New York's very own David Edelstein was the host of this year's New York Film Critics Circle Awards, held Tuesday at TAO Downtown, and by all accounts, he did a good job — as the stars being honored kept reminding him. Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan, for instance, kicked off his first speech by turning the tables and giving the critic a review for a change: "His presentation is confident and the allusions are witty and literate, and in general, he's creating a good atmosphere ... A solid A-minus so far." And then later in the show, he revised the grade: "It's up to an A now."
So far, so good. But then Casey Affleck took the stage, and talked about how he used to love to read film reviews, because they helped inform his understanding of film. But reading criticism, especially criticism of your own work, requires a thick skin. Affleck has been on the receiving end of some pretty scathing reviews, and he took the opportunity to share them with the audience in a version of Mean Tweets, at Edelstein's expense. "I want to preface by saying that I also think David Edelstein is doing a great job tonight," Affleck started. "He's a very charming guy and I agree with all of the kind things he's said about all these people here. It has made me feel worse about all the things he's said about me. I'll just share a couple because they're really funny."
Regarding his performance in the film Triple 9: "Affleck, though likable, doesn't have a lot of variety and resorts to chewing gum to give his character a through line."
Then he moved on to a review of 2013's Out of the Furnace: "Affleck's line readings would be too mumbly and mulish even for the glory days of '50s Method mama’s boys, and he might as well be wearing a T-shirt that says, 'Shoot Me.' Fortunately, he’s not the lead." (Christian Bale was.) "That's fair," Affleck said. "I wasn't the lead. A better actor was the lead." He continued quoting: "It’s looking like whenever you see Casey Affleck in a movie’s credits, you can expect a standard genre B picture slowed down and tarted up." He stopped. "That is, I guess, apt, for some movies. Not all of them."
But then Affleck started reading reviews by other critics, attributing them to Edelstein. He quoted a Lou Lumenick review of Furnace from the New York Post: "Affleck hasn’t been this mannered — and, frankly, annoying — since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which somehow brought him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for that little-seen Western." And then he quoted a Rex Reed review of the film from the Observer, calling it "one of my favorites": "Mr. Affleck mutters incoherently in a voice pitched too low for even a dog to hear."
Naturally, Edelstein was a little surprised to have words he did not write attributed to him. "Those were not my reviews," he told the crowd. "I did not recognize, nor would I have said ... That Oscar thing? No, no, never." And to be fair, Affleck made an offhand comment that only "four out of five" were from Edelstein. (His math was off). But the larger point, as Lonergan told Vulture after the ceremony, was that they wanted the critics present to realize that "reviews can really hurt people's feelings. It can make them feel really good, too, but they're always surprised to hear that anyone's upset." (Which is why Lonergan said he usually refrains from giving grades or reviews to people, because it's "just being rude.")
Edelstein, however, got in the last word when he closed the show. "I want to thank Casey Affleck for reminding us that our words have weight. And Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a really awful movie. Thank you very much, good night everybody!"