In 1935, at age 5, Harry Belafonte saw his first movie, Tarzan, and knew he never wanted to be one of those people from Africa. This bit of personal history was the entry point for the 87-year old performer and activist, putting the achievement of Steve McQueen, the British director of 12 Years a Slave in the context of this country's untoward history. He looked forward to more work from McQueen, but even if his career ended now, 12 Years a Slave was enough to move the conversation about slavery in America to a new place. Belafonte's speech limning his experience of racial identity was so powerful that when the critics' group's choice for the best film, American Hustle, was presented by veteran director and film historian Peter Bogdanovich, the evening's finale in a night honoring excellent work in cinema, director David O. Russell left the stage at The Edison Hotel speechless.
Even before Josh Rothkopf, chair of the critics' group, took the podium, the talk was who would he pair up to present whom, and the ensuing evening did not disappoint with honors for Best Actor to Robert Redford presented by Glenn Close, Best Actress to Cate Blanchett introduced by her Blue Jasmine co-star Sally Hawkins; Best Supporting Actor to Jared Leto for his performance as a transvestite in Dallas Buyers Club; introducing him, Peter Travers quipped, "You did it in heels."
The Best Supporting Actress Award went to Jennifer Lawrence who could not attend the ceremony so Bradley Cooper gamely recounted what it is like on set with the noisy 23 year old who can convey nutty and sage in one breath. Fruitvale Station's Michael B. Jordan, Melanie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer presented to Ryan Coogler for best first achievement. The Best Foreign Language Film Award went to the sexually explicit Blue is the Warmest Color. Introduced by Ethan Hawke, the movie's star Adele Exarchopoulos wore what looked like a Victorian frock from the waist up, but landed gently on her upper thigh. James Toback presented the Best Screenplay Award to American Hustle's David O. Russell and Eric Singer who told me it was easy to hand his script over to Russell. He just loves his movies.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.