AFI Awards: Hollywood Power Players Turn Out For A Moment Of Sanity During Oscar Season Madness

Between the roller-coaster ride of Thursday’s 85th Academy Award Nominations and Critics Choice Awards and this weekend’s Golden Globes mania, Friday’s annual AFI Awards Luncheon was not only a breath of fresh air in this busy season. It was a much needed event to put everything in perspective and show not only the impressive group of creative heavyweights from the year’s best movies and TV programs, but also a strong turnout of studio power players, exactly what this should all be about. It’s a celebration of the year’s best work, not another televised awards show that simply tries to divide everything into groups of winners and losers, bad jokes and nervous nominees. “Our wish for today is that this room become a respite from the noise, for us to carry you away as you carry us away. Think of it as when the lights go down in a movie theatre or a story beginning on television. We want you to feel good about your work and feel good about the people you work with because together you have created something beautiful, and in the weeks to come and the years that will pass nothing can take that away from you,” said AFI President and CEO Bob Gazzale in his opening remarks that set just the right tone. With tables for each of AFI’s 10 movies of the year (Argo, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life Of Pi, Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty) and 10 television programs (American Horror Story: Asylum, Breaking Bad, Game Change, Game Of Thrones, Girls, Homeland, Louie, Mad Men, Modern Family, The Walking Dead), there wasn’t an inch of room left in the Four Seasons Hotel ballroom where the event was held. The movie tables also included 8 of the 9 Oscar nominees for Best Picture.

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During lunch and after the presentation of highly entertaining clips of each of the honorees and a brilliantly cut montage there was lots of networking. Oscar’s now famous “snubbed” directors trio of DGA nominees Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper were among those in the room having a good time talking to each other along with some of those who weren’t overlooked like Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, David O. Russell and Beasts’ first time director Benh Zeitlin who was simply excited to be in the room. He was understandably still reeling from the shock of his Best Director nomination. He told me he wasn’t even listening to that part of the Academy’s noms announcement because he didn’t even think it was possible. He and the small indie film’s producers mentioned they are just a week away from celebrating the movie’s Sundance debut one year ago when their unlikely journey began and has now culminated in 4 major Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Hooper offered advice to Zeitlin about getting “through” the season, and Spielberg was seen chatting with him during arrivals.

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Studio heads in the room included Sony’s Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton along with AFI Chairman Sir Howard Stringer, Universal’s Ron Meyer and Chairman Adam Fogelson, DreamWorks’ Stacey Snider, Disney’s Alan Horn, Warner Bros’ Jeff Robinov and 20th Century Fox’s Jim Gianopulos who told me he was extremely happy about Life Of Pi’s remarkable showing with 11 Oscar nominations. Fox additionally has international on Lincoln which got 12 noms, also making Gianopulos proud. “I have one and a half chances to win Best Picture this year,” he joked (throw in Fox Searchlight’s underdog Beasts Of The Southern Wild and it actually makes two and a half chances).

Hooper told me he hopes this room of power players looks at the work that was presented on the screen at the lunch and is encouraged to greenlight more of this kind of filmmaking. He also noted that some of the best work today is really being done on television, and there was strong evidence at the AFI lunch with many of those clips getting even stronger response than the movie clips. For those who like to read tea leaves at these things the clips that seemed to get the biggest crowd response were a nearly X-rated encounter between Louie C.K. and Melissa Leo on FX’s  Louie on the TV side and Silver Linings Playbook on the film end, although you could hear a pin drop during screening of the Les Miserables Anne Hathaway scene. But in this room there were no winners and losers, just the cream of the crop of Hollywood circa 2012.

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One nice aspect of this event is the benediction to send everyone out on a high. This year director Norman Jewison delivered it and deliver he did summing up perfectly what this whole thing is really all about. “I sat here today and i watched these extraordinary pieces of work, extraordinary stories and I can tell you with some degree of authority that you people are crazy. That’s okay because we need you to entertain us yes, but also to give us some little insight into ourselves, our nation, our society and in the end to remind us that we’re all in this together. And to come together once a year without being called a winner or a loser is a gift and for that I really thank the American Film Institute… In the weeks to come you are all going to walk a mile of red carpet and you’ll shrug when somebody asks you ‘who really votes for the Golden Globe?’ and some of you will win something and some of you will not, but believe me none of that really matters. Just remember the stories and remember this moment when we come here together to remember how lucky we are to be in this crazy, mixed up family and to cheer one another and support one another as you have done today.”

Well said, and well done again AFI.

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