Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/FilmMagic

The National Board of Review announced its 2013 honorees on Dec. 4, with Her, Nebraska, and Fruitvale Station claiming some of the top prizes. That meant the only real suspense last night at the organization’s New York City gala was who would win the crowd and earn the best howls. Rob Reiner nearly stole the show, but it was Meryl Streep who brought down the house at Cipriani’s on 42nd Street. Streep, presenting the Best Actress award to Emma Thompson for Saving Mr. Banks, left her friend “nauseous with gratitude” with a heart-felt introduction that also took swipes at Walt Disney and the Disney brand.

Reiner got on the scoreboard first, co-presenting the Spotlight Award to Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio along with Jon Favreau and the spotlight-shy Spike Jonze. “By the way, Spike, you can jump in any time you want,” Reiner razzed, as he and Favreau exchanged banter. “You see, he did that movie Her where the guy can’t — he doesn’t have a good — he can’t talk to people too well. It’s autobiographical.”

The three directors all have small roles in The Wolf of Wall Street, and though they had a great experience making the film, Reiner felt they were short-changed in some regards. “The only thing I felt bad about [while making the movie was] we were never around when there was naked women,” Reiner joked. “Every time. Leo, you were around naked women. Jonah: naked women. Nothing for the three directors. One or two you could’ve had, would’ve been nice. It didn’t have to be in the scene; just bring them around. We’re getting older; we need a little something.”

When Scorsese and DiCaprio accepted their award together, in a clever back and forth bit, the director advised the star to speak first but keep it short. “Like under three hours short?” DiCaprio cracked. “Ideally, under three hours,” Scorsese responded, making light of the hub-bub surrounding their film’s running time.

Will Forte, who won for Best Supporting Actor, was the clubhouse leader after his adorable, self-deprecating speech. “I am not used to getting awards,” he said. “In fact, I am used to the exact opposite of getting awards. I’m used to getting more ‘Why Did You Do Thats?’ Getting ‘What the Hell are You Thinkings?’ My family members have actually lost friends because they sent those friends to see some of the movies I’ve been in. I’m not joking. So I’d like to thank the National Board of Review for helping to restore the Forte family name.”

His Nebraska co-star Bruce Dern, who won for Best Actor, delivered the night’s most touching acceptance speech, which paid tribute to his director Alexander Payne and reflected on his own long career. “I’ve never had somebody give me an opportunity and believe in me and trust me like Alexander did with me,” the 77-year-old actor said. “He said, ‘Don’t show us anything. Let us find it.’ I knew I had a friend who I could trust who would put his money where his mouth was, and I stopped trying to push and over-create and put embroidering and add Derns-ys and all the kind of crap that I’ve had to do all these years to be the most interesting third cowboy from the right. That’s the magic of him. And the third thing that I’d like to say is I want to thank the National Board of Review. You are the first people that have ever done something for me before. … All of you got together in a room and finally somebody said, ‘You know what? Bruce Dern can play.’ Thank you.”

But that all was a prelude to Streep, who walked onstage wearing a “Prize Winner” trucker’s cap, a table favor and prop from Dern’s film. She pretended not to notice it was on her head, before someone pointed it out. “I’m not the Prize Winner?” she asked, than paused for a second and said with a grin. “That’s so weird!”

For the next 10 minutes, Streep honored Thompson and her performance. (There was even a poem: An Ode to Emma or What Emma is Owed.) Streep was charming, she was funny, and she was bold, especially when she dug into Disney. “Some of his associates reported that Walt Disney didn’t really like women,” she began. “There is a piece of received wisdom that says that the most creative people are often odd or irritating, eccentric, damaged, difficult; that along with enormous creativity comes certain deficits in humanity or decency. We are familiar with this trope in our business: Mozart, Van Gogh… Tarantino, Eminem. Ezra Pound said, ‘I have not anyone worth a damn who was not irascible.’ Well I have: Emma Thompson. Not only is she not irascible, she’s practically a saint.”

