Inside the Ultimate Power Lunch
Hollywood’s biggest stars, studio chiefs and network presidents “do lunch” together once a year without their entourage of agents, managers, lawyers or publicists, in a nearly complete media blackout.
It’s the AFI Awards. Nothing is asked of the talent other than to enjoy each other’s company.
The Party Report was lucky enough to attend. For a full recap of the warm spirit of community, check out TheWrap Awards Editor Steve Pond’s report here.
Thirteen hundred film and TV industry notables attend Sunday’s Golden Globes. Culling that group down to just the top 200 most influential creatives and prime movers, the AFI lunch presents some of the most dynamic cast mashups and meetups.
Here are five of the best.
Above: “La La Land” x “Fences” x “Hidden Figures”
The camera loves youngster Saniyya Sidney (“Fences,” “Hidden Figures”). Like Janelle Monae and Andrew Garfield, she’s one of the few to appear in multiple awards-contending films. Sidney slid between this year’s awards season power couple (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, above).[Spoiler Alert] For the fans jolted by the “La La” ending — “Oh no!” — this three-shot makes us wonder if the fan favorite film had an alternate finish, this would be a really cool family portrait epilogue.
“Sully” x “Hacksaw Ridge”
“Hell or High Water” x “Sully” + “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”
The thrill of seeing Texas ranger duo Gil Birmingham (left) and Jeff Bridges (right) back together is topped by the inclusion of Eastwood, which harkens back to his tough guy performance in the Sergio Leone classic.
Fun fact: A clip from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” was shown during the lunch, part of AFI’s awesome mashup of the history of the moving image from all years ending in “6,” from 1906 – 2016. With Eastwood in the room watching along, the crowd loved it.
“Hacksaw Ridge” x “Fences”
Denzel Washington‘s late arrival set off flash bulbs and his closing remarks to the community as a whole felt like a senior prefect addressing the student body. Here, he mixes with the nicest newcomer on the scene, Luke Bracey (“Hacksaw Ridge”) and Bracey’s on-screen drill sergeant, Vince Vaughn.
“Game of Thrones” x “The People v. O.J. Simpson”
The Emmy night royalty comes to the Globes. The “Game of Thrones” masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, with Sarah Paulson. (More on Paulson’s spiritual soulmate Marcia Clark below, scroll down.)
Way Too Much Murder: “OJ: Made in America” (ESPN) x “The Night Of” (HBO) x “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (FX)
“O.J.” met “O.J.” as Ezra Edelman (left, director of the eight-hour O.J. doc) linked up with Cuba Gooding Jr.(right) from FX’s scripted O.J. limited series. With Riz Ahmed in the middle (the accused in HBO’s “The Night Of”), this grouping brought way too much “murder-as-entertainment” to the relaxed communal vibe.
“Moonlight” x “Fences”
Mahershala Ali and Stephen Henderson, who plays the best friend of Denzel’s “Fences” character, met up during the cocktail hour. Both are veteran actors who have been working for decades without the recognition they have been receiving this season.
“I’m really not accustomed to receiving individual honors,” Ali said at the Palm Springs Film Festival Gala earlier this week. “The more I’ve given it thought, I’ve found the space to appreciate it.”
A Peek Inside the AFI Power Lunch
This is one of the few rooms that inverts the normal order: celebrities outnumber civilians.
“This is Us” x “Atlanta”
“This Is Us” cast Milo Ventimiglia and Susan Kelechi Watson got to know Brian Tyree Henry of “Atlanta.”
“This Is Us” X “Survivor”
You don’t see Jeff Probst in this picture, but he’s there in spirit.
The one breakout hit of this TV season was also the sole survivor of broadcast TV, representing all of the broadcast networks at the AFI Awards. Amongst the 10 TV shows honored, the NBC drama “This Is Us” is the only one you can see for free over the air, the way TV shows were consumed for the first 50-odd years of the medium. As always in the new order, HBO, FX, AMC and Netflix chomped up all the awards.
AFI organizers greeted Vince Gilligan (“Better Call Saul”) on the carpet, calling him the “the AFI MVP” for all his years of winning with “Breaking Bad.”
“Fences” x “Hidden Figures” x “Hidden Figures”
The lens, and everyone else, loves young Saniyya Sidney. Here, she grabbed her “Fences” costar Denzel Washington, as Mykelti Williamson (who plays “Gabriel”) joined the group.
The Next Great Female Director Will Be…
In line with the communal spirit of the AFI Awards, AFI CEO Bob Gazzale (above, with wife, Mimi) announced a new initiative to groom the next generation of filmmakers. Perennial AFI sponsor Audi will fully fund a new fellowship for a promising female director to attend the AFI Conservatory, the AFI’s two year Master of Fine Arts degree program.
It can’t start soon enough. Exactly zero of the 10 films honored at the AFI Awards were directed by a woman.
After counting the votes from 150 Aussie screen professionals at the Australian Academy of Television and Cinema Arts International Awards, Gibson beat out “La La Land” mastermind Damien Chazelle for the directing prize. The awards are not limited to Aussie films, but I’d still call that an upset. The two will rematch on Sunday at the Globes.Mel Gibson shaved the beard he has been sporting since emerging on the scene back at the Venice Film Festival in September (where his film got a 10 minute standing ovation).
Mel Gibson Shaved His Beard, Beats out “La La Land”
Later on Friday night at the Avalon, an Australian awards show elevated two of their own: Nicole Kidman (for “Lion”) and Mel Gibson (for the David Permut and Bill Mechanic produced “Hacksaw Ridge”). The latter took 16 years to make it to the screen.
While the clean face also shaves years off his look, it makes him look more like “mugshot Mel Gibson” than the elder statesman who has slipped a decade-long pariah status and has been earning standing ovations at the Academy in Beverly Hills.
Unlike hockey players who keep their beards during the playoffs, Mel’s move has put him on a winning streak so far this weekend.
Sacha Baron Cohen: Making Cameos Across Globes Weekend
Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t have a film in contention this year and it’s been 10 years since his iconic “Borat” defecated in front of Trump Tower in the groundbreaking comedy.
That ahead-of-its-time clip found its way into AFI’s Awards Montage, scoring the biggest laugh in the room at Friday’s luncheon.
By Friday night, he was present in the flesh, supporting wife Isla Fisher as she presented at the AACTAs. A few years removed from the awards circuit for “Les Miserables” and “Hugo,” his return to the circuit is … very nice.
Ron Howard, Ezra Edelman and Marcia Clark at the Chateau
“The thin patine of civilization eroded during that interview,” Marcia Clark joked of her five hour sit-down in a sweltering house that shaped several hours of Ezra Edelman’s documentary thesis, “O.J.: Made in America.”
The former prosecutor turned novelist made the remarks to a crowd of Oscar and Emmy winners like Ron Howard, R.J. Cutler and John Lesher at a cocktail party at the Chateau Marmont on Friday night as Dionne Warwick and Louis Armstrong records spun on a vintage turntable. The filmmakers of the Oscar-shortlisted doc — including producers Connor Schell, Caroline Waterlow and Libby Geist — had previously anchored a front row table as an honoree at the AFI lunch.