'Marriage Story' dominates independent film's Gotham Awards

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NEW YORK — Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story" was the resounding winner at the IFP Gotham Awards, taking four awards including best feature at the annual New York awards-season kickoff.

By the end of the night on Monday, Baumbach, having long ago exhausted his one prepared speech, stood at the podium exhorting cast members Adam Driver and Laura Dern to lend him help. Having already given their own speeches — Driver for best actor, Dern as a tribute honoree — they demurred, content to watch Baumbach squirm again while he improvised a few remarks.

Baumbach turned, ultimately, to his actors — "My special effect, my everything is the cast," he said — and to Netflix for what he called its "unconditional" support of his film, a portrait of divorce starring Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Earlier, Baumbach thanked Netflix, too, for saving the Manhattan single-screen Paris Theatre, which the streaming company purchased last week.

Praise for Netflix and its chief content creative officer Ted Sarandos, who was also in attendance, was a common refrain throughout the evening. The streaming service, which filled up numerous tables at the banquet at Cipriani's Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, also celebrated wins for Ava DuVernay's Central Park Five series "When They See Us," (DuVernay was additionally singled out for tribute) and the documentary "American Factory."

The Gothams, now in their 29th year, are the premier New York gala for independent film, a kind of earlier East Coast corollary to Los Angeles' Independent Film Spirit Awards in February. Put on by the nonprofit Independent Film Project with nominees selected by committees, Gotham winners can diverge from seasonal favorites. Last year, Chloe Zhao's lyrical western "The Rider" took best feature.

But a recent stretch of Gotham winners went on to land best picture at the Academy Awards, including Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight," Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight" and Alejandro Inarritu's "Birdman."

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And "Marriage Story," which begins streaming Friday after playing for several weeks in theaters, seems sure to continue a long march through awards season. Acclaim has been heaped on its leads and its ensemble, and it's been celebrated as a crowning achievement for the 50-year-old Baumbach.

While not a surprise to others, the most shocked winner of the evening was easily Awkwafina, who took best actress for her performance in Lulu Wang's family drama "The Farewell."

"Oh my god. I never won anything. I can't even win an argument in the Instagram comments," said Awkwafina.

A handful of movies up for best feature — "Uncut Gems" with Adam Sandler, "Hustlers" with Jennifer Lopez — went home empty-handed. Trey Edward Schultz' ambitious family melodrama "Waves," also up for best feature, scored an award for Taylor Russell as breakthrough actor.

The Gotham Awards liberally sprinkle in tributes throughout the ceremony. This year's honorees included Dern, DuVernay, Sam Rockwell, FilmNation chief executive Glen Basner and Jason DaSilva, a filmmaker and disability rights activist. DaSilva's Emmy-winning documentary "When I Walk" chronicles his own experience with multiple sclerosis.

DuVernay shared her tips for directing, among them: treat actors and crew the same, don't be afraid to say "I don't know" and change your socks at lunchtime.


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