The controversial gamble to move the Critics Choice Awards from January to early December paid off big time this past Sunday. More stars, bigger excitement and the voting body of the Broadcast Film Critics Association had the distinction of being the first major award show this season.

“La La Land” came into the evening with 12 nominations, and walked away with eight wins including Picture and Director, solidifying its front-runner status. Us “Critics” also gave the winners their first chance at televised acceptance speeches, which can go a long way to the awards path, ending at The Academy Awards in February.

It was the 22nd Annual Critics Choice Awards, and my second time representing both Galveston (The Daily News/Texas Art & Film) and Houston (CW39). It’s always nice to congratulate and briefly speak with the filmmakers and actors who shape the year in cinema.

On the blue carpet (CCA never does a normal red carpet) supporting actress nominee Janelle Monae (“Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight”) complimented my hair, as I did hers, so we spoke inside during the show. It’s always interesting to see how many of the stars have ties to Texas, like supporting actor nominee Jeff Bridges whose film “Hell or High Water” is set in West Texas.

I had a chance to speak with Bridges who lost in his category to “Moonlight” star Mahershala Ali. “Oh from Houston eh? Love Houston!” he said in that iconic raspy growl. He was just as nice as I had always heard. Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford (nominated for adapting the screenplay for Nocturnal Animals) is also from Texas.

Another “Hell or High Water” nominee Ben Foster has more direct ties to Galveston. He is currently shooting a film called “Galveston,” which is by actress turned director Mélanie Laurent. Foster said he loved playing Texans and was happy to be working on another project about the South. You don’t get the time you need to really have a good conversation with the actors, as most A-listers rush through interviews during arrivals so they can get inside and start drinking. However, when an icon like Nicole Kidman is in the room, everyone pays attention. It wasn’t just critics and journalists vying for her attention, even the celebrities in the room were star struck by the 6’2’’ Aussie. Nominated for her supporting role in “Lion,” playing an adoptive mother was something personal for Kidman who has two adopted children with ex-husband Tom Cruise. When I expressed how much I wept during the powerful film, she said, “I’m glad,” with a chuckle.

Nominee Amy Adams (“Arrival”) and big winner of the night Viola Davis (“Fences”) were both part of a special tribute, the SeeHer award, recognizing outstanding achievement for women in film. Adams who co-starred with Davis in “Doubt,” presented her with the award. Nominated both on the film and television side, Davis gave one of the night’s most memorable speeches and became the real star of the show. She is considered a sure bet to win at every stop on the way to the Oscars.

After the show ended, Davis and many other winners headed to the after-party for food and where Hodor (Kristian Nairn) from “Game of Thrones” was the evening’s DJ. He also accepted the award when “Game of Thrones” won best TV drama. The party wasn’t slowing down, hours after the telecast ended, but I had to say goodbye and get back to Houston to review more films coming out this week.

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