When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced in 2009 that it was removing the presentation of honorary Oscars from the Oscars telecast and creating a separate, un-televised night for them that would take place months earlier, many lovers of film history, including me, were outraged. It appeared that the organization, which was founded in large part to preserve and protect film history, was selling its soul to ABC, the network that airs the Oscars, which has constantly pressured them to produce a shorter show and one that attracts higher ratings, particularly among young people. "Throw out the dance numbers, the song performances, the shorts categories, the "in memoriam" montage, or virtually anything else," I felt, "but please don't throw out the one segment of the show that celebrates the greats of the past just because their names are not already familiar to most people in the 18-to-35 demographic."
Four years later, I remain saddened that more members of the general public -- especially young people -- are not more exposed to film history through the Oscars telecast. But I must also acknowledge that the Academy's idea of scheduling a separate evening specifically for the presentation of honorary Oscars has turned out to be another wonderful -- albeit much more insular -- way of celebrating film history. The Governors Awards ceremony enables the Academy to honor more worthy people each year than they ever could have when the honorary Oscars were presented as part of the telecast. And, because it is not telecast anywhere, it allows each of those people to be feted by family, friends, and colleagues and accept their honor in a way that is often frank, funny, and leisurely -- sometimes too leisurely, in fact. (17 rambling minutes later we still love you, D.A. Pennebaker!)
Interestingly to me, it has also exposed more of the industry's top current talent to more of the greats who paved the way for them. Why? Because, unlike when the honorary Oscars were presented as part of the main telecast and many of today's actors and directors treated them as a good time to trade seats with a seat-filler and head to the lobby bar or bathroom, the Governors Awards are an event that today's hottest young talent clamor to attend. Why? Because the Academy, either inadvertently or ingeniously, has put them on the calendar each year in November or December, just as Academy members are getting ready to start filling out their nomination ballots, and, as you might imagine, you can't turn around at the Governors Awards without bumping into a half-dozen Academy members.
Now, virtually every studio and distributor pays big bucks to the Academy to buy a table or tables at the Governors Awards, which they can then fill with Oscar hopefuls from their films, along with publicists (to make sure that they are introduced to voters during the cocktail hour that precedes the show and periodic lulls in the action during the show) and sometimes, in full disclosure, lucky journalists (thank you for my seat this year, DreamWorks Animation).
In other words, it's not a coincidence that a ton of people vying for Oscar nominations this awards season showed up at this year's Governors Awards -- certainly more than ever before. (Well, it is something of a coincidence in a few cases, such as Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hanks, who probably would have been there anyway since they serve on the Academy's Board of Governors, and Steven Spielberg, who was asked to sit at the table of honoree Jeffrey Katzenberg.) As you can see from a list that I put together of the folks that I spotted during the ceremony, virtually every major Oscar contender was represented.
And you know what? Even if the motivation of many of those 2012 Oscar hopefuls for attending the Governors Awards was not entirely pure, I'm still thrilled that they were there to witness and learn about Hollywood history.
If the honorary Oscars were still presented during the main telecast, then two of tonight's honorees -- say Hal Needham or George Stevens, Jr., who had tremendous careers and gave wonderful acceptance speeches -- probably never would have been chosen to receive their honors in the first place (only one or two a year usually were); or, even if they were, they would have been given only a couple of minutes before being rushed off the stage so that Miley Cyrus could present the next award or sing a song or do whatever she does; and, meanwhile, a chunk of the younger talent in attendance wouldn't have even stayed in the room to see that.
Now, however, they stay in the room, whether they like it or not, usually for the entire ceremony (which this year ran close to four hours long, not counting the cocktail hour). That's the price they have to pay, on this particular night of the year, to court Oscar votes. And maybe -- just maybe -- they learn a thing or two in the process.
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2012 Oscar hopefuls in attendance at the 4th Academy Governors Awards (listed by film)
- Anna Karenina -- director Joe Wright
- Arbitrage -- actor Richard Gere and screenwriter/director Nick Jarecki
- Argo -- screenwriter Chris Terrio
- Beasts of the Southern Wild -- screenwriter/director Benh Zeitlin, actress Quvenzhane Wallis, and supporting actor Dwight Henry
- The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- screenwriter Ol Parker
- Cloud Atlas -- Tom Hanks
- The Dark Knight Rises, co-screenwriter/director Christopher Nolan
- Django Unchained -- screenwriter/director Quentin Tarantino
- Flight -- director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins
- Hitchcock -- director Sacha Gervasi
- The Impossible -- actor Tom Holland
- Les Miserables -- director Tom Hooper
- Lincoln -- director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and composer John Williams
- The Master -- supporting actress Amy Adams
- Middle of Nowhere -- actress Emayatzy Corinealdi and supporting actor David Oyelowo
- On the Road -- supporting actress Kristen Stewart
- Promised Land -- co-writer/supporting actor John Krasinski
- Rise of the Guardians -- director Peter Ramsey, screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, composer Alexandre Desplat, producers Christina Steinberg and Nancy Bernstein
- The Sessions -- actor John Hawkes, supporting actress Helen Hunt, screenwriter/director Ben Lewin
- Silver Linings Playbook -- screenwriter/director David O. Russell, actor Bradley Cooper, supporting actress Jacki Weaver, and producer Bruce Cohen
- This Is 40 -- screenwriter/director Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann
- Zero Dark Thirty -- director Kathryn Bigelow