12/03/2013 01:43 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2014

The Gotham Awards Fete Indie Film Amidst an Audience Allergic to Silence

The Gotham Independent Film Awards are nothing if not quirky and unpredictable. In this 23rd iteration -- which took place Monday at Cipriani Wall Street -- 12 Years a Slave went into the show with more noms than any other film -- and got zip. To the surprise of many, it lost the Audience Award to Life on 4 strings, a non-fiction film about ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. Say what? Fruitvale Station snagged the most awards -- for Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan for Breakthrough Director and Actor, respectively.

Less surprising was the Coen brothers win of Best Feature for Llewyn Davis, about a folk musician striving to make his way in early '60s New York. After all, the Coens are among the patron saints of indieworld. But it blew my mind when Brie Larson (Short Term 12) won Best Actress over Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine. This was no longer quirk, just flagrant lack of judgment. Typically, though, the Gothams are poor predictors of the biggie Awards. Dancing to their own tune, they favor the small, the struggling, the besieged -- both among directors and storylines. And, as Jake Shimabukuro observed, to applause, "This year's Gothams celebrated films about strong, dynamic people of color."

The Gothams also typically mount a glam show at Cipriani Wall Street, a Vatican-style space with a 70 foot dome, formerly the New York Stock Exchange (thus correctly conflating religion and money in America). I was escorted by a publicist from Frank PR, which deftly orchestrated this sprawling event, to work the red carpet.

I've always found the "carpet" demeaning. I mean you're lined up like celeb gawkers, competing with other press to pelt some actor with questions. Guy next to me asked one and all: "What do you do on your birthday?" And: "Does your trainer love you or hate you?" Lemme outta here. But when I tried to quit the velvet-roped area a house handler screamed at me, YOU CANNOT LEAVE!

A captive of the carpet, I queried Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) about his yo-yoing weight and whether he had tips for weight control. "Yes: when you wanna lose, stop eating; when you wanna gain, start eating."

One publicist on the carpet was asking all and sundry: "You interested in talking to Kevin Pearce?" Since in my ignorance the name didn't register, my eyes glazed over as I reflected on another indignity of the carpet: the publicists are there to hawk "their" actors to the press, in a benign version of the slave clearing house in 12 Years.

But along came super hot Dane DeHaan! (Allen Ginsberg's buddy Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings). "I'm honored to be honored," he said. Were people appalled by his naughty narcissistic Lucien who stabs his former gay lover? "No, they just find it sexy and go hey, yeah!" And what would Carr's son Caleb think about your portrayal? "What do you do on your birthday?" the guy next to me interrupted.

"Would anyone like to talk to Kevin Pearce"? Finally, my neighbor did: "Does your trainer love you or hate you?" Pearce, I learned, made the innovative Crash Reel about the epic rivalry between half-pipe legends Shaun White and Pearce himself -- until Pearce crashed on a Park City half pipe, barely surviving. Wait, I'll talk to Kevin Pearce! But he's moved on to Interview magazine and I'm trapped here dreaming of Bellinis.

I find my table so far in Siberia we might as well be dining outside on Wall Street. The true star, or rather, villain of the evening? The ceaseless chatter of the guests during the presentations. MC Nick Kroll called out to Bobby Cannevale to yell "Everybody shut up!" Cannevale obliged. This had zero effect on four out of seven yakkers at my table. Sadly, they missed Kroll's humor. "A common theme to these films," Kroll said, "is the horrors we inflict on each other: slaves, war, folk music." Even assaults on taste couldn't calm the hubbub. One speaker said, "Kathryn Hahn will get so excited during her speech she'll fart." Nothing. A pair of presenters just started screaming.

Would the crowd shut up for Mayor Bloomberg? Who's made the city so filmmaker friendly that those trailers take up all the parking space? If anything, guests dialed it up as hizzoner celebrated Gotham as the first ceremony of the awards season. Films used to be shot in Canada, he said, but New York is now seeing a new golden age of cinema. "The mayor of Toronto and the mayor of New York do not have a lot in common," Bloomberg added to laughter.

Blessed (relative) silence reigned when Steve Buscemi, who seems a total mensch, offered a tribute to James Gandolfini. After Buscemi choked up. Ethan Hawke introduced his tribute to Richard Linklater, who taught him that "ordinary moments dazzle." Julie Delpy added that in the "Before" trilogy "Richard Linklater got the best of me, the best I can do." She added, "Really, I could immolate myself on stage and no one here would notice."

By now I was craving another Bellini and thought I might do better to find the exit. As I was leaving, Lee Daniels was trying to tamp down the static during his tribute to Forest Whitaker. The last thing I heard as I stepped onto Wall Street was Daniels yelling, "Shut the fuck up!"