Charlize Theron became the 33rd recipient, and 7th woman, and first South African to get the American Cinematheque Award on Friday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Created in 1986 as a sort of antidote to the AFI Life Achievement Award it is meant to honor someone in the middle of their career, not the end as so many of these life achievement awards tend to do. In terms of staying alive and active , the Cinematheque has made some remarkably durable choices with only one winner, 1988 honoree Robin Williams no longer with us, and the other 32 beginning with Eddie Murphy in 1986 still alive and thriving, presumably continuing to fight the good fight as the Cinematheque honor is designed to encourage. Unlike the AFI honor which comes in the spring, this one is presented right in the heart of the Hollywood awards season and thus often goes to people who may be in Oscar contention such as 2019 honoree Theron , who is – and there is no other word for it – simply sensational as Megyn Kelly in Jay Roach and Charles Randolph’s cracker jack recounting of the Fox News Roger Ailes drama Bombshell. Theron simply takes over where Kelly left off and you might even think for a minute that you are watching archival footage of the infamous Fox News anchor. However it is no mere calculated imitation, though the vocal work and prosthetics bring Kelly alive thanks to Theron’s uncanny portrayal.
“They didn’t tell me what this was going to be all about. I just learned it in the car coming over ” said Theron when I caught up with her in the ballroom during the dinner and just before the show began, or should I say roast thanks to bookened monologues from Seth MacFarlane, her A Million Ways To Die In The West co-star, and another Seth , as in Rogen, her Longshot co-star. She seemed truly gobsmacked by the whole honor, telling the audience later she had never gotten one of these kinds of awards before, meaning a tribute dinner devoted solely to one honoree . Actually last Sunday in the same room she got the Hollywood Career Achievement Award from the Hollywood Film Awards , and seemed even more baffled to be getting this type of honor at this point in her career using much of her speech there to express shock that Bombshell co-star Nicole Kidman would show up to present it to her (Kidman was back with the kudos to Theron again last night, but this time on tape). Two times in one week in the same hotel! Can’t beat that , and it goes to show the breadth and depth of Theron’s filmography that brought her to this point a few years before even hitting 50. As someone during the tribute portion said there is still much to come from Theron who can do just about any genre , a claim proven during the show when Theron’s career was divided up to specifically different types of movies.
MacFarlane got things off to a pretty funny start, “I am honored to be here presenting this award which I had never heard of until a week ago,” he said. “This is also a very meaningful award because this is proof, at long last, that African Americans are thriving. It is an interesting name, Charlize. It sounds like a bottle of champagne marketed to rednecks in Florida.” Or how about this: “Charlize takes creative risks. None of us who go to movies could ever forget the biggest risk of her career when she threw herself into the role of a real life Monster. Playing a woman who committed unforgivable acts , without conscience -I bet you know where this is going – Charlize completely embodied the essence of Megyn Kelly”. Or this: “Charlize has endured alot for the sake of her art. Her harsh conditions on the set of Mad Max to the intense prothetics required for the production of Monster. And even on the set of Devil’s Advocate where she was badly bitten while Al Pacino was chewing the scenery. Have you seen the movie? Charlize starred oppostie Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves and her performance was hailed as ‘somewhere between the two’.”
After the initial roasting from MacFarlane, the jokes continued with some noting Theron’s own bawdy nature. Gringo co-star David Oyelowo offered the first words Theron ever spoke to him were of the sort that I can’t even repeat here. Oyelowo was the first of several participants there to present clip packages showing off the incredible range of Theron’s talent. He introduced the “bad ass” section featuring films like Atomic Blonde and those incredible bruising stunt fights she pulls off without a hitch. Kristen Stewart , her Snow White And The Huntsman co-star was on hand to show off the “Fantasy/Sci Fi” work. Comic Patton Oswalt talked about the only nude scene of his career being with Theron in Young Adult. Tom Hanks who directed her in That Thing You Do , an early big break for her, appeared on tape praising Theron and said he knew she would go far. Her Young Adult and Tully director Jason Reitman called her the “most fearless actor” he had ever met in his life , as well as the “most fearless human being” before bringing on the “Drama” clip reel. Monster director Patty Jenkins appeared on tape while riding in a cab in London. Bombshell director Jay Roach told of her work on the film, her incredible transformation into Kelly, and ability as a producer to lure him into directing the film and going on this journey with her. In every way the risks Theron takes in her career were made abundantly clear.
