Now in their 9th year, the Governors Awards ceremony presented by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences followed suit with other kudos events so far this season and studiously avoided any reference to the industry’s sex harassment scandals to instead put on a very good show celebrating the achievements deemed worthy of Oscar. The board gave out five of them. Recipients Agnes Varda, Donald Sutherland, Owen Roizman, Charles Burnett, and Alejandro G. Inarrritu, on behalf of his remarkable Carne y Arena virtual reality six minute installation, all had their moments at the event kicking off an awards season that ends with the Oscar broadcast on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre. These individuals, all very deserving as proven by the great clips shown throughout the evening, set a high bar for whatever the Academy serves up four months from now.
But make no mistake about it, this now traditional November ritual also serves another purpose and that is getting seen in a place that is basically one stop shopping for voters. In November every one still thinks they can win which is one reason there is always such a starry turnout. Awards consultants know it is important to get their contenders front and center here in the Roy Dolby Ballroom for glad handing and just to be seen in a room loaded with voters. Every studio and distributor filled their tables with potential nominees.
I was sitting at Universal’s group of tables, which between the big studio and its specialty division Focus Features, had stars and filmmakers from the likes of Get Out, including writer/director Jordan Peele, who was generating a lot of heat if you go by the number of people stopping by to get a piece of his time; Thank You For Your Service with writer/director Jason Hall and stars Miles Teller and Beulah Koale, all out on Veterans Day, sitting to my right (Hall told me he is tackling Rasputin as his next project); plus Gary Oldman, director Joe Wright, writer Anthony McCarten, and Ben Mendelsohn of Darkest Hour right next door .
Oldman, who had been at a Governors Awards once before, told me he was excited about seeing so many artists that he admired in one room. Indeed the turnout was impressive. Walking into the ballroom I ran smack into I, Tonya’s Allison Janney chatting it up with Lady Bird’s Laurie Metcalf and all I could say (honestly) is they were my two favorite supporting actress candidates this season. “Well I hope one day we can actually work together in something,” said Janney, while Metcalf said she has never been to anything quite like this, as she doesn’t make many movies.
Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan reminisced about the two previous times he has been to this ceremony, while Jeffrey Katzenberg told me he had seen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the night before and was really impressed by it. He was looking forward to Molly’s Game on Sunday. Its star Jessica Chastain was there as part of the tribute to Varda, as was Angelina Jolie who presented the French icon with her Oscar.
I saw Oscar winners Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence sending each other non-verbal signs of encouragement for the performances that have put them back in the race this year. At the cocktail hour mother! director Darren Aronofsky told me he hoped his words about the controversial film haven’t hurt Lawrence’s Best Actress chances as he thinks she is exceptional in it, and he’s right – she is. Richard Gere thanked me for supporting what I think is the best work of his career in Norman. That is a no-brainer. The movie’s only sin is that it came out in April, but as one Academy governor who came by to say hello to him noted, “it’s a movie that sticks to your ribs.” Let’s hope the never-nominated Gere can break through. The screener was one of the first sent this season. Gere knows it is important to bring attention to it and he was doing that, even though it’s tough in a room full of people doing the same thing. The best you can hope is that Oscar voters watch the work. That is something another earlier 2017 release, Detroit is hoping as its stars including John Boyega seemed awestruck at the turnout in this room.
Kumail Nanjiani is in the same boat to a degree as his acclaimed movie The Big Sick opened in June and he was concerned screeners haven’t gone out yet. Amazon’s Bob Berney assured that they were being sent this week. 20th Century Fox’s President of Distribution Chris Aronson took me over to talk to Hugh Jackman who was there not only for his great swan song in Logan, but also The Great Showman in which he plays P.T. Barnum in the Christmas release, both from Fox. “How lucky am I to get to play in both Logan and a musical in the same year,” exclaimed Jackman. Logan director James Mangold joined and told a hilarious but pretty much unprintable story about directing Shelley Winters in his first movie, Heavy. Suffice to say it dealt with the number of leading men she slept with, as well as one she said she never would as she couldn’t stand him.
