There were no political speeches, no calls to arms and no mentions of Donald Trump at the Academy’s Governors Awards on Saturday night. But the events of the last week still had an impact in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, beginning with the opening remarks from Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
“Tonight is an opportunity to remind us what we love about movies,” she said. ” … How in uncertain times, they can connect us, change us and unify us.”
As usual, the Governors Awards unified a chunk of Hollywood by doing two disparate things: Honoring the accomplishments of a handful of cinema pioneers, and providing a dazzling, star-studded stop on the Oscar campaign trail.
The former resulted in honorary Oscars for casting director Lynn Stalmaster, film editor Anne V. Coates, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and actor/stunt man Jackie Chan, all of whom were warmly celebrated with touching tributes.
The latter meant that virtually every film in the Oscar race was represented in the room by actors, directors, writers, composers, songwriters and producers, turning the pre-show period and the hour-long dinner break into a festival of table-hopping, congratulating and perhaps even campaigning.
When the dinner break ended, Helen Mirren took the stage. “One of my favorite words in the English language is schmooze,” she said. “And one of my other favorite words is schmuck. So stop schmoozing, you … ” Then she trailed off before actually calling anybody names.
That campaign-stop aspect of the Governors Awards has been growing since the first ceremony in 2009, which was far more low-key and modest than the current version. And the campaigning has bothered Academy officials enough that they called a recent meeting with campaign consultants and studio reps – where, according to persons in that meeting, the basic message from AMPAS was not to “work the room” so aggressively.
But then, with a room full of actors (Amy Adams, Casey Affleck, Jeff Bridges, Viola Davis, Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman, Viggo Mortensen, Michelle Williams, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Isabelle Huppert, Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield) and directors (Tom Ford, Damien Chazelle, Ava DuVernay, Werner Herzog, Pablo Larrain, Mike Mills, Mira Nair), how could room-working not be a popular pastime?
And for many of the room’s luminaries, campaigning took no work at all, with publicists roaming the aisles looking to facilitate introductions.
Isabelle Huppert wanted to meet Michelle Williams. Everybody else wanted to meet Huppert, and also Lin-Manuel Miranda. Hugh Grant chatted with Lupita Nyong’o. Damien Chazelle huddled with Pedro Almodovar. Judd Apatow shared a table with Paul Verhoeven.
“I keep waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and tell me I don’t belong here,” said “La La Land” director Chazelle, whose film will assuredly keep him at events like this for the next few months.
Isaacs opened the festivities by promising that the Academy would continue to push diversity initiatives to ensure that the next generation of films “represents the real face of America and the world,” and she added, “Inclusion … is a strategic imperative.”
When it came to the honorary Oscars, which are, after all, the whole point of the Governors Awards, Lynn Stalmaster gave the most emotional speech, Anne V. Coates had the most impressive clip package, Frederick Wiseman delivered the most articulate and amusing acceptance, and Jackie Chan was the most fun.
Jeff Bridges and Bruce and Laura Dern applauded casting director Stalmaster, who gave a huge number of unconventional actors their starts in the 1960s. “Lynn Stalmaster gave my entire generation an opportunity to dream that we could matter,” said Bruce Dern. ” … When you get home tonight, sir, look in the mirror and realize that you, Lynn Stalmaster, changed an industry.”
If the presentation seemed particularly emotional, it’s also because it marked the first Oscar of any kind ever given to a casting director: There has never been a category for casting on the Oscars, and casting directors only got their own AMPAS branch in 2013, after years of lobbying.
The film that accompanied Coates’ presentation was enormously impressive, partly because her first job as editor was on David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” which is hard to top for grandeur and scope, and because her other films include David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” and Steven Soderberg’s “Out of Sight.”
“I felt very honored and excited, until I realized I had to make a speech,” said Coates, 90, who was saluted by Nicole Kidman and Richard Gere.
(Before praising Coates, Gere looked into the audience and said, “First of all, where’s Lynn Stalmaster? You never cast me in a movie. Do you have an excuse? No you don’t.”)
Then Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle saluted Wiseman, with Cheadle praising the empathy in the director’s fly-on-the-wall films. “In these times,” he said, “there is nothing more important than empathy.”
Wiseman said his filmmaking goal was to make a movie that is “closer to a visual novel than a journalistic account,” and concluded, “I’ve been involved in a 50-year course in adult education, where I’m the alleged adult.”
Jackie Chan‘s presentation began with Tom Hanks repeatedly calling the international star “Chan-tastic.” “He has mostly made martial arts films and action comedies,” Hanks continued. “Two genres that have been, shall we way, underrepresented at the Oscars.”
Chan’s award was clearly given for his pioneering stunt work and status as a global cinematic icon – but in a fun clip package that included one ridiculous physical feat after another, director Brett Ratner asserted, “Jackie Chan is one of the greatest entertainers who has ever lived.”
When he accepted, Chan talked about his father asking him why he’d made so many films without ever winning an Oscar, and about seeing a statuette in his friend Sylvester Stallone’s house and holding, smelling and licking it.
But when Isaacs called him to tell him he’d been voted the Honorary Oscar, he said, he didn’t believe it.
“I said, ‘Are you sure?'” Chan asked. “‘After so many years, I make so many movies and break so many bones, finally this is mine? Are you sure?'”
She was sure, and now he’s got an Oscar. And a bunch of other people got the chance to do a little bit of lobbying that might help them get their own statuettes in about three months.