By Neil Woulfe – Radar Senior News Director
George Clooney, Viola Davis and The Artist were among the big winners at the 2012 Critics’ Choice Awards Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Clooney won Best Actor for The Descendants, beating pals Brad Pitt (Moneyball) and Ryan Gosling (Drive), among others for the top acting prize.
In accepting the award, Clooney reminisced about the time he complained to his father than his acting career wasn’t going the way he wanted and his father reminded him of his grandfather’s work as a sharecropper.
“If you’re not proud of what you’re doing, then do it better,” Clooney said his father told him. “I have to say that I am very proud to be in this film,” Clooney added.
In somewhat of a surprise, Viola Davis won Best Actress over Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) for her dramatic turn as Aibileen Clark, a maid living in Mississippi in the 1960s, in the sleeper hit, The Help.
In perhaps the most moving speech of the night, Davis said, “I am absolutely so humbled…”
“I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to dream big and make a mark somehow, and that’s something absolutely that Aibileen was not afforded,” she continued. “I considered it my honor to pay homage to these women at this time period who were not allowed to dream.”
In all, The Help won three awards — the most of any film.
Other acting honors went to Christopher Plummer for his role as a man who comes out late in life in Beginners, and Octavia Spencer for her role as a spunky maid in The Help.
In accepting his award, Plummer said “being honored by the critics is like being on a three-week binge with the enemy … but I’m cool with it.”
The Artist won two of the night’s biggest awards — Best Picture and Best Director.
Other highlights of the show included Leonardo DiCaprio and Olivia Harrison, widow of late Beatles guitarist George Harrison, presenting the Music + Film Award to DiCaprio’s longtime collaborator and friend, filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
Bob Dylan, whom Scorsese called “the great one,” performed in honor of the legendary director.
In another moving moment, Sean Penn accepted the Joel Siegel Award for his humanitarian work on behalf of earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Penn was introduced by Clooney who said, “It feels like ‘The Help‘ table is having more fun than us. Here’s a fun transition,” Clooney said, as he began to talk about continuing earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. “Very few have committed themselves as completely to the people of Haiti as Sean Penn. And he didn’t just dip his toe into the humanitarian pool, he dove in. … Sean isn’t here tonight because he’s in Haiti, but we have him live by satellite.”
Penn thanked “the example” of Joel Siegel and of Clooney. “I was reminded that great filmmaking is truly a humanitarian act,” said Penn, referencing the earlier Scorsese montage. “The people of Haiti embrace the work that the committed among you do.”
Other winners included Bridesmaids for Best Comedy, Rango for Best Animated Film, and A Separation for Best Foreign-Language Film.
The Critics Choice Awards comes just three days before the Golden Globe Awards and are traditionally the strongest indicator of who will get Oscars. All four winners from the major acting categories last year — Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo – later won Oscars. ( The Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday, January 25 at 5:30am PST/8:30 EST.)
The Critics Choice Awards was hosted by “Human Giant” funnymen Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel and broadcast live from the Hollywood Palladium on VH1.
The awards are voted on by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, made up of more than 250 television, radio and Web critics.