By Jake Coyle
The National Board of Review toasted Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” as the year’s best film in an awards ceremony Wednesday night that included Brad Pitt crediting Bradley Cooper for his sobriety, Timothee Chalamet extolling the virtues of the Safdie brothers and best-actor winner Adam Sandler playfully taunting Robert De Niro with his award.
Coming on the heels of Sunday’s Golden Globes and Tuesday’s New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the National Board of Review assembled many of the regulars of this year’s awards season in the annual, untelevised gala dinner at Cipriani’s 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. The quick succession of the ceremonies, which this year are especially compressed, can give the NBR Awards a discombobulating feeling of deja vu.
“What’s so meaningful is that since Sunday, I’ve seen Scorsese, Tarantino and the Safdie brothers three days in a row and that will never happen again in my life,” cheerfully joked Bong Joon Ho, the “Parasite” director, accepting his umpteenth award for best foreign language film.
But because the NBR Awards (which earlier announced its winners ) are a frothy but unsubstantial stop between honors, they can be memorable for their less-rehearsed, more expletive-ridden acceptance speeches and star-studded presenter-winner pairings.
Bruce Springsteen passionately introduced the “icon award” winners, Scorsese, De Niro, and Al Pacino as “the fulfilled prophecy of a nation forged by immigrants.” Uma Thurman, who has a rich but painful history with Quentin Tarantino, introduced the “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” filmmaker as the most impactful person in her life, beside her parents and children. And Cooper presented Pitt with his best-supporting actor award.
“I got sober because of this guy,” said Pitt taking the stage. “And every day has been happier ever since.”
Pitt, who like Bong is by now entrenched as an Oscar favorite, supplied some of the night’s best lines. Holding his trophy, he said he was pleased to be leaving “carrying something other than George Clooney.” And, as he has throughout the acclaimed release of Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” Pitt exuded the relaxed charisma of a contented movie star.
“My goals in life are pretty simple right now: Be happy, stay healthy and not get into a financial situation where I have to do ‘Ocean’s 14,’” said Pitt while the audience roared. “We’ll see.”
The awards belonged equally to Sandler, whose performance in Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Uncut Gems” has been one of the most celebrated of his career. His praises were sung from the stage by the Safdies (best screenplay winners, with Ronald Bronstein), presenter Drew Barrymore and even best supporting actress winner Kathy Bates (“Richard Jewell”).
Unlike some of the other winners, Bates hasn’t been a mainstay on the awards circuit. The 71-year-old actress, a three-time Oscar nominee and winner in 1991 for “Misery,” said she didn’t know if this might be her last such honor. She took the moment to reflect on some of her fondest memories and to tenderly thank her long passed mother. Bates even recalled 1998’s “Water Boy,” in which she played Sandler’s mother.
“Where’s Sandler?” said Bates peering out from the stage. “Bobby Boucher! Congrats, son.”
When Sandler’s turn came, he got the stage and looked down at the nearby star of “The Irishman.”
“I know De Niro’s nervous around me now,” Sandler joked. “Bobby, you’ve done some good (expletive) but the Sandman is here now.”
The annual dinner was hosted, as it has been in recent years, by Willie Geist. Even many of the winners can be a little uncertain about just what the National Board of Review is. (It’s a 110-year-old organization of film enthusiasts.)
The evening ended, naturally, with Scorsese. Accepting the award for best picture, the director spoke wistfully about the years-long process getting “The Irishman” made while De Niro stood next to him. “Long story short, Netflix,” said Scorsese.
Though Pacino wasn’t there to join them in accepting the “icon award,” De Niro searched for a better phrase to describe himself, Scorsese and De Niro, a trio who had never before made a film all together. De Niro said he favored “the three amigos” except that had been taken, he noted, by the President Donald Trump envoys who pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
De Niro settled instead on “the unholy trinity,” with Scorsese as god, himself as the son and Pacino as the holy ghost.