The National Board of Review awards are known for pairing top talent with even more top talent to present their awards. Who is more qualified, then, to give the Safdie brothers and their screenwriting partner Ronald Bronstein the NBR award for Best Original Screenplay than Timothée Chalamet, their No. 1 stan. (And also, an NBR winner himself, for Breakthrough Performance in 2017 for Call Me by Your Name.) “It was challenging for me to write these remarks, not only because of the incredible and intimidating talent in this room tonight, but because what the Safdies do for me as filmmakers is so revolutionary, it’s hard to limit the remarks to just the screenplay,” Chalamet began. “Also, because I’m a dumb 24-year-old actor, I’ve never written anything. I stand on a mark, I say what people tell me to say.” Read his full speech below:
I’m here to give the award for Best Original Screenplay to the Safdie brothers and Ronnie Bronstein. It was challenging for me to write these remarks, not only because of the incredible and intimidating talent in this room tonight, but because what the Safdies do for me as filmmakers is so revolutionary, it’s hard to limit the remarks to just the screenplay. Also, because I’m a dumb 24-year-old actor, I’ve never written anything. I stand on a mark, I say what people tell me to say.
I don’t know what insight I have about screenwriting, but here’s my go. Trying to describe their approach to writing, it’s to know exactly what they want in a pre-production process going into filming, and then on the day, finding those jewels and gems in the rough of collaboration and the day to day adrenaline of filmmaking. A frenetic stylistic approach to filmmaking that can be interpreted as improvisational and unplanned, but make no mistake, with the Safdies and with Ronnie, it’s not. This task is made easier when the actors you’re working with are of the caliber of Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, and Keith Richard Williams. That’s not Keith Richards, that’s Keith Richard Williams. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s because the Safdies literally found him on the street in New York and cast him, like half of the characters in their movies, which sucks for actors like myself with résumés.
Their 2017 film Good Time was a straight shot about a bank robbery gone wrong, and a deranged young man’s relentless and untiring attempt to free his brother from custody. The movie follows Robert Pattinson’s descent into moral-less madness. If Good Time was a shot of tequila, then Uncut Gems plays like cocaine and mushrooms with a little sprinkle of Alka-Seltzer on top. Adam Sandler gives a truly awe-inspiring performance. It’s like Adam Sandler watched Punch-Drunk Love and was like ‘I’m going to do exactly that again, except the exact opposite.’ And Josh and Benny and Ronnie created a tornado of stress, swag, fucked-up intrigue and unapologetic, raw, truthful filmmaking. These are movies people my age can actually not get bored as fuck watching.
Let me end on this anecdote, and I apologize for personalizing it. About a month ago I texted the guy I look up the most to in the business, inviting him to a premiere. He said he couldn’t come, but he invited me to a dinner with Martin Scorsese that would be happening 30 minutes later that night. I was literally on the toilet when I got that text. So I did Google Maps check, I was uptown within 30 minutes. I hope not to embarrass you if you’re here tonight, but at the dinner I was shocked by Mr. Scorsese’s self-depreciation, his razor sharp wit, and his good humor. I was the young guy at the table but I was having trouble keeping up with the pace of conversation and the sophistication of movies being referenced.
I made a joke about how if The Irishman was successful, I’d never work again, because from now on I’d be auditioning against James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Charlie Chaplin. He very calmly and humbly said it was now time for a new generation of filmmakers to take over. He pointed out, for example, the Safdie brothers. I didn’t know in that moment, but he actually executive produced Uncut Gems. The comparisons are obvious: They’re both truly New York filmmakers in their blood, they both explore the psyche of devilish and morally ambiguous protagonists. In many ways, Adam Sandler Howard Ratner parallels Ray Liotta’s strung out Henry Hill in Goodfellas. This is high praise. I know it. Who am I to dole it out? And yet this is no longer the golden age of cinema. It’s no one’s fault — except maybe Ronald Reagan, no just kidding.
It seems every expression of art has its great moment in time. And yet this is why we need the Safdie brothers right now. This is why we need Barry Jenkins, and Greta Gerwig, and Mati Diop, and Ari Aster, Lulu Wang — not to reignite the golden age party that is definitively over. The world is on fire as we speak. [We need them] to make the art that is truthful to the times and a true mirror of our times. And, in the Safdies’ case, really unapologetic too. Maybe it won’t be as big of a party, but it will be unique as fuck.