Netflix was well represented in the room, particularly with a large contingent from their big hope, Mudbound which had just opened AFI two nights before. I ran into its director Dee Rees at the packed pre-dinner reception and she was being congratuated by everyone, as was Wonder Woman’s helmer Patty Jenkins all there on a night when a pioneering female director named Varda would be recognized. But perhaps the biggest attraction, outside of the honorees, on this night was the pint sized young star of The Florida Project, Brooklynn Prince who was stopping traffic wherever she went in the room. Everywhere I looked when I saw a group of people huddled around in a circle I would find the object of their affection was Brooklynn as they all leaned over to talk to her. Leave it to a seven year old to steal the show.
New Academy President John Bailey sang the praises of each of the honorees in his opening remarks before dinner, while Academy Governor from the director’s branch Steven Spielberg did the same thing right after dinner before kicking things off with the tribute to cinematographer Owen Roizman, who accepted his honorary Oscar from his seat at his table and received the first of many standing ovations of the evening.
Dustin Hoffman, who was photographed by Roizman in both Straight Time and Tootsie did the honors by first noting Roizman had been brutally honest about the effectiveness of shooting a scene in which Hoffman appeared in drag, which director Sydney Pollack said would be fine after color correction. Hoffman, a stickler for detail, went to Roizman to ask if it was good but Roizman replied that he didn’t agree with Pollack, something that impressed the star. “It takes courage to contradict the director in front of an actor,” he said of the DP, who also memorably shot The French Connection and The Exorcist among many others and won five Oscar nominations but never the gold – until now.
Next up a number of women including director Kimberly Pierce, Chastain and Jolie saluted Varda who was praised as the Grandmother of French new wave for films “no woman has ever made, but more important that NO one has ever made,” said Jolie. Varda thanked all the women who spoke for her with lovely words, “but are there no men?” she asked of the compliments for her body of work spanning 60 years and including the new documentary Faces Places. With that film, she could find herself being the first Governors Award winner to be nominated for a film Oscar in the same year.
Director Sean Baker, actors Tessa Thompson, Chadwick Boseman and director/writer/producer Ava DuVernay participated in the presentation to pioneering African American helmer Charles Burnett who talked about a junior high school teacher who once assured him he would never amount to anything. The director of indie classics like Killer Of Sheep said while eyeing his shiny new Oscar, “his name is Mr. Baker and I just hope he reads the trades.”
Four-time Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu got a very rare Special Oscar for the extraordinary six minute virtual reality installation Carne y Arena, which I first experienced in Cannes this year in an airport hangar. The installation thrusts you into the immigrant world as a group tries to make its way across the border. It is stunning to see and feel. “I dedicate and receive this beautiful recognition,” Inarritu said, “on behalf of all the immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Asia, Africa and all corners of the world whose reality has been ignored and held hostage by ideologies and definitions, denying them the possibility of being understood and loved.”
When I ran into him during the dinner I told him I wished that President Trump could see this work, and he said he hoped that many in Washington D. C. would be able to experience it. It’s tough because only one person at a time can do that. In order to get the BOG to vote on it each member of the Board went to the Los Angeles County Museum Of Art after hours to see Carne y Arena. Academy Governor Michael Mann was one of the biggest proponents and then a special meeting was called to vote on the award. I told Inarritu I imagined it was selling out at every show and he said it was a big problem since the museum decided to put four months worth of tickets on sale at the same time and it filled up instantly. “I can’t get anyone into it until after February, and that includes friends, top executives and everyone else, ” he lamented. It is understandable since it is definitely something worth seeing.
Eighty-two year old Donald Sutherland, incredibly never nominated for an Oscar, rounded out the evening by receiving his first as Governor Whoopi Goldberg, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Lawrence, and his one time agent of 20 years Ron Meyer all toasted him with kind words. But it was Sutherland himself who had the last laugh when he said that Academy President Bailey called to tell him he had been voted an Honorary Oscar. After his wife took the phone she explained to her husband just what Bailey was talking about as they were eating pasta in Rome where he was on location. “‘We’re going to have to lose some weight,’ she told me to which I replied after looking at my beautiful plate of spaghetti, ‘It will have to wait until tomorrow’.” At that point Sutherland, who told me afterwards that he refused to let them put his speech on a teleprompter, thanked all the “characters in my life.” A fitting sentiment for a great actor who is Oscar-less no more.
And a great night. Thanks, Academy.