The Gotham Independent Film Awards, the Iowa caucus of Oscars season, kicked off on Monday with a surprise winner. "Call Me By Your Name" received a big boost, picking up two awards including best feature. The drama, directed by Luca Guadagnino, stars Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet as lovers that meet in 1980s Italy.
While the Gothams are decided by small panels comprised of actors and directors, the ceremony hosted by the Independent Film Project has gained prominence in recent years. Three of the previous top Gotham winners -- "Moonlight," "Spotlight" and "Birdman" -- were able to catapult from this venue at Cipriani Wall Street all the way to the Oscars stage.
For most of the evening, "Get Out" seemed like the unstoppable favorite. Jordan Peele picked up multiple awards, sweeping best screenplay, breakthrough director and the audience award for his hit horror drama released by Universal Pictures.
James Franco was named best actor for "The Disaster Artist." His gonzo performance as Tommy Wiseau, the actor-director of the cult 2003 independent movie "The Room," is now a likely award season contender. "I thought this movie was about making the best worst movie ever made," Franco said. "But it's actually about every artist with a dream."
Saoirse Ronan earned best actress for playing a high school senior in "Lady Bird." "It's very heavy," she said, as she picked up her trophy. She dedicated her prize to "the two women who mean so much to me," as she nodded to her mother and her director Greta Gerwig.
The Gothams, now in its 27th year, used to only recognize small movies. But after adding more categories, including career tributes and TV and acting prizes, the ceremony now functions as the first official stop on the long awards season trail. This year's dinner was as loopy as the Golden Globes -- and longer. The entire event clocked at more than three hours.
Nicole Kidman, who received a career tribute by her pal Reese Witherspoon, told the audience to sit down after receiving a standing ovation. "These are the Independent Spirit Awards," she beamed, as she identified the wrong awards show.
John Cameron Mitchell emceed the dinner with a quasi-political monolog that tanked in the room, met with almost no laughter or applause. "It's a weird time," said the director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "So we hashtag 'resist' because we're panicking and we want to do the right thing."
With his multiple trips to the stage, Peele proved that his horror drama "Get Out" will be a formidable awards season player. "When I started to write this film I set out to make a movie that would be my favorite movie that I had never seen," Peele said. "I didn't know it would actually ever get made."
He added: "It's so important that we support these voices from the outside, these perspectives we haven't seen, we haven't heard. They will resonate. We need these stories."
Chalamet, 21, received the breakthrough actor award for his performance in "Call Me by Your Name." "A big and tall thank you to my dance partner Armie Hammer for being so goddamn talented," Chalamet said about his onscreen co-star.
Al Gore, a career tribute winner and the producer of the documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel," took a moment in his speech to give a shout out to "my Nashville peeps" of Kidman and Witherspoon. "'Big Little Lies' was awesome," said the former vice president, offering a ringing endorsement that seemed to come out of left field.