Governors Awards: 4 Oscars, 4+ Hours, No Godard … But It's Fun

It was longer, more crowded and more star-studded than before, but the Governors Awards is still the most informal, fun Oscar show

How do you follow an awards ceremony that was the best-received show the Academy has staged in years?

With more of the same.

The second Governors Awards, which took place Saturday night at the grand ballroom at the Hollywood & Highland center, was indeed more of what made last year’s inaugural ceremony such a favorite with AMPAS members.

Governors Awards winnersIt had more speeches. More toasts. More stars from current Oscar-contending movies.  More of a crush in the ballroom, though event co-producer Sid Ganis said the crowd would be help at about 550, the same as last year.

And, oh yes, it took more time to hand out the four honorary awards to Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach and Kevin Brownlow than it did to bestow four awards last year.

(Left: Brownlow, Coppola and Wallach.)

That first show, which honored Roger Corman, Gordon Willis, Lauren Bacall and John Calley, took about two-and-a-half hours, plus an hour of cocktails before the dinner ceremony began.

Saturday’s show stretched a full hour more than that, giving it a total length that surpassed the longest Academy Awards telecast.

But one of the charms of the Governors Awards is that it’s not televised, and that nobody’s trying to rush the winners offstage. If Francis Coppola wants to ramble and admit that he hadn’t prepared a speech to accept the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, that’s okay.

If the Academy opts to use count ‘em, seven  different members of the Board of Governors to speak glowingly of the absent Godard before running Jon Bloom's sly film package saluting the director, nobody’s going to tune out.

If Tony Bennett decides before the show that he wants to not only perform “Watch What Happens” for his friend Wallach, but also to add a second song, “Maybe This Time” from “Cabaret” – well, who’s going to turn down the chance to hear another Tony Bennett song?

So the Governors Awards was loose, collegial and rambling – and if it wasn’t quite as emotional or as fresh as last year’s show, it’s still the friendliest, most low-pressure awards show on the Academy’s calendar.

Of course, the studios clearly took notice of the popularity of last year’s show. The star quotient was higher this year, and nearly every movie in the Oscar race had some representatives at the event: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer from “The Social Network,” director Tom Hooper from “The King’s Speech,” Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman from “Black Swan,” director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson from “Toy Story 3,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu from “Biutiful,” director Lisa Cholodenko from “The Kids Are All Right,” actress Melissa Leo from “The Fighter” …

In fact, Leo said during the pre-show cocktail reception that she’d been a prime lobbyist for Eli Wallach’s honorary Oscar, organizing a letter-writing campaign at the suggestion of friend and AMPAS board member Sid Ganis. “When I found out he’d never even been nominated, I called Sid and said, ‘How can we do something about this?’” she said.

But the ceremony began, after a welcome from AMPAS president Tom Sherak and a toast to the late producer Dino De Laurentiis, with the Academy facing the Godard problem head-on.

The enigmatic director had opted not to attend – though, said Sherak before the ceremony, he was always cordial in his communications with the Academy, even though outside reports painted him as being dismissive of the award.

Jean-Luc Godard and Vincent Cassell“We’d see all this other stuff and think, what’s going on, where is he coming from?” said Sherak. “And then a few days later I’d get a nice note from him. We had a correspondence with five or six letters, and he was never anything but positive.

“Plus we knew he wanted it, because he signed the waiver right away. [Oscar recipients are required to sign a form agreeing not to sell the award.] If he hadn’t signed that, we might be handling the award a little differently.”

The Academy also looked into recent charges that Godard was anti-Semitic, he said. “We really did our homework on the controversy, and we couldn’t find anything tangible.”

Godard’s presentation began with a parade of governors, with Haskell Wexler talking about Godard staying at his home for three days, “and he didn’t say four words to me,” and Mark Goldblatt telling of driving the director around when he appeared at Goldblatt’s university – “and he didn’t say anything to me, either.”

But the best lines came from Lynn Littman – “Jean-Luc Godard has been getting intellectuals laid since 1959” – and Phil Alden Robinson, who squarely faced Godard’s anti-Hollywood comments and controversial opinions.

