Rachel Weisz and Michael Sheen. (Photos: Natalia Winkelman)

The Gotham Awards arrive at a critical moment in awards season. Predating and presaging all of the major awards, they give us a clue into which indies are on everyone’s radar. But more importantly, the ceremony highlights a slew of worthy titles that have less of a chance of making it into the Academy race. While the biggest news from last night’s ceremony came at the end — the surprise Best Feature winner — the ceremony included many newsworthy nuggets. Here are a few of the best moments.

5. Hale County This Morning, This Evening Wins Best Documentary
First-time director RaMell Ross picked up a rightfully-won award for his gorgeous, poetic documentary, Hale County This Morning, This Evening. With limited dialogue and lots of lyrical imagery, the film paints a patient and respectful portrait of Hale County, Alabama by documenting the lives of two young black men over the course of five years.

“When someone is being represented by someone, you’re putting a costume on them,” Ross said in his acceptance speech. “So when you’re representing yourself, you’re choosing your own clothes… Let’s let black folks choose their own clothes, por favor.

Elsie Fisher

4. Elsie Fisher Wins Breakthrough Actor Award for Eighth Grade
Fifteen-year-old Elsie Fisher, who starred as Kayla Day in the runaway summer favorite Eighth Grade, was the winner in the Breakthrough Actor category. Each of the six (all female!) nominees — including Yalitza Aparicio for Roma and Helena Howard for Madeline’s Madeline — was extraordinary, but Fisher’s turn as an awkward middle schooler was one that definitely deserves recognition, a melding of cringe humor and nostalgia that resonated with watchers of all ages.

“Acting was something I was considering stopping before Eighth Grade,” said Fisher during her speech. Before thanking her director, Bo Burnham, and her dad, Fisher added, “Me from two years ago would be really proud of me right now. And I’m really thankful for that.”

3. Rachel Weisz Calls Out Female Ensemble Cast Double Standard
Rachel Weisz took the stage on two occasions during last night’s ceremony: first, for a career acting tribute, and second, to accept this year’s Special Jury Award For Ensemble Performance for her work on The Favourite alongside costars Emma Stone and Olivia Coleman. Since neither of the other actresses were able to attend, Weisz brought cardboard cutouts of Stone and Coleman’s faces, which she raised in succession while reading their brief, funny remarks.

But before Weisz left the stage, she also snuck in a quick message to the press about interviewing female cast members. “I hope one day in the not-so-distant future we don’t get asked what it was like to share the screen with other women,” Weisz said. “Because I don’t think you ever ask men that.”

2. Willem Dafoe Chokes Up Remembering Bertolucci
Willem Dafoe, who was robbed of an Oscar last year for his work on The Florida Project, was honored with another of last night’s career acting tributes. Reflecting on his varied career, he said, “IMDB says I’ve made over 100 films. That’s a lot. But sometimes I feel like I’m just starting.”

Toward the end of his speech, the actor brought up the death of Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. “I don’t know whether it’s appropriate,” Dafoe began, choking back tears, “but I feel like I have to say something about Bernardo… He gave us so much.” While admitting that he didn’t know Bertolucci well, Dafoe always appreciated the acclaimed Last Tango in Paris director’s spirit and kindness. “He was not only inspirational to other filmmakers, but he always was very generous with other filmmakers,” Dafoe said.

1. The Rider Wins Best Feature
The biggest shakeup of last night’s awards came at the very end, with the announcement of the Best Feature winner. By then, both Eighth Grade and First Reformed had racked up two awards each, and it was looking like First Reformed would take the cake on Best Feature as well. Instead, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider, a film that’s as beautiful as it is slow and understated, was announced as the winner, surprising and delighting everyone in the room.

While The Rider probably won’t have a shot at making it into the Oscar conversation, its Best Feature win will inevitably put the film back on everyone’s radar as an indie to check out. The win was a worthy end to the evening, highlighting the beauty and importance of awards shows like the Gothams which are less a popularity contest than a celebration of cinema.