12/03/2014 01:44 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

A Night at Indie Film's Gotham Awards

This year's Gotham Awards, the indie film world's Academy Awards, were marked by a giant jump in etiquette. Unlike last year, the guests at the packed cavernous Cipriani Wall Street refrained from yakking full decibel through the speeches. The manners police must have sent round a memo this year, so the ambient chatter was dialed down to a hum -- though maybe one group of incorrigibles, table 74, you know who you are -- didn't get it.

The event was also glitzier and starrier than in editions past, featuring through-the-roof celebs and delightfully witty speeches from actors who don't always cut it when they go live. For me, though, it started more with a whimper than a bang. I arrived out of the rain off the 2/3 train, which was running on local, to be told there was no room at the inn. But I was free to work the red carpet and be exiled upstairs to the green room during dinner and eat with the help. Ever the good sport, I assumed my postage-sized spot on the red carpet, where you're meant to bellow stuff at "the talent," shepherded by their handlers.

"You're jabbing my back with your arm," said my neighbor. "Stand sideways," she ordered. Happily a seat for dinner opened up and I joined the booze fest upstairs. I asked a producer of "Still Alice" whether people would go see a movie about early onset Alzheimer's. She said, "Why not? People are scared of death and they went to see 'Amour.'" I was about to point out that "Amour" was helmed by the great Michael Haneke, but she did a backward fade. Other escape styles: the sideways do-si-do and the knight's maneuver in chess. You get a lot of that at this type of event unless you're Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix, who snagged a career tribute. I never heard his name spoken that night except with a reverence reserved for the pope.

But I'm sure you want to hear more about celebs than the vexations of a journo. Uma Thurman kicked off the evening. Ex-husband Ethan Hawke was also on hand with a nom for Best Actor in "Boyhood." It went to "Birdman"'s Michael Keaton. He alluded to his Batman past by joking, "My folks at Gotham, feels good to be back home." Introduced by Jon Hamm, even handsomer in person, "Birdman" also nabbed Best Feature.

Overall, a big evening for Fox Searchlight. It's sort of fun to sit back and watch the heavies duke it out: canny Fox Searchlight; Harvey Weinstein, of course; Sony Pictures Classics and its unerring taste. Perhaps the only person in the western world who wasn't blown away by "Birdman," I would have given the award to SPC's "Foxcatcher."

Bennett Miller's stunning film got some love, though, when Meryl Streep presented an award for ensemble work to "Foxcatcher"'s great team of Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum. Only Carell showed up to claim the award. "For Meryl Streep to come here and present us with this award, suck on that," Carell said. "I am so proud to be part of this ensemble. A higher compliment could not be paid to an actor -- unless he were to be singled out for his own extraordinary work," he cracked.

Julianne Moore won for Best Actress in "Still Alice," so maybe viewers who get freaked by disease movies will show up for it. Moore wore a V-neck plunge as wide as it was deep that would have given anyone else catarrah on that dank night, and at fifty she seems to have a personal arrangement with time to leave her the hell alone. Scarlet Johansson, in a sensational "biker chick" do, presented the award for best doc -- deservedly -- to Laura Poitras for "Citizenfour."

But back to my less starry travails. I'd arrived at my table to find it empty. So much for no room at the inn. Finally Oren Moverman ("The Messenger") and his wife showed up. When I asked him who Ted Sarandos was, they upped and left, never to return.

So rather than sit in solitary grandeur I decided to look for Dan Gilroy.

Gilroy's had a lot of success as co-author with his brother of "The Bourne Legacy." Now he's made a riveting first feature, "Nightcrawler." I told him how much I admired the film and thought it should have won for first feature (that went in a surprise move to Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian vampire flick "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"). Gilroy was eager to chat and introduced his wife Rene Russo, who's fabulous in "Nightcrawler." They're both posters for attractive, undoctored middle-age.

I told Gilroy the critics didn't get "Nightcrawler" and wasted too much ink going on about Jake Gylenhaal's weight drop and buggy eyes, even buggier than Emma Stone's. The film's really about the debasement of language and how the vermin-like nightcrawler has adopted the motivation-speak and amoral stance of our captains of industry and finance to justify near-criminal behavior. Gilroy's got what's really going down in America. I can't wait to see his next feature.

This being indieworld, I suppose the evening wouldn't have been complete without some total weirdness. Tilda Swinton, in a career tribute, called herself "an alien from Scotch-land," adding, "You're all a bunch of freaks. I'm a freak too." But even weirder was Catherine Keener, presenting an award for directing to Bennett Miller. She over-shared about living with him for two years, and how Miller studied chess matches on YouTube, and hung out with her son, and much wince-inducing stuff. Keener still seemed devastated. When Miller, a self-styled introvert, shyly took the stage, he said, "that was a lot of information."

What really made me tear up, though, was the clip of Chaz Ebert, Roger Ebert's beautiful widow, in the doc "Life Itself." "Roger said to me, 'I've been waiting for you my whole life.' And then" -- that heartbroken shrug that evokes Shakespeare's "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods, They kill us for their sport."