Film Critics Toast Year at Brattle Theatre

“There is no better time to be a film critic than now, because films have never been better,” joked Boston Phoenix writer Brett Michel at Sunday night’s Boston Society of Film Critics (BSFC) Awards Ceremony. “Tomorrow night I am reviewing the remake of ‘Friday the 13th,’ and it promises to be a real masterpiece.”

But despite the presence of subpar horror film remakes, Boston’s critics, writers, and film theorists still found something to celebrate at their second annual awards ceremony. The event, held at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, honored the year’s cinematic offerings as well as several local film-related individuals. It was followed by a screening of James Marsh’s documentary “Man on Wire” and a question and answer session with its producer Maureen Ryan.

The awards ceremony celebrated local film managers and coordinators, like Kelly Teer and Stefanie Lubkowski—who both recently left their positions at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts—as well as other unsung heroes of the film preservation community, like Steve Livernash of the Harvard Film Archive. Boston Phoenix columnist Gerald Peary described Livernash as “the Dean of Film Projectionists,” praising not only his knowledge of cinematic aesthetics but also his ethical drive to preserve the prints he screens. He credited Livernash for being one of the few projectionists who returns his prints in better condition after screening them.

The evening’s final special commendation was awarded to Paul Sherman, who researched, authored, and distributed a book entitled “Big Screen Boston: From ‘Mystery Street’ to ‘The Departed’ and Beyond.” In his introduction, Boston Herald film critic James Verniere described the work as “a book that needed to be written...[it is] smart, funny, intensely detailed, and will never go out of style.”

Directly following special commendations, Boston Phoenix contributor Tom Meek announced the fourteen film awards that were decided by the BSFC in December. These included a tie between “Wall-E” and “Slumdog Millionaire” for Best Picture.

Another tie resulted in the ceremony’s sole video message, a joint acceptance speech by Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke, who were both chosen for best actor by the BSFC.

Mickey Rourke clutched his small, sweater-clad dog to his chest as Penn expressed his gratitude for the award. “We want to thank you for being indecisive Irish men and women,” Penn said. “Discerning indecisiveness.”

Following that surprise celebrity appearance was a screening of the BSFC’s Best Documentary of 2008, “Man on Wire.” Structured as a heist film of sorts, the movie follows Philippe Petit’s 1974 quest to cross the World Trade Center towers on a tightrope.

In his introduction of the documentary, Boston Phoenix film editor Peter Keough praised the movie’s subtle restraint. “Some movies accomplish more by leaving things out than by putting them in,” he said.

Anyone who has seen the film will know immediately what Keough refers to, for while there is plenty of footage concerning the building of the Twin Towers, there is nary a mention of their destruction on September 11th. As such, this absence was one of the first topics addressed by Ryan in the Q&A.;

“[Marsh] really felt strongly that we would never speak about it,” Ryan said, “because it was about reclaiming the towers for us, focusing on how the story began rather than how it ended.”

Ryan also revealed how the star of the movie himself felt about watching his experiences play out on-screen. She recalled that Petit confessed his own nervousness to her: “I was on the edge of my seat thinking, ‘Is he going to make it?’”

Ryan, formerly an undergraduate student at Boston College, expressed her joy at being back in Beantown, particularly at the Brattle, a former and frequent haunt of hers. “Second row, balcony center: I saw so many films from that vantage point.”

—Staff writer Bram A. Strochlic can be reached at bstrochl@fas.harvard.edu.