Moonlight wins best feature, screenplay, ensemble at Gotham Awards

The Gotham Independent Film Awards showered honours on Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age drama Moonlight and kicked off the movie industry's awards season with a drumbeat of speeches that rejected the politics of Donald Trump.

Isabelle Huppert, Casey Affleck recognized in lead acting categories

Barry Jenkins speaks while accepting a Gotham Award for Moonlight on Monday in New York City, surrounded by, from left to right, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Trevante Rhodes, and Ashton Sanders. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images for IFP)

The Gotham Independent Film Awards showered honours on Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age drama Moonlight and kicked off the movie industry's long awards season with a drumbeat of speeches that rejected the politics of Donald Trump.

A celebrated film about a boy growing up black, poor and gay, Moonlight virtually swept the night, taking best feature, best screenplay, a special jury award for best ensemble and the audience award. The Gothams, as they're known, honour independent film.

The ceremony, hosted in Manhattan by Keegan-Michael Key, gave much of Hollywood — which overwhelmingly backed Hilary Clinton — a chance to commiserate over drinks, try out punchlines and make a rallying cry for art's political power.

Key, half of the former Comedy Central duo Key and Peele, opened, with deadpan sarcasm, with what he said was a four-week-old monologue.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are so grateful that we live in a country that celebrates diversity," said Key. Later, he gave up the guise and spoke earnestly. "Our voices need to be heard now," he said.

OJ: Made in America top documentary

The string of awards for Moonlight had the cast — which features newcomers Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex R. Hibbert playing the young protagonist in three chapters — frequently dancing arm-in-arm while the Gotham crowd stood to applaud.

Though Moonlight, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's play, has some big-name backers (Brad Pitt's Plan B produced it), Jenkins played the role of the underdog.

"When I made this film, I thought five people would watch it," Jenkins said. In limited release, the low-budged Moonlight has already made $8.5 million, making it one of the year's biggest indie hits.

Casey Affleck poses with his Best Actor award at the IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards on Monday for Manchester by the Sea. (Diane Bondareff/Invision for Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau/AP)

Other top awards went to Casey Affleck, who won best actor for his performance in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, and Isabelle Huppert, whose turn in Paul Verhoeven's Elle took best actress over favourites such as Natalie Portman (Jackie) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women).

The French actress, visibly shocked, said she had been told the Gothams were very American in outlook, and so her chances were slim.

"I feel so American tonight," chuckled Huppert. "I feel good. I feel really good."

Isabelle Huppert accepts her award onstage for Elle at the IFP's 26th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards at Cipriani in New York City. (Matthew Eisman/Getty Images for IFP)

A number of expected Oscar contenders weren't nominated by the Gothams, which select their indie-centric nominees from small panels of industry figures and critics. Absent were late arriving studio releases like Denzel Washington's Fences and, most conspicuous of all, Damien Chazelle's Los Angeles musical La La Land. That $30 million production (perhaps a bit too pricey for indie qualification), is seen by many as the best picture front-runner.

But Oscar season is just getting started, as a string of critics groups will announce their picks this week.

The Gothams, presented by the Independent Filmmaker Project, aren't historically a good Oscar predictor. But their last two top film picks, Spotlight and Birdman, did go on to triumph at the Academy Awards.

Elsewhere, O.J.: Made in America was recognized in the documentary category, beating out Camera person, I Am Not Your Negro, Tower and Weiner. The unconventional awards also include a best longform series category, in which Crazy Ex-Girlfriend prevailed over nominees such as Master of None and Horace and Pete.

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