The 2011 Gotham Awards were full of surprises: Favorites didn't win; winners' speeches were often interesting, humorous, and/or moving; and some of the jokes were quite funny. (Not every joke was funny, though. "That's a switch, the banks bailing us out," actress Judy Greer told a representative of the Royal Bank of Canada, who, following a pro-bank speech/promo, handed a check to the winning filmmaker of the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You.)
Now, despite its three nominations and all the Oscar buzz for filmmaker Alexander Payne and star George Clooney, The Descendants didn't win any awards. That was the biggest surprise of the evening. It's as if the Gotham voters this year were making a point of distancing themselves from obvious Oscar bait. Or perhaps they just didn't find Payne's movie all that great.
In the Best Feature category, The Descendants was beaten by Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and Mike Mills' Beginners — the Gothams' first tie in that category. And a surprising one at that, considering that not many were expecting Beginners, an early 2011 release, to be remembered at this time of year. Or to have a family dramatic comedy — Christopher Plummer plays Ewan McGregor's gay father — share a top award with Terrence Malick's lofty Cannes Film Festival winner.
Another surprise was The Descendants losing to Beginners in the Best Ensemble category. In addition to McGregor and Plummer, Beginners features Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, and Keegan Boos. In another The Descendants defeat, Shailene Woodley lost to Like Crazy's Felicity Jones in the Best Breakthrough Performer category. Earlier this year, Jones received a Special Jury Prize for Acting at the Sundance Film Festival.
Also worth noting, Steve James' well-received The Interrupters failed to win as Best Documentary Feature. Instead, the award went to Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega's Better This World.
Other winners included Lucy Malloy for Una Noche, recipient of the Women Filmmakers 'Live the Dream' Grant; Audience Award winner Girl Friend, directed by Justin Lerner; Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You Scenes of a Crime, directed by Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock; and Breakthrough Director Dee Rees for Pariah.