Across town, as President Barack Obama was drawing every celebrity not in contention for awards this season, the 15th annual Hollywood Awards Gala was taking place at the Beverly Hilton. All of the Oscar hopefuls who agreed to show up to accept an award were there in their Monday finest as this was a place to be seen if you want an ego boost at this early point in the season.
With 19 above- and below-the-line categories to plow through, this was a surprisingly fun show that, if it didn’t already exist, Hollywood would have to find some way to invent. Billed as the “official” kickoff to awards season (if you don’t count all those film festivals we’ve just been through), The Hollywood Awards were created — and basically chosen — by executive director Carlos de Abreu, who, with Janice Pennington, founded the gala and accompanying film festival. They are the result of a months-long negotiation between him and the studios and distributors, who are using this early opportunity to get key positioning for the players they hope to advance during the long awards season leading ultimately to Oscar. The only caveat is that to get the award, you have to agree to show up.
This year, de Abreu has his pulse on some real contenders and handed out acting awards to — among many others — Michelle Williams, George Clooney and Christopher Plummer, who all could realistically be considered close to frontrunners in their respective categories.
A real highlight of the show was when Marilyn Monroe’s Oscar-nominated Bus Stop co-star Don Murray showed up to present Hollywood Actress of the Year to Williams, who plays the iconic star in The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn. “I’m the last of the the on-screen lovers of Marilyn Monroe, and I still just happen to have a body that actually works, ” the 82-year-old actor said to much laughter. “Michelle re-created moments I was so intimately familiar with as I spent 14 months working with Marilyn. There’s not one thing in this film that’s not truthful. It was a revelation. Michelle’s performance made me appreciate Marilyn Monroe so much more.”
Williams, noticeably nervous, said her friends always wanted to see her win a award so she could basically sweat through the experience. She did well though, closing with a touching perception about Monroe. “It seems to me that all Marilyn Monroe wanted was to be taken seriously as an actress, and she studied so hard and never really got there,” she said, adding that it was ironic Williams herself could get this kind of recognition that so eluded the star she played.
In his acceptance as Hollywood Actor of the Year for The Descendants, Clooney kept inserting the word “lucky” into his speech. “I was lucky to land on a hospital show on Thursday nights at 10 on NBC that changed my career. I was lucky to work with these people. I was lucky to get this part. I was lucky to work with Alexander Payne. And I am lucky to be here with all of you,” he said. Clooney also commented on how bad everyone looked on the giant projection screen behind the podium.
I have said it before and I will say it again: These speeches are a really good way for the winners to practice for the Golden Globes, which will be held in the same room just 2 1/2 months from now. If that’s the case, perhaps the most effective speech was the one the 81-year-old Plummer gave in accepting his Supporting Actor of the Year honor for Beginners near the top of the show. “It’s nice to get this early in the ceremony because it’s way past my bedtime. I want to thank the invisible committee for seriously risking their reputations in giving me this plaque. I loved doing this film because I have never been this relaxed in front of a camera,” he said. Co-star Ewan McGregor presented the award to Plummer and got laughs, saying he was nervous meeting Plummer because “I wondered if he liked my version of ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’ in Moulin Rouge.”
Supporting Actress honoree Carey Mulligan, shooting Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in Australia, flew in to accept her award for Shame from Christoph Waltz. “I begged and begged (director) Steve McQueen for the part and even followed him into a taxi and pretended I was going to Soho,” she said.
Some of the most amusing moments of the night came when watching the French honorees from The Artist trying to thank Harvey Weinstein (who was in the audience) for making the film possible. Receiving his award from co-star Penelope Ann Miller, Breakthough Director winner Michel Hazanavicius thanked “Horvey Win Steen,” while his leading actor and Spotlight Award winner Jean Dujardin asked, “Do I have to talk? It’s a silent movie. My English is rusty, but I want to thank Harvey Whine Stin.”
Midnight In Paris star Owen Wilson introduced Hollywood Producer of the Year Letty Aronson, Woody Allen’s sister and producer of the last 11 Allen films. Her thanks yous included the film’s location, a first for any honoree of the night and of course, Allen who at 75 “remains an uncompromising filmmaker and whose vision made ‘Midnight In Paris’ the film it is”. She also thanked Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, the latter a presenter himself to Alberto Iglesias for his scores of The Skin I Live In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Glenn Close, who is hoping to nab her sixth career Oscar nomination this year for Albert Nobbs, flew in for one night from the New York set of Damages to accept the Hollywood Career Achievement Award. “It’s humbling and kind of confusing,” she said in her speech. “If anything, it points up the fragility of it all.” She went on to thank all her makeup and hair people, the cinematographers, her parents, her first film director George Roy Hill, and her husband David Shaw, who she said figured out the secret to her success when he observed, “I KNOW what it is. It’s all about the hair.”
Some of the best speeches of the night belonged to presenter Anne Hathaway, who eschewed the teleprompter for her own cleverly written notes in presenting 50/50 star Joseph Gordon-Levitt with the Breakthrough Actor of the Year award, slyly pointing out he has actually been in the business 20 years; and a very bearded Ben Affleck, who began his Cinematographer of the Year presentation to The Tree Of Life’s Emmanuel Lubezki by saying how he had been mistaken for Jerry Bruckheimer when he drove up to the hotel.
In presenting Young Adult writer Diablo Cody’s Screenwriter of the Year award, Quentin Tarantino got big laughs quoting New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s review of her not-so-successful Juno follow-up, Jennifer’s Body. “Scott wrote, ‘Do you think Diablo Cody is a great writer? Well, only if you think Quentin Tarantino is a great writer.’ Well I do and I DO,” he said.
The final award, to the ensemble cast of The Help, was another highlight. Co-star Viola Davis accepted for the large group with heartfelt remarks about the toll the awards season takes. “Something you lose in self-promotion and the Oscar push and publicists is that this is a collaborative art. There’s a sense of trust that in order to make the art form work you couldn’t do only yourself,” she said, with tears welling up. “Rather than arguing about billing, trailers, locations, you’re all in this together. This cast is 99% women, and we all walked away loving each other.”
Director of the Year Bennett Miller told me after getting his award from his Moneyball co-star Jonah Hill that he felt good about how the film turned out, despite its checkered history (original director Steven Soderbergh departed just days before production was to begin). To be standing up there with an award was a real triumph for Miller.
With all this Hollywood glitz and glamour, it seems odd no one has stepped up to televise the event, even with Starz as the main presenting sponsor. In fact, Starz head honcho Chris Albrecht opened the evening and couldn’t help but notice the star-studded room. The only problem is that in order to get those stars to show up, you have to give them an award.
That’s really Hollywood.