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Even at the Indie-Leaning Gotham Awards, Netflix Is a Juggernaut

The IFP Gotham Awards are always one of the very first shows of awards season, but how much can they tell us about the very last one, the Oscars?

Sometimes, the taste of the New York-based Gothams and the Oscars matches up exactly, as it did during the three recent years when “Birdman,” “Spotlight” and “Moonlight” took home the top prize at each event.

And other times — like last year, when Chloé Zhao’s marvelous but Oscar-snubbed drama, “The Rider,” won the top honor, for best feature — the Gothams will remind you that they often go their own way, with indie-leaning picks nominated by small committees of journalists, and winners chosen by no more than a handful of industry veterans per category.

That all must be kept in mind when evaluating the Gothams, but at Monday night’s subdued ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street, it was still striking how much the main story — the continued awards-show incursion of the streaming-service juggernaut Netflix — mirrored the issue that has come to dominate all Oscar conversation.

Netflix took more than half of the prizes at this year’s Gotham Awards, and though the show lacked a host, the de facto M.C. became the writer-director Noah Baumbach, who took the stage each time his Netflix divorce dramedy, “Marriage Story,” picked up another trophy. First, Baumbach used his best-screenplay speech to praise Netflix for reopening New York’s single-screen Paris Theater. Called back to the microphone not long after to collect an audience award for the movie, Baumbach noted, “I hope you remember what I said in the last speech.”

At the end of the night, after his male lead, Adam Driver, took best actor and “Marriage Story” won best feature, Baumbach confessed to the audience that he was somewhat tapped out. The director noted dryly that “the other stuff" he’d said in prior speeches that night “was still relevant.”

“Marriage Story” is expected to be a major Oscar player this year, but so is Netflix as a whole: Buoyed by award-friendly films like Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” and the crowd-pleasing “The Two Popes,” Netflix could swamp the competition by picking up two to three nominations each in key Oscar races like best picture, best director and both of the male acting categories.

On Monday night, the streamer won awards for two other projects: The fact-based “When They See Us” received the Gotham Award for breakthrough series over 40 minutes, while its director, Ava DuVernay, was honored separately for career achievement. Netflix also notched a victory in the documentary race with “American Factory,” which tells the story of a Chinese company taking over an American plant.

That film’s co-director Julia Reichert gave the night’s most passionate speech, calling on the well-heeled crowd at Cipriani to recognize the servers in the room, “working people now under so much pressure, who have less security, less of a chance at life.”

She added, “The billionaires are choking the life of this city.”

In non-Netflix news, the hip indie distributor A24 managed to win two awards: The studio’s family drama “Waves” also picked up a trophy for the young up-and-comer Taylor Russell, deemed the year’s breakthrough actor, while Awkwafina won best actress for her role leading Lulu Wang’s acclaimed summer hit “The Farewell.”

The latter was one of the most warmly received wins of the night, perhaps in part because the “Marriage Story” actress Scarlett Johansson had not been nominated, opening the door to a fresh face. Certainly, the victory took Awkwafina herself by surprise.

“I never won anything!" she said, taking the stage. “I can’t even win an argument in the Instagram comments.”

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