Big night for ‘Moonlight’ at Gotham Awards could hint at Oscar chances

He’s making up for lost time.

The writer-director and his drama cleaned up at the indie film ceremony Monday night, winning the top prize of best feature as well as the audience and screenplay awards, along with a special jury ensemble honor.

The director and his cast came to the stage repeatedly throughout the night. By his last speech, Jenkins was running out of people to thank and turned his attention to his third-grade teacher and the CAA.

The film even managed to work its way into unrelated moments. Cate Blanchett, presenting another award, interrupted herself during a different point. “Speaking of extraordinary, that ‘Moonlight’ is extraordinary,” she said.

The New York-based Gothams, a kind of East Coast version of the Spirit Awards, are regarded as one of the first of the award-season events that in the coming months will also include the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Though its small jury pools of stars and filmmakers do not encompass the diverse bodies of people that will vote for those prizes, the ceremony has proved prescient of late: the 2015 and 2014 best feature winners (“Spotlight” and “Birdman”) each went on to win best picture at the Oscars. That should bode well for “Moonlight.”

Based on a Tarell Alvin McCraney play, the film is a tri-partite coming-of-age story, spanning more than a decade, about a young gay black man in Miami.

The movie, funded and distributed by A24, stars University of Texas graduate Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, all part of the cast that won the jury prize

Though it’s early, the film seems to be following in the footsteps of “Boyhood” two years ago — an intimate movie about growing up, told across multiple time frames, that has captivated tastemakers and voters. After a successful late-summer festival run, “Moonlight” has also begun attracting commercial audiences, grossing nearing $10 million so far mainly on the strength of word of mouth. Cheers for the movie at the Gothams were noticeably louder than for any other film.

It also seems to be tapping into a political zeitgeist, or counter-zeitgeist. Accepting the feature prize, Jenkins said, “These are marginal people and marginal lives. It’s (great) there’s a platform to center these stories, because they’re needed now more than ever.”

Most surprising among the winners Monday was “Elle” star Isabelle Huppert, who knocked off front-runners Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) for best actress, though in a fiercely competitive year even Huppert’s Oscar nomination in the category is not assured.

Huppert seemed truly shocked as she took the stage. “They all told me ‘it’s a very American award — and you’re very French,’ ” she said.

In surprising news to the winner if not those in the audience, best actor went to Casey Affleck for his role as a tortured handyman in Kenneth Lonergan’s New England-based drama “Manchester by the Sea.”

“I wish I had something to say,” Affleck hesitated. “This feels really good. I didn’t think I cared that much.”

Just as off the cuff, if more comedic, was Aziz Ansari. After accepting the “Made In NY Prize” for his city-based show “Master of None,” the performer offered some improv about the modest size of the plaque, his penchant for swiping snacks from rival craft services’ tables and the generally constructed nature of award shows.

“I was told a few months ago,” he said as he came to the lectern to accept the honor. “But I tried to forget about it so I would be surprised.”

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