It’s Clint’s world. And everyone else who showed up at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards dinner on Sunday night was just visiting.
Among those queuing up to get a hearty handshake from the star, and to dine on a soggy spring salad and some pesto chicken at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown, were veteran screen star Lauren Bacall, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, actors Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen as well as director Alexander Payne from Sideways, Maria Full of Grace’s Joshua Marston and its star, Catalina Sandino Moreno, and The Incredibles director Brad Bird. Fox Searchlight’s Peter Rice and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein were seen just shaking each other’s hands.
As people began to empty out of the Grand Ballroom after the event, Ms. Bacall approached Mr. Eastwood from behind. She placed her hand on the small of his back and then wrapped it around his shoulder. “I love him,” she cooed to no one in particular and then left him with Mr. Almodóvar. “Congratulations,” the Bad Education director said with a thick Spanish accent. Mr. Eastwood, who was positively glowing, responded with a hearty handshake, clasping Mr. Almodóvar’s upper arm with his left hand. The ensuing photo op was perhaps the most unusual pairing for Mr. Eastwood since Every Which Way But Loose.
Mr. Eastwood then retrieved some vitamins the size of horse tranquilizers from his pocket. He offered one to his wife, Dina Ruiz-Eastwood, who palmed it absently.
“We’re just getting started,” Mr. Eastwood said after a big gulp. (Please, someone cue Karen Carpenter and “We’ve Only Just Begun.”) Over the weekend, his film Million Dollar Baby took home the Best Picture award from the National Society of Film Critics. They have no honorary dinner, but Mr. Eastwood, who is no stranger to awards seasons, joked, “We’ve got a lot of chicken to go.” And then he was off to meet with Mr. Marston, who had been patiently flanking him.
The 74-year-old actor- cum-director’s presence was felt throughout the event as he received numerous shout-outs from presenters and honorees, critics and stars alike. And security-definitely not there to protect Mr. Giamatti-patrolled the balconies, clasping their earpieces as if they were re-enacting Mr. Eastwood’s turn as Secret Service Agent Frank Horrigan in In the Line of Fire. Coincidentally, earlier in the evening, director Alexander Payne did his best impression of Hilary Swank’s character in Million Dollar Baby by shucking and jiving for the starlet. Ms. Swank, who cleans up nicely, was there to present Mr. Eastwood with his award for Best Director. Her husband, actor and activist Chad Lowe, looked on sheepishly-perhaps praying that his wife wouldn’t kick Mr. Payne’s ass, or his own.
The dinner itself was a veritable Sideways orgy. The evening began with Mr. Giamatti presenting the golden-haired Ms. Madsen with an award for Best Supporting Actress, after delivering a 10-minute soliloquy extolling her beauty and being. “There are people in this world that seem to exist more than other people,” Mr. Giamatti explained in a way very similar to Miles, his dopey, hyperbolic character in the movie. “I simply yearned to be with this woman.” When Ms. Madsen took the podium, she reminded Mr. Giamatti that “your wife is here.” Who knew?
In the game of musical chairs that followed-which must seem awfully familiar to the cast and crew of Sideways, which is undeniably this year’s critical darling and has been racking up awards left and right-director Alexander Payne presented Mr. Giamatti with his award for Best Actor; Ms. Madsen and Mr. Church presented Mr. Payne and screenwriter Jim Taylor with their award for Best Screenplay; and then actor (and soon-to-be director) Liev Schreiber presented Sideways producer Michael London with the award for Best Picture, after admitting that he had “quietly sobbed” during the film.
Afterward, The Transom caught up with Mr. Payne and asked him how he felt about the backlash the film had been receiving in The Times, courtesy of critic A.O. Scott (who was nowhere to be found-he must still be on vacation) and, more recently, the Daily News.
“Fuck it,” he retorted, looking tired yet dapper in a dark suit, before admitting that he always worried about the film being overexposed: ” I thought it was overhyped,” he said.
The only thing not getting rave reviews Sunday night was the venue. Although many agreed that it was an improvement on last year’s setting, the cavernous and now-defunct Noche, they didn’t have too many positive things to say about the Grand Ballroom, which was set up like it was about to host a shareholders’ conference in Houston.
Closer playwright Patrick Marber, who was there to present Clive Owen with his award for Best Supporting Actor, quipped: “I haven’t actually been this nervous since my bar mitzvah … which was in a room quite like this.”
The best line of the evening, however, goes to Al Franken, there to discuss the merits of Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the award for Best Nonfiction Film. Since director Michael Moore was 3,000 miles away in L.A. at the People’s Choice Awards, Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax who fought to have the film released, took his place-and likewise bore the brunt of Mr. Franken’s wit.
“Harvey Weinstein stood by this movie,” Mr. Franken began, “even in the face of certain success. And that is all you need to know about Harvey Weinstein.”
“The hardest part about being me is the other people that are so extremely tight-assed and conservative that they don’t get what I’m trying to do,” Anna Benson huffed. What she’s trying to do is raise money for victims of the recent tsunami disaster-but instead of jumping on the telethon bandwagon, she decided to pedal some ass. On Sunday, Jan. 9, the ravishing wife of Mets pitcher Kris Benson hosted a benefit performance of Pieces (of Ass), the play in which women deliver monologues concerning “hot-chick angst.” The 28-year-old mother of three, who also helped her husband co-found a nonprofit foundation called Benson’s Battalion, introduced the show, poking fun at her past life as an exotic dancer. “The last time I was onstage, I was naked!” she said.
