It is billed as the “official launch of the awards season,” but last night’s Hollywood Film Awards at the Beverly Hilton provided a forum for some impassioned pleas for Hillary Clinton’s election at the end of another big season, the presidential race. It also gave ace host James Corden, back for the second year in a row, lots of fodder for jokes.
“This is my second year hosting the Hollywood Film Awards, and honestly I am still not entirely sure what this is,” he said. “But this is absurd. None of this is real. This is the awards show equivalent of a Donald Trump campaign promise. It is basically just an evening to determine which screeners you’re gonna watch or give away to your aunt in New Jersey.” He also compared the HFA contest to Trump’s negative view of the legitimacy of the presidential election if he loses. “The only difference is tonight is actually rigged.” He got big laughs from the crowd, which consisted mostly of those filmmakers and actors who knew they were winning (or others connected with the winning films). Winners were chosen by a small committee led by Carlos de Abreu, who came up with the idea for this early bird show 20 years ago and sold it a few years ago to dick clark productions (which got a CBS telecast deal that ended after one broadcast in 2014, leaving this an untelevised event).
All of these honors are negotiated with the studios, and de Abreu always has stuck to his iron-clad rule that all winners must agree to show up in person to accept or they don’t get the award and it goes to someone who does agree to play ball. “If you are in this room and aren’t winning an award, you should fire your publicist,” Corden cracked.”This room is filled with some of the most tremendous actors in the world. You are all such great actors, but you are about to give the greatest performance of your lives — and that is acting like you want to be here right now. Even the name sounds made up. A Hollywood Film Award sounds like something Michael Bay gives to himself Christmas morning just to feel less alone.” I heard that parts of his original monologue were actually toned down by event producers (who clearly were good sports about all the humor at their expense) because it was getting a little too close to Ricky Gervais insult territory. He may be edgy, but note to new Oscar show producers Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd: Corden should host the Academy Awards.
But it was political humor that ruled the day right from the start. “Here we are. It is the big one,” Corden said. “In fact, this could be the last awards show before the Apocalypse. Come Wednesday morning we may have a new version of The Purge.” With a potentially earth-shattering election just days away, you’d expect the subject would come up, but this felt at times more like a rally than an awards show, with political messages coming left and right, actually with this crowd that should be left and left, throughout the breezily paced show. In presenting the Hollywood Documentary Award to Leonardo Di Caprio and Fisher Stevens for their climate change pic Before the Flood, Jonah Hill joked: “I myself, as a right-wing Republican, personally believes science is for liberal pussies and Jews. So I just want to say a big f*ck-you to science.” Di Caprio offered a strong rebuke to presidential debate moderators for never bringing up the subject of climate change and urged people who want to save the planet from global warming to get out and vote on Tuesday. Stevens, who first noted that “it’s an honor to be at an awards show where you know you have already won,” got more pointed when he called this election a “reality show” and went on to say, “Let’s get out there and pray that after Tuesday, Trump is dumped.” Surprisingly, presenters Clint Eastwood and Susan Sarandon, who are well known for their political beliefs, made no mention of the election when their turns came. But that didn’t stop Corden from commenting for them. “Susan recently endorsed Jill Stein for president.” (Pause.) “That’s the joke. She could be appearing for the final time before she is rounded up and placed in a prison camp by Donald Trump.”
Before he got around to presenting the Hollywood Career Achievement Award to his Shrek star Eddie Murphy, major Clinton supporter and fundraiser Jeffrey Katzenberg continued the night’s main theme and offered breaking news. “Early numbers in from Florida tonight show Hillary Clinton has passed Obama in total African-American voters who have participated in early voting,” he said. “All I would say is to remind everybody that your voice is your vote and every single vote counts. Please don’t forget. Get out there and vote.” But as I reported shortly after he took the stage last night to accept the Hollywood Comedy Award (he has actually made 33 of them), Robert De Niro again took the honor for not mincing any words on where he stands this election year.
“Groucho Marx’s Rufus T. Firefly isn’t so far from Donald Trump, except Groucho’s character is more believable,” he said. “I know we are here to celebrate movies from Hollywood, and nobody throws an industry party better than Carlos de Abreu and dick clark productions, but it is two days from a frightening election, and the shadow of politics is hanging over us whether we like it or not and it’s hard for me to think about anything else. So let me just lay it out right here: We have the opportunity to prevent comedy from turning into a tragedy. Vote for Hillary on Tuesday, ” De Niro said near unanimous applause from the crowd. After that Corden seized on the moment. “Show of hands if you’re voting for Donald Trump”– only one somewhat inebriated woman stood up and started dancing crazily. “Actually, the more you dance like that, you do look like some kind of Trump supporter, ” he said before polling the other side of the room and seeing no one raise their hand in support of the former Apprentice host.
This was also a show about honoring movies, lest we forget, and it gives winners a chance to hone their speeches before hopefully getting another chance in the same room at the Golden Globes. By the way, I hear there is tension between the two shows — even more than usual, since both are produced by dick clark productions. Bottom line, though: In a room that had more than a few Academy voters watching, I would say some potential Oscar nominees got off to a very good start in this season. Hugh Grant, receiving Supporting Actor for Florence Foster Jenkins, reminded everyone how charming and funny he can be. Best Actor contender Casey Affleck was hilarious and authentic in battling the teleprompter when he tried to present his Manchester by the Sea writer-director Kenneth Lonergan with the Hollywood Screenwriting Award. Warren Beatty was his charming self, presenting his Rules Don’t Apply star Lily Collins with a deserving New Hollywood Award and so on.
There was only one standing ovation of the evening, and it was a sustained, heartfelt one forMurphy. His Mr. Church producer Mark Canton and Cinelou partner Courtney Solomon are planning a Supporting Actor Oscar campaign for Murphy’s very effective change-of-pace role. “Eddie’s time for recognition has come. You could tell by the reaction here tonight,” Canton told me as he was leaving. Among other winners last night were Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Matthew McConaughey and the cast of Gold, Tom Ford, Justin Timberlake and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, which took the Hollywood Blockbuster Award. Disney also won the animation award for Zootopia.
All kidding by Corden aside, de Abreu and the DCP team manage year after year to pull off an entertaining evening that really doesn’t pretend to be much more than a kind of preview of the awards season, especially considering that the honorees mostly are made up of movies haven’t opened yet. Incidentally ,last night’s show was bumping right up against another kudos affair sponsored by Hamilton, the watch maker. de Abreu made no bones to me about his disgust with the fact that some publicists had double booked both for their stars. HFA presenters or honorees who then quickly hightailed downtown to the Hamilton event, which honors behind-the-scenes crafts, included Gibson, Portman, McConaughey, Ali and Dev Patel. “The Hamilton Awards are just a cheap stunt to sell watches,” deAbreu told me afterward. Competition aside, don’t expect the Hollywood Film Awards, which celebrated their 20th anniversary last night, to go away any time soon. Even with dick clark productions nearing a deal to be acquired by the China’s Wanda for a reported $1 billion, dates already are set for the next two years. And I hear de Abreu will continue to be on board as well.