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Ten Things I Learned at the Governors Awards

Ten Things I Learned at the Governors Awards

1. The Governors Awards will not be televised. At the orange Grand Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland Saturday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave out four honorary Oscars at a new annual event on the awards calendar. Academy executive director Bruce Davis, president Tom Sherak, Oscar show producers Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, and Oscar-host-to-be Alec Baldwin all attended this relaxed, celebratory black-tie cocktail and dinner party. The ceremony awarding four honorary Oscars to actress Lauren Bacall, producers John Calley and Roger Corman and cinematographer Gordon Willis, punctuated by repeated standing ovations, lasted three hours and 18 minutes, to be exact.

2. The awards circuit always draws would-be Oscar contenders. Glad-handing were Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire), Abbie Cornish in lavender Dior (Bright Star) and Christoph Waltz and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), who met director Julie Taymor for the first time. New World alumnus James Cameron (Piranha II), who was supposed to attend, was stuck in the Avatar editing room, said Sherak.

3. Avatar production and marketing costs will not reach $500 million. Producer Jon Landau insists the final costs of the movie will come nowhere near that. (The LAT reports a $310 million budget tally without P & A.) Cameron and Vince Pace’s special 3-D camera rigs, for example, are rented like any other cameras. Weta Digital made a bid for how much the visual effects would cost. The actors were not expensive. There isn’t all that much live-action shooting in the movie, which filmed in soundstages in Playa Vista and in New Zealand. OK…

4. If director Clint Eastwood delivers yet again on Invictus, the movie could be the one to beat for Best Picture. When I told Freeman how much I admired the Invictus script, adapted from John Carlin’s book by Anthony Peckham, Freeman said, “I guarantee you, we did not mess it up.” Freeman plays Nelson Mandela opposite Matt Damon as rugby captain Francois Pienaar. In order to unite South Africa, the two men push to win the 1995 World Cup.

5. Christoph Waltz is now a working Hollywood actor. Of his good fortune, the multi-lingual German, who is currently shooting The Green Hornet with director Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen, said, “It’s unbelievable!”

6. Lauren Bacall is still beautiful at 85. Introduced by Kirk Douglas, who was a fellow student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Bacall said that throughout her career and backstage Saturday night, he reassures her by saying, “Never fear, Kirk is here.”

“People said Bacall was tough,” said Douglas. “She’s a pussycat with a heart of gold. I’m sure Lauren Bacall will teach the Oscars how to whistle.” When Douglas had a threadbare coat, she got him a thicker one. He admitted that he tried to seduce her, but they became friends instead. Anjelica Huston, who was born while her father John, Humphrey Bogart and Bacall were on faraway location in Africa filming The African Queen, was visibly moved as she thanked Bacall for being her “mother, friend, guide, teacher.” Here’s the video clip.

Bacall waved her Oscar overhead, crowing, “I can’t believe it, a man at last!” She went on, “I’ve been very lucky in my life, luckier than I deserve. At the age of 19 to have been chosen by Howard Hawks to work with a man like Humphrey Bogart… It ended up being Bogart that was my great luck. He was not only a wonderful actor but an extraordinary man. He gave me a life and changed my life.” Her children with Bogey, Stephen and Leslie, attended the ceremony.

7. Roger Corman is cool. “This is the cool table!” Tarantino told me as I cruised the long New World table in the middle of the room. Sure enough, hovering there were Jack Nicholson (in shades), Curtis Hanson and Rebecca Yeldham, Jonathan Demme, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante, Gale Anne Hurd and Jonathan Hensleigh, Lewis Teague, Peter Bogdanovich, and Jon Davison. Along with Ron Howard, who got his start directing on Corman’s Grand Theft Auto, Tarantino delivered an entertaining, heartfelt intro to 83-year-old King of Independents Corman, producer of 550 and director of 50 indie films, complete with clips of Man with the X-Ray Eyes, The Intruder, The Wild Angels, The Trip, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Bloody Mama, Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13, and Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe films. “For all the wild, weird, cool, crazy moments you have put on the drive-in screens, the movie lovers of the planet earth thank you,” said Tarantino, to rousing applause.

8. New Disney chairman Rich Ross is not cool. Ramrod straight and not knowing many people in the room, Ross kept his council at a chilly Disney table while surviving production chief Oren Aviv greeted well-wishers. Ousted studio head Dick Cook would have been cheerily hanging with his old cronies. Ross represents a threatening new studio order in more ways than one.

9. Director of photography Gordon Willis, 78, probably has not received an Oscar until now because he was a “crusty curmudgeon,” as described by Francis Coppola via videotape. The Prince of Darkness was overlooked for such films as The Godfather 1 and 2 (a sequel), All the Presidents Men, Presumed Innocent, Klute and a series of Woody Allen films including Annie Hall (a comedy) and Manhattan (black-and-white), explained cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, because the New York-based d.p. (who had to be coaxed into coming to the awards ceremony) refused to suck up to the establishment. In fact, he could be quite blunt: “Some Hollywood cameramen are like a bunch of flame throwers,” Deschanel quoted Willis as saying. “Some directors are dump truck directors. They fill a dump truck with shots and dump it in editors’ laps.”

Said Woody Allen in a video clip, “I think he’s the best cinematographer America has ever seen, really.” I concur.

10. Producer/executive John Calley, 79, couldn’t make the Governors Awards because he was too frail. A line of past Irving G. Thalberg recipients gathered to honor Calley, including Steven Spielberg, Norman Jewison, Warren Beatty, Dino De Laurentiis, Walter Mirisch, George Lucas and Saul Zaentz. Here’s video of Spielberg accepting the Irving G. Thalberg Award for Calley, whose clip reel included such classics as Catch-22, The Loved One, The Shining, The Exorcist, All the President’s Men, and Ten. I enjoyed spending time with Calley over the years: charming and canny, he liked to recount his experiences with Stanley Kubrick. Jewison, who first worked with Calley on the troubled set of The Cincinatti Kid in 1965, said: “He was a sophisticated man with an eye for talent. He protected me. John, you were a mensch.”

[Photos of Lauren Bacall, Leslie and Stephen Bogart and Abbie Cornish courtesy AP Photo, via HitFix.]

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