Governors Awards Starts Oscar Weekend On A High With Samuel L. Jackson, Liv Ullmann, Elaine May, And Danny Glover
The first Oscars of the weekend were handed out last night in Hollywood, and you can bet no one is going to argue about the worthiness of these four new recipients of the industry’s highest award.
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The Governors Awards, always a great evening, came back after last year’s pandemic-related cancellation, and Samuel L. Jackson, Elaine May, and Liv Ullmann were awarded Honorary Oscars for their illustrious careers, while Danny Glover received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. As Academy President David Rubin said in his opening remarks, these selections were essentially no-brainers. In fact, he said it was the shortest Board Of Governors meeting ever convened with the purpose of choosing those who pass the exacting test of the Board in order to receive these Oscars. As he noted when their names were proposed there was unanimous support in the room.
What wasn’t as easy, in light of the ever-mutating variants of Covid-19, was actually pulling off a ceremony in which to honor the quintet. In a “normal” year, this event would have been held in November, where it has also become a key stop for current Oscar hopefuls to “campaign,” or at least be seen. Studios buy tables for that purpose and it has, in addition to the stated purpose of honoring worthy greats in the industry, become the place to be in the pre-nomination phase of the very long awards season. However this year, the Academy settled on January 15. But when Covid didn’t cooperate, they were forced, like most other awards events, to reschedule, eventually coming up with the idea of making these Governors Awards a kickoff to Oscar weekend itself.
In retrospect, the idea seems inspired, as this turned out to be a rather warm and wonderful, actually intimate night, that did the Academy proud, a nice change from the steady drumbeat of consternation over its controversial move of pre-recording several categories in an untelevised first hour of the Oscars and then editing and rolling them into the actual telecast.
There was no controversy in sight last night at the Ovation Ballroom, where the Governors Ball will be taking place, as well right after the show on Sunday night. There was also, blissfully, no campaigning as ballots have been in to Pricewaterhouse since Tuesday. In fact the only current nominee I even saw there was Denzel Washington (The Tragedy Of Macbeth) who presented Jackson’s Oscar, and actually in his remarks mentioned so many charitable causes Jackson is involved in that you could easily make an argument to also give him the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
In fact, at the reception, the overwhelming number of attendees were actually members of the Board Of Governors and past presidents like Sid Ganis, Hawk Koch, and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, along with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, there to support his Pulp Fiction star Jackson (who received his only Oscar nomination for that 1994 film), Rita Wilson, and Magic Johnson, who towered over the room.
Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Michael Barker was the rare studio executive in the crowd, and he was there actuallly accompanying Ullmann, who, by the way, was wearing a ribbon in support of Ukraine. Barker is hoping Penelope Cruz, the star of SPC’s Parallel Mothers, will take home the Best Actress Oscar on Sunday, a category that will actually be presented by last year’s Best Actor winner, Anthony Hopkins, who Barker proudly noted was the star of another SPC film, The Father. He wants to make it two in a row in the lead acting categories.
Will Packer, producer of this year’s Oscar show, was there, of course, having come straight from the Dolby Theatre below, where he had been doing music rehearsals all day. This man could sell anything. His enthusiasm for the show he is putting together is more contagious than omicron. Whatever the ultimate verdict, I have to say he has me hyped up to see this production.
He did confirm (as I reported directly from the Governors Awards last night) that Jason Momoa and Josh Brolin will be hosting that 4pm un-televised hour, where those eight categories will first be announced. He also reemphasized that there will be a few surprises in the show, and that includes the Best Picture presenters. Could that be part of the promised 50th Anniversary Godfather tribute? I asked Rubin if that was the case, and he just smiled. When I noted the eclectic nature of the many presenters so far announced, including several Olympians, Rubin did tell me we will see a definite connection between the presenters, although he didn’t elaborate. He, too, is very excited about the way the show is shaping up
Well, if it is anything close to the good vibes of these Governors Awards, as well as the speeches, then we are in for a good night. And in terms of these honorees, Bill Murray (who is also a presenter on the Oscars) was first up to honor Elaine May. I had heard that the 89 year old May was not coming in from New York, and, in fact, a publicist confirmed that as of 5pm Friday, the plan as she knew it was that Murray was accepting for her.
That publicist was as surprised as I was when, after a brilliant film compilation of her career finished, out came May, who delivered a typically amusing speech, lauding Murray actually, and wondering just who all these people in the audience were. The standing ovations for her, and the others, were truly genuine.
After Washington cued the clip reel for Jackson, the 73-year-old icon, who has been in more box office blockbusters than anybody, gave a heartfelt speech highlighting his journey to this moment. “It is something that will be cherished forever,” he said. Before the ceremony, I talked to Jackson and asked if he was excited to finally get an Oscar. “A check would be nice,” he joked. I also told him we would be seeing him at the Emmys. He is great in Apple’s series, The Last Days Of Ptolemy Grey.
John Lithgow, who acted on stage with Ullmann in Anna Christie, was the presenter for her way-overdue Oscar. I always thought she should have won for Scenes From A Marriage in 1974. But because the film had also been on television in Sweden in a longer form, it was ineligible, and she didn’t even get nominated. This more than made up for it. Her acceptance was beautiful, as she virtually ran through her entire career from Norway to Hollywood as actress and director to Broadway (Richard Rodgers even wrote a musical for her), as she charmingly demonstrated she has instant recall of all of it, and even saying in her home country they don’t “brag” about such things. “That’s why I brought 20 people,” she laughed. “So they can tell Norway, ‘It is true. She got an Oscar!'”
Finally, Alfre Woodard presented Glover with his well-deserved Humanitarian award. Known as an activist on many fronts, particularly with labor, as a United Nations representative around the globe, and so many other causes, Glover could not have been more self-effacing and sincere in his remarks.
What a great way to kick off this Oscar weekend, and if you ask me, the Academy ought to consider making this a permanent place for the Governors Awards.
By the way, among the many pre-Oscar parties and events around town, this wasn’t the only one giving away “Oscar” awards, as Thursday night brought the annual Oscar Wilde Awards, always hosted by J.J. Abrams and usually in his backyard. But this time after a year off for the pandemic, it was at the much- larger Wilshire Ebell.
Presented for the 16th year by the US-Ireland Alliance, it always takes place Oscar week and aims to honor those industry figures with a bit of the Blarney in them. This year, it was Kenneth Branagh, Jamie Dornan, Adam McKay, and Irish actor Donall O Healai. Branagh taped his acceptance speech, as he was still dealing with the quarantine and protocols following his positive Covid test shortly after attending the BAFTA awards in London.
Dornan, who stayed in L.A., told me they were hoping he will be given the all-clear in time for Sunday. By the way, Dornan proved to be really quite funny during his own acceptance speech, where he noted he had been asked to accept this award a few times. But after seeing the clip reels of winners when he attended, he didn’t feel worthy. Now that Belfast has brought him so much acclaim, he finally accepted it, only to find out they weren’t doing any clip reels this year. So instead, he offered to “act out” his career in person. With that he pulled out some handcuffs. “Let’s start with this. You all know this one,” he laughed, with the reference to the infamous Christian Grey. Quite a fun evening.
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