The Los Angeles Film Critics Association dinner is anything but slick. The fact that TV cameras and photographers aren’t present permits us to stumble along as we do, but in spite of this, our winners are genuinely grateful for their awards, because they know we’re tough to please. In their acceptance speeches, Best Actor Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Best Director Kathryn Bigelow of The Hurt Locker, and others credited critics with giving their movies traction and keeping them alive. On a different note Wes Anderson, in accepting the Best Animated Film prize for Fantastic Mr. Fox, recited excerpts from some of the worst reviews he’s ever received. Then Best Screenplay winner Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) thanked us for enabling him to finally meet Anderson, whose debut feature Bottle Rocket inspired him to make movies. (We also got to hear from Reitman’s co-writer, Sheldon Turner.) But the best speech of the night…
…came from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, who made the wonderful Summer Hours. He couldn’t attend in person but sent the following message via his producers. I was so impressed with its candor and eloquence that I asked for a copy so I could share it with you.
"These short few words to express my emotion and my gratitude at your generous recognition of my work.
“Nothing is more precious, more vital, for any artist than the support, the appreciation, of those who dedicate their lives, and their talent to the transcription in words of the echo cinema has deep within themselves. When you dream up your films, when you let your inspiration run free, when you trust your intuition, sometimes without even questioning it, you always hope that somehow, in the end, your images, your actors will transmit those very feelings, at their simplest and most universal.
“Most of the times you feel you got close to this goal, but not quite on the mark : your audience loves your film for diverse reasons, many of them having hardly ever crossed your mind ; or they don't even love it at all. It happens all too often.
“And then, once in a miraculous while, everything falls into place, what you were trying to say comes across in pristine clarity and perfect strangers become intimate friends because they have had access to your most private thoughts and recognized them as their own.
“That's the story of Summer Hours, and I can't even begin to say how frustrating it is not to be able to be here and share it with you.
“But then Nathanael Karmitz and Charles Gillibert are in LA, to receive the prize from your hands and also to report if you were not too bored with my speech, if you all kept awake all the way : well, they've had to deal with me for a while now and they know how grateful I am, this film would never have happened without them and without the very special support of Marin Karmitz. God bless them. God bless you."
Another Frenchman, the legendary Jean-Paul Belmondo, was the unquestioned star of the evening. He graciously accepted our Career Achievement Award, on the fiftieth anniversary of the groundbreaking film Breathless.
Despite having to use a cane, as the result of a stroke, the still-dapper Belmondo had a beautiful young woman on his arm, and turned the L.A. critics to jelly, as we all asked to pose for pictures and spend a moment or two in his presence. A generous montage of film clips reminded us of his exceptional career and his unique screen presence. He was graciously introduced by his two-time costar Genevieve Bujold.
The other hit of the evening was a musical performance by Jeff Bridges, who joined music producer T Bone Burnett on stage to sing one of the songs from their movie Crazy Heart, after which the actor brought country musician Ryan Bingham to the stage to do one of the songs he wrote for the film. That was a tough act to follow, but sincere speeches from Mo’Nique (Precious), Inglourious Basterds costar Christoph Waltz, and others made it a rewarding evening for all concerned.
Years ago I presented Wes Anderson with our "New Generation" award. Now he's practically a veteran!