him talking to the girl that was his girlfriend in the movie. They looked great together, although I’m not sure if they’re also a real life couple.

I smoked a cigar on the back patio, watching a few cast members of Game of Thrones take over the DJ booth.

A fun time was had by all.