“He didn’t just break the rules,” Robinson said. “He ran over them in a stolen car and then threw it into reverse and backed over them to make sure they were dead … Yes, he said things that have offended everybody in this room at least once, and yes, he also said really snarky things about the Oscars. But so has everybody in this room.

Then he brought the house down with a line that he admitted somebody had to say: “Let’s face it: this ain’t the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.”

Godard’s award, which also included an onstage salute from actor Vincent Cassel (above), was the trickiest to maneuver for co-producers Sid Ganis and Don Mischer. Wallach’s was more straightforward: Josh Brolin delivered a casual, funny, anecdote-laden tribute to the 95-year-old actor, Wallach’s wife Anne Jackson said a few words, Bennett sang a couple of songs, and then Robert De Niro took to the podium and said, “I’m at the stage of my career and my life where there’s nothing I’d rather see more than another, older actor. It gives me hope.”

But after a well-crafted five-minute video summation of Wallach’s career – about twice as long as most video packages on the televised Oscar show – it fell to Clint Eastwood to hand Wallach his Oscar.

“He’s one of the only living cast members from ‘Baby Doll,’” said Eastwood. “One of the only living cast members from ‘The Misfits.’ And fortunately, he’s one of two living cast members of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’”

Eli WallachWallach’s speech ranged from a description of his roles (“I’ve played more bandits, killers, thieves … molesters and mafiosos than you can shake a stick at”) to one of his life (“I collect antique clocks … take pictures of faces in the bark of trees”), and from an anecdote about the pope inviting him for a visit because “The Magnificent Seven” was the pontiff’s favorite film, to a ribald joke with which he closed.

The second half of the ceremony began with a tribute to “author, preservationist, historian and filmmaker in his own right” Brownlow, who director George Stevens Jr. lauded in a film clip by saying “he really has changed the landscape” through his work to both document and preserve films from the silent era.

Kevin Spacey presented the award to Brownlow, getting past the occasional mixed metaphor (“the fingerprints of your own detective work will be casting a very long shadow”) to speak a plain truth: “I am here tonight, as I think all of us are, first and foremost as a film fan.”

Brownlow started his speech modestly – “if you ever wondered what reflected glory looks like, this is it” – but the Brit wasn’t shy about tweaking the audience. “My god, your predecessors did a terrible job of preserving the silent era,” he said, while also tossing out a few barbs aimed at the copyright laws that, he said, make it difficult to preserve and restore old films.

The last award of the evening was the Thalberg, given to Coppola by an all-star team that started with director Kathryn Bigelow and bizarrely included comic Father Guido Sarducci, then Coppola’s children Roman and Sofia, then a return to the stage by De Niro, who definitely earned the night’s presenter-MVP award with his deadpan delivery of a speech that began by extolling how Coppola “has given us a string of hits unequalled in depth and quality,” but turned out to be a description of the producer/director’s wines, not his films.

“Robert Parker gave it a 90,” he said of one particular Coppola vintage, “finding fault with some acidity in the tannin.” A pause. “Parker’s a dick. I give it at least a 92, or 92 and a half.”

George Lucas wasn’t quite as skilled at delivering his own tribute, but his admiration was clear for a man he said “was the guiding light” for a generation of filmmakers in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. “He has always been somebody on the leading edge,” Lucas said. “Probably sometimes a little bit more than was wise.”

Coppola’s acceptance speech rambled, and included imitations of moguls Samuel Goldwyn, Jack Warner and Dino Le Laurentiis. “I could tell you lots of stories,” he said, “but I haven’t prepared anything other than to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Afterwards, the governors posed for photos, while Bruce Cohen, who co-produced the first Governors Awards, worked the room. Cohen and his co-producer Don Mischer are now tackling the big Oscar show, which they’ve been working on for a couple of months.

“The nice thing is that we brought them on early, and they’ve already got a show mapped out,” said Sherak. “I think the show is going to be great, and ABC will be thrilled.”

The 83rd Oscars “are going to be different,” said Sherak, who then paused. “Well … a little different.”

(All photos by Richard Harbaugh/AMPAS)