Tuesday night is a big one for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They hold their annual election for president (expect current prexy Tom Sherak to be easily re-elected for his third and final one-year term) and they will choose the 2011 recipients of the Governors Awards, which will be some combination of Honorary Oscars, The Irving G. Thalberg Award and/or the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. At that meeting, Sherak could also tell the board who is going to produce the 84th Annual Academy Awards among the other things that may come up, including proposals to further regulate Oscar-season campaigning and parties (a move inspired by and initiated in part because of my Jan. 7 Deadline article on the issue, I am told by an Academy insider involved with the new proposals).
Even though recipients of last year’s 2nd Annual Governors Awards, (Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, Kevin Brownlow and Thalberg winner Francis Ford Coppola) weren’t announced until the last week in August a year ago, Sherak told me he is determined to get this done at the early August meeting this year in order to give Governors Awards producer Phil Robinson more time to put all the logistics of the event together; the ceremony is set for Saturday Nov. 12 and is not televised.
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This all leads to the annual game of who will and who should get these prized awards, which were created in 2009 as their own separate show so more of them could be handed out and there would be more time to celebrate the careers of the recipients than during the time-crunched Oscar show. In the recent past, before the creation of the event, the Academy’s board had been limiting presentation of the Honorary awards to one per show. The Jean Hersholt Award to Jerry Lewis was the last given, on the (81st) Oscar telecast. Since then, they have handed out the maximum of four of these honors at each Governors Awards dinner. Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, cinematographer Gordon Willis and Thalberg winner John Calley received the inaugural awards.
In terms of who will win them this year, it’s anybody’s guess as each of the 43 Governors of every branch has an opportunity to put a name in contention if they wish and a simple majority is generally all that’s required to make someone a winner. It’s clear the Academy likes diversity, repping all corners of the motion picture arts and sciences, and it seems like they have been favoring people who are still active. Wallach may have been 95 when he finally got his Honorary Oscar last year, but he is also still working.
For years, every time the board set about voting for these honors some subtle (and not-so-subtle) lobbying would take place. Veteran stars like Glenn Ford and Richard Widmark were often mentioned but never got the call despite annual letters and pleas on their behalf. Doris Day’s name always comes up in speculation about Honorary Oscars, but it’s never happened and the reclusive 87-year-old star hasn’t made a film since 1968. Director Jules Dassin had his supporters at one time on the board but went to his grave without getting the big honor. On the other hand, a large profile piece on producer Dino De Laurentiis that was (coincidentally?) placed in the L.A. Times on the morning of the selections in 2000 certainly couldn’t have hurt his chances when he was voted the Thalberg later that day.
Should the Academy to decide to award the Thalberg, given strictly for excellence in producing, for a third year in row, names usually bandied about include Alan Ladd Jr and Brian Grazer. Scott Rudin certainly could qualify, but does he have enough supporters? Jerry Bruckheimer’s output is probably too “popcorn” to join the elite list. As a way of honoring the eight-film Harry Potter they might think about David Heyman, who brought the most successful film series in movie history to fruition — a true producing feat since there were multiple directors. And isn’t it about time a woman was considered? No woman has ever won the Thalberg. Even though there is no precedent for voting these things posthumously, certainly the late Laura Ziskin might qualify. It doesn’t hurt that she also produced two Academy Awards telecasts (she would also be a good candidate for the Hersholt for her very public work fighting cancer in recent years). Lauren Shuler Donner’s films have made over $3 billion, nothing to sniff at. Kathleen Kennedy might be a consideration too since she has termed off the Board and is eligible this year. Current Board members and Officers do not qualify for Honorary Awards as long as they are serving.
For the actor slot (if there is one this year), un-Oscared names often mentioned are Max Von Sydow, Albert Finney, Catherine Deneuve and the incredibly never-even-once nominated quartet of Jeanne Moreau, Maureen O’Hara, Donald Sutherland and Christopher Lee. For my money, 83-year-old James Garner is completely deserving and well-liked even though he was only Oscar-nominated once in his long career (for 1985’s Murphy’s Romance). The 81-year-old Christopher Plummer, who received his first acting nomination for The Last Station just two years ago, is another name sometimes mentioned, but he has a shot to actually take Best Supporting Actor this year for Beginners so he’s an unlikely choice here. In the dawn of the new Hudson era, I can think of no more appropiate and deserving recipient than 81-year-old Gena Rowlands, not only a greatly admired talent but someone who represents the true spirit of gutsy, independent filmmaking by way of the collaborations with her late husband John Cassavetes (Dawn Hudson’s former Film Independent even had a special Spirit Award in the Cassavetes name). An Oscar for her would also be a tip of the hat to him. Previously, she has been Oscar nominated only twice and both times for Cassavetes films: Gloria and A Woman Under the Influence.
Director choices might include six-time nominee Peter Weir or three-time directing nominee James Ivory among others who have always been bridesmaids in the competition.
The last Honorary Oscar to a screenwriter was in 2000 to Ernest Lehman. The board might seriously consider the prolific 79-year-old Jean-Claude Carriere, whose numerous collaborations with Luis Bunuel alone would qualify him not to mention movies like The Return Of Martin Guerre, The Tin Drum, Cyrano De Bergerac, Taking Off, Borsalino, Viva Maria and many others. In fact, he has an astounding 136 writing credits listed on IMDb and three previous Oscar nominations shared with Bunuel on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and That Obscure Object of Desire and with Philip Kaufman on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Carriere actually did win a statuette near the beginning of his career in 1962 as co-producer (under the name J.C. Carriere) of a live-action short, Heureux Anniversaire, which he also wrote and directed.
Of course, being an Oscar winner already does not disqualify you from winning an Honorary Award. Sophia Loren got one in 1990 despite already having won Best Actress 29 years earlier for Two Women, as did 1963 Best Actor winner Sidney Poitier 10 years ago. Laurence Olivier received one in 1978 despite having won Best Actor for Hamlet 30 years earlier. A very controversial Honorary Oscar was given to director Elia Kazan in 1998 even though he previously already had won two directing statuettes for Gentlemen’s Agreement and On The Waterfront. Usually, though, the Honorarys are given to make up for egregious oversights as in the case of Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Kirk Douglas, Art director Robert Boyle, composers Alex North and Ennio Morricone, cinematographer Willis and on and on. Perhaps it is time to give one to a sound designer? Kevin O’Connell has had 20 nominations and not a single win (except as a governor of the Sound branch, he is disqualified this year).
Not everyone is thrilled when they get the call. Seven-time loser Peter O’Toole had to be talked into coming to get his in 2002 because he thought it meant he wouldn’t have a chance to win one in the future (“Since I am still in the game, I would rather try to win one on my own,” he said before finally agreeing to show up). Of course, that isn’t always the case: O’Toole received his eighth nomination four years later for Venus (though not a win), and both Henry Fonda and Paul Newman won competitive Best Actor Oscars the year after the Academy jumped the gun and gave them Honorary Awards.
Despite the speculation of “who should” or “who shouldn’t,” the Academy’s board is always capable of surprising us. All Sherak would tell me is “there are a lot of interesting names” coming up so far for the board vote Tuesday. When I asked for one example, he said he would tell me but he’d have to kill me.
OK, we’ll just have to wait and see. Any suggestions to help the board in their quest?
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