Press Room at the 15th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards
By ROBERT W. WELKOS
On one side were the inglourious basterds, a.k.a. entertainment journalists. On the other side were the avatars, the celebrities who had come to pose for photos with their trophies and wax eloquent about their victories.
The scene was the press room at the 15th annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium where Mo’Nique, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep came to discuss the victories bestowed on them by the broadcast film critics moments before.
At times combative, at-times hilarious, at-times contemplative and at-time down-right baffling, the give-and-take banter that took place between the actors and the press was enough to give hope that this year is shaping up as one of the wildest and most invigorating awards seasons in recent memory.
The first question out of the box for Mo’Nique, who won best supporting actress for her role as an abusive mother in “Precious,” seemed to set her on her heels.
“Do you think the backlash against this film by some people in the black community could hurt its Oscar chances” a reporter asked.
At first, Mo’Nique looked confused, like she didn’t understand the question. Then you could see her eyes narrow, the contempt building.
“There’s a backlash in the black community” she asked sarcastically. “I did not know about that, brother.” She then asked if he had seen the box office numbers (the little film has grossed $45 million). “I think the black community was really satisfied. I think the white community, the Asian community, I think the world as a whole was satisfied.”
Then Mo’Nique was asked why she had largely ducked campaigning on behalf of the film. She avoided answering the question, turning the microphone instead over to her manager/husband Sidney Hicks, who recited how busy Mo’Nique is as a talk show host, comedian, wife and mother. “If you notice, she hasn’t been at all of (the film festivals and awards events) but she has been at some.So, she’d actually like to portray being a bad mother in movies (rather) than actually be one.”
If Mo’Nique seemed taken aback by the line of questioning, just think what must have gone through the mind of bearded, long-haired, laid-back Jeff Bridges, who won best actor for his role as a hard-drinking country singer in “Crazy Heart.”
“Was it uncomfortable sticking your hands down Maggie’s (co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal’s) pants.” the reporter asked Bridges.
“Was it uncomfortable sticking my hands down Maggie’s pants:” the actor replied. “Is that what you said”
When the reporter clarified that he meant the character Bridges plays in the film, the actor replied with a mischievous smile: “Was it uncomfortable? No, he rather enjoyed it, I think.”
Changing subjects, Bridges reflected on how Oscar awards campaigning has changed since he was first nominated for best supporting actor for 1972’s “The Last Picture Show.”
“It was a different game back then,” he recalled. “There wasn’t this kind of campaigning. At that time I was a young, 21 year old kid and somebody called me at six-o’clock in the morning (to say I’d been nominated).”
This time, Bridges is out hustling his film at the behest of distributor Fox Searchlight. While noting that the campaigning “can be a drag,” he enjoys spending the time with his friends from the film like Gyllenhaal, director Scott Cooper and producer/composer T-Bone Burnett. “We’ve been having a great time.”
Throughout the evening, the press not only was inquisitive about what designer gowns the actresses were decked out in, but also the tuxes worn by the actors. So, a surprised Bridges opened his tux and searched for the tag and “voila!” told everyone he was wearing Donna Karan!
Kevin Bacon, who was honored with the Joel Siegel Award for his philanthropic work, informed everyone that he was wearing Dior. That set the stage for Sandra Bullock, who when she was asked what designer gown she was wearing,, complained why doesn’t the media ever ask the men that question? A howl went up from the press room and a chagrined Bullock did her best Roseanne Roseannadanna impression: Never Mind!
Bullock and Streep, who tied for best actress (Bullock for “The Blind Side” and Streep for “Julie & Julia”) hugged and heaped praise on one another. It was only when Streep said “She’s so tall!” that you realized they don’t really know each other.
“Is it possible for anyone to beat Meryl Streep for best actress” Bullock was asked.
“No, no. Our craft was elevated when Meryl Streep stepped into roles as an actress. I don’t think you can ever reach what she did. That’s what God put her on the planet to do.”
Bullock, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, said critics haven’t always appreciated her choice of film roles: “In the past, most the time, critics have said unpleasant things. This year, there have been more pleasant things. But it could change and next year they could be just as bad.”
Then a reporter asked Bullock a question that only Barrack Obama could appreciate: “Sandra, big fan. I have to know. How do you continue to remain the most amazing person ever? Everyone here agrees–we all love you.”
Bullock didn’t miss a beat: “Because I’m an expert actress,” she deadpanned.
It wasn’t the only embarrassing question put to a winner.
Consider this exchange between a female reporter and Ed Helms, one of the co-stars of “The Hangover,” which won best comedy.
“Hey, Ed. Hi. So, I was telling my girlfriends, who all of us swoon over you. I’m curious. How does it feel to be an alternative heart-throb? ”
“I’m going to try and not be insulted by “alternative heart-throb,” he replied.
“I mean it in a serious way,” she said.
“I’m sure you do,” he replied. “Thank you.”
By evening’s end, I came away unusually energized about this awards season. On this night, at least, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards exemplified what Hollywood has lost in the years since 9/11. Security at the Academy Awards is so all-encompassing that it long ago sucked the joy out of the event for me.
Friday, I stood on the red carpet before the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and was warned by a nice elderly gentleman working security that I couldn’t take pictures unless I stepped back behind the rope-line. But by the time the big stars arrived to be interviewed, the rope-line had disintegrated and the red carpet was crammed with celebrities, publicists, media and who knows who else?
Although the LAPD showed up in force, they weren’t anywhere to be seen. It was a chaotic scene with Paul McCartney waving to screaming girls in the bleachers (how many times has that happened in his life?), Adam Lambert ignoring them, and teen actress Saorise Ronan (winner of best younger actress for “The Lovely Bones?”hurrying past us looking a bit frightened (can you blame her for not showing up in the press room afterward?
Ah, but it’s Hollywood.
Bring on the Oscars!!