The Michael Shannon Spit Take Award

curtainsActor Michael Shannon got the biggest laugh of last year’s Ebertfest at a Q&A for the film TAKE SHELTER. Asked about what similarities between himself and his director, Jeff Nichols, he drew upon to portray a paranoid everyman, he slowly leaned into the mic for a perfect beat of silence and muttered, “We have similar asses.”

If the entire audience had been drinking water at that moment, there’d have been a thousand spit takes.

It’s too early to call the winner of the first annual Michael Shannon Spit Take Award (which is not an actual Eberfest award, just something I made up five minutes ago), but I will predict that cinema muse Tilda Swinton (who presented her film JULIA last night) will defeat director Richard Linklater (who presented his BERNIE Thursday night). Both were warm, funny and laidback, pulling easy laughs out of the crowd. But Tilda’s riff on hog-tying a child actor, aided by fest director Nate Kohn (a master of Shannonesque timing and deadpan delivery himself) brought the house down. Her line, “Nate, it’s got to start somewhere” was screenplay caliber. You can watch her JULIA Q&A here.

These Q&A things can be murder if the subjects take themselves too seriously and don’t embrace spontaneity, real conversation. I have yet to observe that problem at Ebertfest.

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