“Past Lives,” the elegiac drama about a young Korean immigrant and the romantic path not taken, won best feature at the 33rd annual Gotham Awards, which were handed out Monday night at Cipriani Wall Street in New York.
The A24 film from the writer-director Celine Song stars Greta Lee as a married writer in New York who reconnects with her childhood sweetheart from South Korea, a meeting that has her contemplating the Korean concept of inyeon, about fated connections between different people.
“Thank you for believing in me when all I had was a script written in two languages,” Song said to the cast and crew members lined up behind her during her acceptance speech. “Everybody on this stage is my inyeon.”
Considered the first notable awards ceremony of Oscar season, the Gotham Awards have the advantage of corralling contenders while they’re still fresh, before the thank-you lists in their acceptance speeches become rote and the golden dreams of some nominees have been ground into dust.
This year’s show was particularly well-positioned since the actors’ strike had, until recently, thwarted many contenders from full-scale campaigning. At the Gothams, A-list attendees like Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Adam Driver were finally permitted to partake in an unabashed, shoulder-rubbing schmoozefest.
As a harbinger of future Oscar success, the Gothams can be a mixed bag. Two of their last three best-feature winners, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Nomadland,” went on to win top honors at the Academy Awards, but the Gothams are chosen by small juries that consist of a handful of film insiders, while the Oscars are voted on by around 10,000 people.
The Gothams also tend to lean indie: Though the $35 million budget cap for eligibility was waived this year, jurors only found blockbuster representation for “Barbie” star Ryan Gosling, nominated for outstanding supporting performance. The Gothams’ adoption of gender-neutral categories have reduced the acting races from four to two — here, there are only categories for lead and supporting performance — while also expanding the list of nominees in each acting category from five to a somewhat unruly 10.
Still, it never hurts to be seen winning, and the Gothams offer contenders a high-profile place to break out of the pack and deliver a memorable speech.
One unique example of that was the Gothams win for Lily Gladstone, who triumphed in the lead-performance category not for Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” her big-budget breakthrough, but for her role in the indie “The Unknown Country,” about a woman who embarks on a road trip after the grandmother she was caring for passes away.
“At the heart of it, we have Native voices, because Morrisa shot reality,” said Gladstone, praising writer-director Morrisa Maltz. “You listened, like Marty did.”
The supporting-performance award went to an overcome Charles Melton, the former “Riverdale” star at the burning heart of the Todd Haynes drama “May December.” The Korean American actor was one of many Asian winners at the Gothams, which also handed out TV awards to the Netflix limited series “Beef” and one of its lead performers, Ali Wong.
“Anatomy of a Fall,” the Justine Triet courtroom drama that won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, took home best international feature and best screenplay for its examination of a marriage after a man dies in a family’s remote home in the French Alps. The award for breakthrough director went to A.V. Rockwell, the filmmaker behind the mother-son drama “A Thousand and One.”
“I really did not see this coming,” Rockwell said, tearing up as she talked about the fight to make her first film as a Black woman. “Just to be frank, it is very hard to tell a culturally specific story when you look like this.”
Though most of the show ran smoothly, presenter Robert De Niro was visibly irritated when a portion of his speech during a tribute to “Killers of the Flower Moon” was “cut out, and I didn’t know about it,” the actor said. Peeved not to find it in full on the Telepromptr, he doubled back and read it on his own.
“In Florida, young students are taught that slaves developed skills that could be applied for their personal benefit,” De Niro said. “The entertainment industry isn’t immune to this festering disease: The Duke, John Wayne, famously said of Native Americans, ‘I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.’”
De Niro also used his speech to criticize Donald Trump, a frequent bête noire of the actor: “Lying has become just another tool in the charlatan’s arsenal,” he said. “But with all his lies, he can’t hide his soul. He attacks the weak, destroys the gifts of nature and shows disrespect, for example, by using ‘Pocahontas’ as a slur.”
De Niro noted that he had planned to wrap his speech by thanking the Gothams and Apple, the studio behind “Killers of the Flower Moon,” but had now changed his mind: “I don’t feel like thanking them at all for what they did. How dare they do that, actually.”
In addition to the competitive honors, the Gothams paid tribute to Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Greta Gerwig, Michael Mann and George C. Wolfe.
Here is a complete list of winners:
Best feature: “Past Lives”
Outstanding lead performance: Lily Gladstone, “The Unknown Country”
Outstanding supporting performance: Charles Melton, “May December”
Best documentary feature: “Four Daughters”
Best international feature: “Anatomy of a Fall”
Best screenplay: “Anatomy of a Fall”
Breakthrough director: A.V. Rockwell
Breakthrough series (over 40 minutes): “A Small Light”
Breakthrough series (under 40 minutes): “Beef”
Outstanding performance in a new series: Ali Wong, “Beef”