“Emma considers very carefully what the f–k she is putting out in the culture. Emma thinks, ‘Is this helpful?’ Not, ‘Will it build my brand?’ Not, ‘Will it give me billions?’ Not, ‘Does this express me, me, me in my unique and fabulous itself into all eternity in every universe for all time?’ That’s a phrase from my Disney contract in my last movie. I’m serious.”

Streep then couldn’t resist returning to Disney the man: “Disney, who brought joy arguably to billions of people was, perhaps, or had some racist proclivities. He formed and supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group and he was certainly, on the evidence of his company’s policies, a gender bigot,” she said, before reading an actual 1938 letter from Disney rejecting a female applicant to the animation trainee program. “When I saw the film, I could just imagine Walt Disney’s chagrin at having to cultivate P.L. Travers’ favor for the 20 years that it took to secure the rights to her work. It must have killed him to encounter in a woman an equally disdainful and superior creature, a person dismissive of his own considerable gifts and prodigious output and imagination.”

Game, set, and match.

Reiner refused to go quietly, though. When Jonze accepted his second and the night’s final award, he invited Reiner onstage to play the role of the absent Vincent Landay, the film’s third producer along with Megan Ellison. “He’s never seen the movie, he doesn’t know anything about the movie, and he doesn’t know who Vincent Landay is,” Jonze said before Reiner quickly cut in.

“I can’t tell you how honored I am to be chosen by the National Board of Review for this wonderful award,” he said with mock-seriousness. “Working alongside of Megan and Spike has been the greatest joy of my career. When we took on this project, no one said it could be made. We felt that nobody would be interested in a movie in which Joaquin Phoenix talked to somebody that you didn’t see and that is was Scarlett Johansson — who you really want to see.”

Other Highlights…

“As filmmakers, we’re all sort of gypsies. We’re minorities as filmmakers. We’re not doctors or lawyers or bankers, and as an African-American filmmaker, you are a minority within a minority. And oftentimes, people are not going to see the lens that you see, but I don’t want you to be deterred by that. I want you to keep doing what you are doing because what you are doing is magnificent and touching the hearts and minds and souls of voices that don’t have a voice and faces that are never seen.” – Lee Daniels, presenting the Best Directorial Debut to Fruitvale Station‘s Ryan Coogler

“My first writing teacher told me that it would be a cold day in hell if I ever won an NBR Award. I got up this morning and checked the temperature…” — Terence Winter, accepting the Best Adapted Screenplay Award for The Wolf of Wall Street

“Life was amazing. I was on a TV show. I was 16 years old. I had craft services. I was getting home-schooled. It was amazing. And then I got that dreaded knock on my trailer door episode 12 by David Simon, and no actor wants that visit by David Simon. Actors were dropping like flies, left and right. I remember just getting the script, and you’d just skim through to the last couple pages to make sure your name was still there to see if you survived. So Wallace was killed off. [Awwww.] Yeah. And I was devastated because you know as an actor you never know what’s coming up next. You never know when you’re next job is going to be. And I was a kid; I was pretty devastated by that.” — Michael B. Jordan, describing the moment his character was killed off The Wire

“I’d like to say the greatest fortune of my life has been to have had the opportunity of speaking Joel and Ethan’s beautiful words. Words like, ‘Huh?’ and ‘Uh-huh,’ and ‘Wow.’ See, life squeezes Llewyn and these are the sounds he makes. They are the grunts of grief, words that are peaks breaking the surface of a vast ocean of thoughts, thoughts that were written into the rhythm of the scenes. It was all on the page. Also, I got to call Carey Mulligan a careerist, which was really fun.” – Oscar Isaac, presenting the Best Original Screenplay Award to Joel and Ethan Coen for Inside Llewyn Davis

“It’s such a cold night. You know, it’s the only time I’ve been actually grateful for the menopause. There have been moments where I’ve been entirely comfortable. And then they pass.” — Emma Thompson, accepting her award for Best Actress

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