Rogen wrapped it up with another roasting before presenting the award to Theron. “Reindeer Games is probably the worst movie Charlize has been in which is not that bad when you consider it was the third best movie that Ben Affleck has been in, maybe the fourth. I didn’t see Argo,” he said before going into a riff about how none of her tall co-stars bothered to show up, how he grew up looking up to Charlize, and repeatedly how much younger he was than her. He described how great it was to finally work with the Oscar winning star, comparing the experience to being in movies with other actresses of previous generations like Barbra Streisand (who is in her 70’s).
Theron, after thanking all the participants , said that getting all this love was “awesome”, but in some ways doesn’t seem right. “I know the truth. I know that so much of what has gotten me to this stage was luck and the kindness of others. People believed in me sometimes more than I believed in myself. Yes, I worked hard , yes I pushed myself , I worked through adversity and self doubt and 5pm auditions in Santa f*****g Monica. But luck played a big part and I’ll never forget that. I am lucky to have worked with the presenters who are all here tonight, and I’m lucky to have my friends and my family, my amazing family (her mother sat next to her on the dais), but most of all I am lucky that my film debut as Girl Who Gets Eaten In A Cornfield in Children Of The Corn III is finally getting recognized,” she said as she related her time in the business since she first came from South Africa to Los Angeles when she was 17. That young teenager may not have ever dreamed this big , but it is heartening to see how far she has come as she says from “the farmer’s daughter all the way to the god damned Beverly Hilton!”
The other honor of the evening, the Sid Grauman Award is generally presented to an outstanding corporation in the film industry. I was pleased to be able to sit at Table 1 with last year’s winners, Dolby Laboratories . This year it went to AMC Theatres and accepted on their behalf by Adam Aron , CEO and President. After thanking presenter Walter Parkes, as well as American Cinematheque Chairman Rick Nicita and President Mark Badagliacca who opened the evening and who oversee the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica and Egyptian in Hollywood (the latter now dotting the i’s on a Netflix deal in which the streamer would become new owners and refurbish it), Aron did the expected – and needed – cheerleading for the exhibition industry in front of an audience that included several NATO execs including John Fithian, as well as studio execs including Paramount’s Kyle Davies and Mark Weinstock,; Warner Bros Jeff Goldstein and Sue Kroll; Bombshell and Long Shot distributor Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer, Joe Drake , and Damon Wolf; Universal’s Donna Langley, Jim Orr, and Michael Moses among many others in the room. Langley , Orr , and Moses all told me they are extremely excited about their upcoming 1917 , the WWI epic directed by Sam Mendes. They weren’t holding back praise for the film which will be unveiled in a couple of weeks and could become a major late breaking Oscar contender.
“Movies are meant to be seen in lots of places. Yes, they are meant to be seen on your phone, and on your tablet, and on your home TV, but guess what , they are very much meant to be seen on the big screen in the dark with 200 of your latest friends, laughing at the same time, crying at the same time, screaming at the same time. That’s what AMC does. This will be our 100th year in the next few months, ” Aron said as he also noted the impact of Sid Grauman , the exhibitor who is the namesake of the award. “When I think of the award I think of showmanship. AMC is absolutely committed to giving a luxurious theatrical experience to the masses, in our case 400 million times a year. And if we do we will insure that people come back to theatres over and over and over again.”
All in all a swell night honoring movies, their preservation, their future, the theatres they are shown in, and one of their brightest stars.
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