For the first time in its history, two films shard the top prize at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, which were held in New York City on Monday night. In an unprecedented tie, the films THE TREE OF LIFE by Terrence Malick and BEGINNERS by Mike Mills shared the top prize for Best Feature. In a taped message played at the ceremonies, juror Natalie Portman shared with the audience that the jury “could not choose between the two dramatically different films without feeling as if they were shortchanging one of them.” The win may give the film BEGINNERS, which was released earlier this year, a boost entering awards season. The Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner THE TREE OF LIFE, which was released this summer to critical acclaim but modest box office returns, has been an iffy contender for top awards prizes as well. The two films beat out such acclaimed titles as MEEK’S CUTOFF, TAKE SHELTER and the George Clooney-starrer THE DESCENDANTS.
The Gothams, which are presented by the Independent Feature Project (IFP), a national filmmakers organization, is the first awards show out of the gate, with film critics prizes and nominations for the Independent Spirit Awards, Golden Globes and Oscars to be revealed in the coming weeks. These awards tend to favor the true indie productions, as was evidenced by the other prize winners announced that evening. Dee Rees, a young African American director, won the Breakthrough Director prize for her debut film PARIAH, about a young lesbian in Harlem finding her own expression. The cast of BEGINNERS, which includes Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Goran Vijnick and Melanie Laurent, won the Best Ensemble Cast prize (the Gothams do not award individual Best Actor or Actress prizes). However, British actress Felicity Jones, who has received glowing reviews for her work in the Sundance Film Festival Grand Prize Winner LIKE CRAZY was singled out as Breakthrough Actor.
The Best Documentary Award was given to BETTER THIS WORLD, a film co-directed by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway, which made its debut at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The film, about a pair of young girls finding their paths in rural Texas, has been left off the Academy Awards shortlist for Best Documentary. The high profile win hopefully will help the film find North American and international distribution. Another film which could benefit is SCENES OF A CRIME, which won the Best Film Not Playing At A Theater Near You prize, which illuminates quality indie films from the festival circuit that are not yet slated to open in theaters nationwide. The film, which explores the intensity of a high profile murder trial in New York State, is directed and produced by the team of Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh. The human drama GIRLFRIEND by Justin Lerner, a tender study of an autistic young man’s search for love, won the Audience Award, which was chosen by online voters. The film, which premiered to glowing reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, still does not have distribution in place…..a sad fact for many indie films in general.
The Gothams also took time to offer career tributes to actress Charlize Theron, actor Gary Oldman, director David Cronenberg and film executive Tom Rothman. The ceremonies were hosted by Edie Falco and Oliver Platt and held at the chi-chi Cipriani Wall Street in downtown Manhattan with tout New York in tow.