While Ms. Benson fancies herself an Oprah Winfrey–Howard Stern hybrid, even the woman that FHM crowned “Baseball’s Hottest Wife” is getting tired of all the dirty talk. “I’m always referred to as the ‘ex-stripper.’ I mean, if I’d been a waitress, would I be the ‘ex-waitress’? I want people to push that aside and think, ‘What else does she have on her mind?’ Because I have puh- lenty on there!” That, she says, is the reason her husband made her quit stripping. “He said, ‘You’re not doing this anymore-you’re too intelligent.’ He’s the kind of person who could spot the diamond in the rough. He was interested in what I had to say.” Aren’t they all, honey?
It turned out that she did have a lot to say. After posing in the December 2004 issue of FHM, she spilled to the lad mag about coming to the aid of her nauseous husband when he was recovering from arm surgery. “We were flying home from the hospital and we had to squeeze into the plane’s bathroom together so I could stick suppositories up his ass to keep him from throwing up,” she confessed.
She also recently told Howard Stern that if her hubby ever cheated on her, she would sleep with all his teammates and team officials, including the groundskeepers.
So does her husband ever get mad when she shoots her mouth off? “I piss Kris off daily!” she laughed. “The way I see it, whether you agree with my opinions is irrelevant. If I’ve pissed you off, I’ve done my job. I like to stir the shit, if you will. That’s part of the fun of it-making up.” She wiggled her eyebrows.
Her loose lips caught the attention of VH1, which will soon make a final offer on a reality show chronicling her life as an athlete’s wife. The couple, who will split their time between New York and Atlanta, where their children go to school, spent the week apartment-hunting, having ruled out brownstones where the stairways are too narrow for Mr. Benson’s 6-foot-4 frame. They’re partial to the Upper East Side so Mr. Benson can have as quick a commute to the stadium as possible, and also so they can spend more time together.
“I’m not going to get down to the nitty-gritty,” she insisted, “but the key to a happy marriage is real good sex! If you’re making love five days a week, you’re only fighting two days.”
Despite the multiple death threats against him, Geert Wilders makes a grand entrance when he can. The 41-year-old Dutch parliamentarian’s much-discussed whitish-blond coiffure and brawny six-foot frame immediately gave him away as he entered the Martin Gang Law Library, three floors above the midtown offices of Commentary magazine, on Jan. 10. Around 20 academics, policy wonks and journalists cut short their highbrow conversations and glanced up from their coffee and pastries to take a look. After a brief introduction, with his security detail waiting outside the conference room, the dark-suited Mr. Wilders began his pitch for a “Dutch Patriot Act” to take aggressive measures against Islamic radicals in his homeland and explained his call for a five-year moratorium on non-Western immigration to the Netherlands.
Such stances may have earned him death threats back home, but they’ve made him the darling of many conservatives in the States. During his week-long tour, Mr. Wilder’s packed agenda includes the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C. He also plans to meet with Tim Goeglein, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, who was described in a recent Washington Post profile as “a virtual middleman between the White House and conservatives of all stripes seeking to shape its policies.”
Mr. Wilders’ speaking engagement at Commentary was the result of a few well-placed phone calls and e-mails sent out to announce his arrival. However, managing editor Gary Rosen maintains that “it was not meant to show our sponsorship or endorsement of his views.”
Dutch society is known for its extreme tolerance (same-sex marriage) and permissive attitudes (decriminalization of soft drugs and prostitution), and Mr. Wilders’ conservative policies would normally be a tough sell at home. However, shortly after the November murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, Mr. Wilders’ popularity has soared in some recent national polls among predictions that if elections were held tomorrow, his party-which currently doesn’t even have enough potential candidates-could pick up as many as 28 of the 150 seats in Parliament.
Stylistically, Mr. Wilders was impressive in his command of the material, yet some of his proposals were met with furrowed brows rather than cheers. A few audience members focused in on some of the vagaries in the platform that have to be ironed out if Mr. Wilders wants U.S. support.
But Cooper Union professor Fred Siegel, who attended the event, told The Transom that Mr. Wilders presented his views sensibly and is correct in several ways. “Reading someone like Ian Buruma’s [recent 5,000-word New Yorker] piece, you get a highly misleading impression. He’s calm, reasoned and speaks to the issue.”
After the event, Mr. Wilders stood leisurely and smoked on the sidewalk. Walking down Lexington Avenue (with his security detail walking a few paces in front and behind), he remarked that it was “good to get some fresh air”-a rare opportunity for someone driven to Parliamentary sessions in secrecy. At the Barclay New York bar, Mr. Wilders discussed why he is building a new party and how he differs from Pim Fortuyn, the charismatic gay conservative who criticized Dutch policies on immigration and political asylum. Mr. Fortuyn was a politically popular figure, but he was gunned down in May 2002 by an animal-rights activist prior to an election.
“I’m not Pim Fortuyn. I want people to judge me on who I am. I am Geert Wilders. What we share is our anger, and that the popular voice is not being translated into policy.”
Whether or not he finds a receptive ear among the conservative elite, Mr. Wilders will keep pitching.
“I want to explain what’s going to happen in Holland and also to ask for support-political support, maybe financial support, all the support possible.”
The Transom Also Hears …
… that Bill Murray was a man of few words at the New York Times Arts and Leisure Weekend “Times Talks” on Friday, Jan. 7. After the notoriously press-shy actor was interviewed by Times scribe Lynn Hirschberg, he was approached by A.P. radio journalist Jane Waldman. “May I ask just one question?” she implored. “Sure,” said Mr. Murray. “That was it.”