The Oscars was only two months ago, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences already is working on the next recipients of the most desired award in the motion picture industry. At Tuesday night’s Board meeting, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, Elaine May and Liv Ullmann became the latest chosen to receive Honorary Oscars, which will be presented at the long-delayed 12th annual Governors Awards now set for Saturday, January 15, at the Ray Dolby Ballroom in Hollywood.
Glover will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award which is also an Oscar statuette..
“We are thrilled to present this year’s Governors Awards to four honorees who have had a profound impact on both film and society,” said Academy President David Rubin. “Sam Jackson is a cultural icon whose dynamic work has resonated across genres and generations and audiences worldwide, while Elaine May’s bold, uncompromising approach to filmmaking, as a writer, director and actress, reverberates as loudly as ever with movie lovers. Liv Ullmann’s bravery and emotional transparency has gifted audiences with deeply affecting screen portrayals, and Danny Glover’s decades-long advocacy for justice and human rights reflects his dedication to recognizing our shared humanity on and off the screen.”
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The coronavirus pandemic caused the most recent planned Governors Awards ceremony to be canceled for the first time in its history, though the Board did vote two Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards to Tyler Perry and the Motion Picture and Television Fund (the first organization to receive the honor) that instead were presented on the April 25 Academy Awards show instead of the separate Governors Awards ceremony where all honorary Oscars are now usually bestowed.
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David Lynch, Wes Studi, Lina Wertmuller and Geena Davis were the most recent recipients at the official Governors Awards ceremony on October 27, 2019, and now we have four new names to succeed them, though there is no set number of recipients each year. To become one of the chosen few, you must hit a certain vote threshold and survive multiple rounds of voting. The Governors Awards were created in 2009 as an opportunity to present more deserving names with recognition for which there is not enough time on the already-bloated Oscarcast. Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, Gordon Willis and John Calley were the first winners that year.
With the January date for the next Gov Awards, followed two months later by the 94th Oscar ceremony on March 27 back at the Dolby, AMPAS is eager to get things back to a sense of normality. The four honorees chosen this year have had rich careers, and are all deserving but will have to wait nearly seven months to deliver their acceptance speeches — the longest period of time yet between the Board’s vote and the actual ceremony. Pre-Covid, it always had served also as a prime campaign stop for Oscar contenders to be seen well before nominations come out. Normally held in November, next year’s ceremony was moved to January to be closer to the later-than-usual Oscar show (moved later to avoid issues connected with the Winter Olympics and the Super Bowl at L.A.’s SoFi Stadium). These honorees were chosen by the current expiring Board of Governors as one of its last official acts. Election results for the new Board were announced this week, and newly elected and returning members will take their place at the next meeting.
Names like Oscarless Hollywood icons Kim Novak, Harrison Ford, Glenn Close and many others often are bandied about as prime candidates for an Honorary Oscar, but the three Governors representing every one of the 17 branches of the Academy can make presentations of behalf of a person they think would be deserving from their branch, and if they make a compelling case, that person is in. Notebooks usually are prepared touting reasons for potential honorees in advance, but any name can come up at the last minute. I had heard, for example, that this time around there was support in some corners for never-nominated director Richard Donner, responsible for such films as Superman and Lethal Weapon, but he evidently fell short of the needed numbers to actually succeed — this year at least.
Although Glover is deserving of the Hersholt Award this year, Sean Penn also should get one and would have been a no-brainer this year especially for all he has done during the pandemic. Also, the Thalberg Award for producers is given only occasionally (most recently jointly to Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall). Among others, I heard Martin Scorsese’s name came up, especially for his tireless work restoring films for his Film Foundation. Again, maybe next year. It all depends who is advocating on the Board.
Clearly, this year the actors branch got busy, with only May well known for her off-camera work in films. Along with her acting career, she’s a two-time Oscar nominee for Adapted Screenplay.
Here are bios for the honorees, provided by AMPAS:
Danny Glover first caught the attention of movie audiences in The Color Purple and went on to star opposite Mel Gibson in the Lethal Weapon series. He has also appeared in To Sleep with Anger, The Royal Tenenbaums, Dreamgirls, Beyond the Lights and Sorry to Bother You. A lifelong community activist, his efforts for worldwide justice have inspired others to follow his leadership. He has been a particularly strong advocate for economic justice and access to health care and education in the United States and Africa. He has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program and is currently a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Samuel L. Jackson has brought an indelible presence to his roles in more than 100 films ranging from independents to blockbusters. He earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting performance in Pulp Fiction (1994). He has starred in such films as Spider-Man: Far from Home, Shaft, The Hateful Eight, Chi-Raq, Django Unchained, Black Snake Moan, Unbreakable, Jackie Brown, Eve’s Bayou, The Long Kiss Goodnight, A Time to Kill, The Great White Hype, Die Hard with a Vengeance, True Romance, Jurassic Park, Menace II Society, Jungle Fever, Mo’ Better Blues and Do the Right Thing, as well as entries in the Star Wars, Avengers, Iron Man and Incredibles series.
Elaine May made her mark as a writer-director with A New Leaf — in which she also starred — Mikey and Nicky and Ishtar and also directed The Heartbreak Kid. Her screenwriting credits include The Birdcage and she received Oscar nominations for the adapted screenplays for Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Primary Colors (1998). In the early 1960s, May achieved great success partnering with Mike Nichols, whom she met in an improvisational theater group, as a comedy team on stage and television.
Liv Ullmann began her career as a stage actress in her native Norway. She came to the attention of international audiences in Persona, the first film she made with the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Their notable collaboration went on to include The Passion of Anna, Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata. Ullmann received Oscar nominations for Best Actress for The Emigrants (1971) and Face to Face (1976). She made her directorial debut in 1992 with Sofie and later directed Faithless, from a script by Bergman. Ullmann continued to work in theater for most of her career, making her New York stage debut in 1975 as Nora in A Doll’s House.
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