EXCLUSIVE: I have learned that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors will convene in a special session Saturday to select their choices for the 11th annual Governors Awards. The latest Oscar winners are being chosen at the earliest date ever, fully three months earlier than usual. The period right after Labor Day usually is when the board gathers to pick the year’s first Oscar winners, a group that can be selected for an Honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and/or the Irving J. Thalberg Memorial Award.
Last year the announcement was made September 5, and Honorary Oscars went to actress Cicely Tyson, composer Lalo Schifrin and publicist Marvin Levy, and a Thalberg Award to Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (the first given since Francis Coppola’s in 2009).
So why so early this year? Everything is moving up on the calendar for the Academy this time around. The 92nd Oscars will be two weeks earlier on February 9 (an advance on the calendar I hear is for 2020 only), and I am told the Governors Awards, normally held in mid-November, will be moving three weeks earlier to Sunday, October 27 at their usual location, the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland Center.
An Academy official told me the impending and long-awaited opening of the Academy Museum in late 2019 is a key reason for these moves. I am told they felt they also needed a lot more prep time for the Governors Awards, thus the reason for tomorrow’s uber-early board meeting to select the honorees. A producer for the 11th annual Governors Awards is expected to surface shortly. As soon as Academy president John Bailey is able to inform each new recipient that they will be getting an Oscar, the Academy will put out a press release announcing the winners.
So let the speculation begin. Every year I make a list of those Oscar-less artists who might be good candidates for an Honorary Award, and over the past decade I am happy to say I was able to cross off many names on that wish list including Maureen O’Hara, Angela Lansbury, Debbie Reynolds, Lauren Bacall, Donald Sutherland and Gena Rowlands, so thank you Academy. Of course these winners come from all branches of the Academy and if a compelling case can be made by an advocate on the board, some are not all that predictable. I don’t think anyone was forecasting Jackie Chan for instance, but once the true international scope of his achievements were presented he would have a shiny new Oscar, and it certainly made for a fun presentation in 2016 — the same year film editor Anne V. Coates received an Honorary Oscar despite the fact she already had won one for Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. That means you don’t count out past Oscar winners when trying to forecast who might get one of these. Generally though, they tend to go to the never-Oscared. However they can come from any area of the Academy, such as Levy’s last year which was the first ever Oscar for a publicist.
Sadly, three names I have often mentioned as possibilities passed away this year so the Academy missed the opportunity, and to date no posthumous Governors Award has been voted. That means the opportunity for legendary writer Neil Simon, multiple Academy Award nominee Albert Finney and the iconic Doris Day is gone. Day almost always topped everyone’s list when it came to guessing who might be chosen. Her name always came up, not only for an Oscar for her film career, but also as a potential recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. It was not to be. (When I mentioned this in my recent appreciation after her death earlier this month, I got a note from a former AMPAS president who told me she had been proposed, but that word came back she not only would not show up but also would not accept it.)
So keeping all this mind, let’s look at some key names worthy of the honor who have never won. Starting with the most recent crop of Oscar nominees who didn’t win, is it time to end the pain for Glenn Close and just give her an Oscar? She just lost again in February for her sterling role in The Wife, despite across-the-board predictions of a win. With seven nominations, it made her the biggest loser among actresses, topping Thelma Ritter and Deborah Kerr and now Amy Adams who were all nominated six times without winning. Kerr eventually was given an Honorary Oscar. Another worthy honoree from the screenwriting branch would be Paul Schrader, who finally got his first ever nomination this year for First Reformed, despite a list of credits including Raging Bull, American Gigolo, Last Temptation of Christ and Taxi Driver among many others. It is shocking it took this long to just get a nomination when you consider that career. It would be easy to imagine Bailey, among others who have worked on Schrader films, backing him this time around.
Since the Academy likes to pride itself on going international in a big way, how about Sweden’s great Max Von Sydow, or Liv Ullmann, Italy’s Gina Lollobrigida and Lena Wertmuller, Germany’s Werner Herzog, or from France Jean-Louis Trintignant, Catherine Deneuve or Leslie Caron, the latter’s film debut coming all the way back to 1951 opposite Gene Kelly in An American In Paris.
There’s also Harrison Ford, nominated only once in his career for Witness. Hal Holbrook, Kim Novak and director Ridley Scott should be on any list. And how about 104-year-old Norman Lloyd, whose career spans acting, producing, directing and whose most recent screen appearance was opposite Amy Schumer in 2015 when he was 101 (!). You can go on and on. Since board members are generally supplied briefing books with names already being put forward, you can imagine there will be lots of possibilities when it all happens tomorrow.
In his capacity as Academy president, Bailey will get to deliver the news to the winners for a third time. He is termed out and can’t run again, but since this is happening so early, the new president, who normally would be the one to do the honors, won’t be in place until early August after elections are held.
By the way, names that keep cropping up to take over the reins from Bailey are casting director and board secretary David Rubin, and Makeup and Hairstylist governor Lois Burwell who is currently First VP. Rubin was also the subject of much speculation two years ago, but dark horse candidate Bailey emerged instead to win.
It is possible surprises are in store this time around as well. But first, the 2019 Governors Awards honorees are the immediate business at hand for the Academy.