“These awards really took flight this year,” Warren Beatty effusively said to 2nd annual Governors Awards producer and Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences 1st Vice President Sid Ganis right after the ceremony ended around 11 PM Saturday night. It took place at the Grand Ballroom in the Hollywood and Highland complex where the Academy’s Post–Oscars Governors Ball is held every February. This time, these awards honored indelible actor Eli Wallach, film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, iconic director Jean-Luc Godard, and Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award receipient Francis Ford Coppola. “Can I use the ‘F’ word?,” Beatty asked. “I think the movie industry should tell the television industry to go F*** itself.” His likely meaning (at least in ‘Warren speak’) was that commercial interests should never compel the AMPAS to sell the Governors Awards as a TV special — a possibility raised after last year’s show — and ruin the “specialness” of the evening.
This separate lifetime achievement ceremony was created last year as a way to shorten the actual Oscar telecast and to hand out more than one honor each year in a more relaxed setting where the recipients aren’t forced to keep their acceptance speeches to 30 seconds or less. They aren’t televised and likely never will be according to Academy officials I talked to who were very pleased with the outcome. “This must have been what the original Oscars were like,” said one. And even though they aren’t broadcast, an Academy official was in the room “tweeting” the event for their twitter site as things unfolded. Indeed the evening felt fun and loose with a lot of spirit and warmth in the room. And for the Academy they have clearly found a way to take an early stake on the long awards season by starting it now with these honorary awards in mid-November and ending it with the Oscar ceremony in late February. “Last year I said the evening was like a dream come true for me. I said that because I wholeheartedly believed that this event was the right way, the best way, for the Governors of the Academy to salute individuals who we feel have contributed so richly to our industry. I still believe that,” said Academy President Tom Sherak in his welcoming remarks and also noted that all four honorees (including 94 year old Wallach) are still working.
The show itself [FULL DISCLOSURE: I had the great honor of writing the Governors Awards this year which mostly involved framing things historically] had a lot of memorable moments even in the case of the absent Godard who declined to fly in from his home in Switzerland. His tribute got things rolling: 6 different Governors gave personal accounts of Godard’s influence before French star Vincent Cassel introduced a film package. “Jean Luc Godard has been getting intellectuals laid since 1959,” said documentary filmmaker Lynne Littman to big laughs. She added, “I was a student in Paris in 1960. When A Bout Souffle opened, American girls took off their panty girdles and started reading Cahiers du Cinema. Godard stripped away classical constraints and we all went skinny dipping.” But writers governor Phil Alden Robinson got even bigger – and knowing – laughs by noting the controversial director’s rather sour reputation. “Let’s be honest – you (Godard) have said things that undoubtedly have upset everyone in this room, at least once. You have also had unkind things to say about Hollywood and the Oscar – but then again, so has everyone in this room, at least once.” The award was accepted by Sherak who promised they would get it too Godard as soon as possible
That was followed by the Wallach tribute which included reminiscences from his Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps co-star Josh Brolin, wife of 62 years Anne Jackson (“Lifetime achievement? He’s just getting started”) and onetime castmate Robert De Niro who introduced the film clips by saying “Now that we’re going up for the same parts, I just hope we can remain friends.” Longtime pal Tony Bennett serenaded him with a couple of songs and his co-star from the iconic western, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Clint Eastwood then presented the Oscar as Wallach made his way to the stage to the booming Elmer Bernstein theme of one of his most famous films, The Magnificent Seven. In his fun acceptance Wallach noted he once got an invitation to visit the Pope because of the Pontiff’s fondness for that film even though he “killed” people in it. He also went on to say “I’ve played more bandits, killers, thieves, molesters and mafiosos than you can shake a stick at.
A dessert break then led to the final two presentations including one to the great silent film savior and preservationist Kevin Brownlow , the first time the Academy has awarded an Oscar to a film historian. Among those offering toasts and praise were veteran character actor James Karen, producer and former United Artists head Lindsay Doran and Kevin Spacey who presented Brownlow his Oscar by speculating that “somewhere Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Chaney, Garbo, , Gish , Gance, DeMille, Vidor, Griffith and countless others are with us raising a glass tonight to this remarkable man and his priceless accomplishments.” In his acceptance Brownlow minced no words about the dire straits of film preservation and actually ended his remarks by chillingly pointing out how many have been lost.
Academy governor and recent Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow got the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award presentation to Coppola started by introducing a biographical film on the award’s namesake which was followed by a bit from comedian Don Novello’s Italian altar-ego, Father Guido Sarducci who made the first of many references to the director’s second career as a wine maven. His “Godfather Part II” star De Niro returned to really rub it in. “Being honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Award for achievement in wine making and luxury resorts didn’t happen overnight. Francis has been an inspiration and one of my biggest influences. You can see it in my acting, my directing, my producing and perhaps most of all in my De Niro 2010 Estate Bottled Pinot/Cab/Shiraz Blend,” he joked. Coppola friend and colleague George Lucas presented the award giving thanks for all he had done including making Lucas’ first two films, THX 1130 and American Graffiti happen. Coppola, who was also toasted by son Roman, daughter Sofia and granddaughter Gia accepted his honor by pointing out that he had actually been up until 4AM that morning directing his latest independent film (Twixt Now And Sunrise) and was a little ill-prepared but he was clearly moved by the event and the turnout. In addition to De Niro , other Godfather alumni who showed included Robert Duvall and James Caan who were spotted bear-hugging each other in the foyer.
It was clearly a night for old friends to get together but also the Governors Awards can be a great opportunity for new Oscar contenders to be seen, especially with a mother lode of Academy voters in the room. Among those hobnobbing were Black Swan’s Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman , Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, a Toy Story 3 contingent that also included Disney honchos Rich Ross and John Lasseter, Annette Bening (an Academy governor as well) and director Lisa Cholodenko from The Kids Are All Right, Aaron Eckhart, Kimberly Elise, King’s Speech director Tom Hooper, Diane Lane, Hilary Swank, Melissa Leo (who flew in from a New Orleans location just for the event to be there for Eli Wallach), Inception director Christopher Nolan, Biutiful director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Rabbit Hole director John Cameron Mitchell, Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance and his star, Ryan Gosling who told me he thought he might go and picket the MPAA offices in Sherman Oaks to protest the (ridiculous) NC-17 rating his film has been given. In fact there was lots of ratings talk at the event with others noting how stupid the ‘R’ for King’s Speech was.
Oscar show co-producer Bruce Cohen who produced the first Governors Awards last year was also there and told me they are still searching for the perfect host as did his co-producer and this year’s Governor’s Awards producer (with Sid Ganis) Don Mischer. “And when we get one , we will announce it,” said Cohen. At least one governor I talked to suggested Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert would be great, but as Ganis (who served four years as President) pointed out there will be lots of suggestions. Mischer said he wants a host who can fit comfortably into their concept for the show and said he was happy to now move on from the Governors Awards to devote full time to the really big event in February – the one that is on TV. When Ganis asked him before Saturday night’s show if he was nervous, Mischer said, “Look I directed the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. When you have 12,000 cast members, 300 heads of state, 45 cameras and 80% of the planet watching then you get a little nervous.”
Based on the reaction from last night’s heavyweight crowd it turned out no one needed to be nervous.