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Awards Circuit: Things I Learned at the Governors Awards and Other Weekend Parties

Awards Circuit: Things I Learned at the Governors Awards and Other Weekend Parties

“This is what the Oscars should be like,” said Warren Beatty after the fifth non-televised Academy Governors Awards Saturday night at Hollywood & Highland. The evening was happy/sad. One minute the dinner guests were choking back tears, the next erupting in laughter. This far less formal dinner award show (smoothly produced by Paula Wagner) is a more intimate industry event, with old friends rubbing shoulders at tables and serious opportunities for Oscar networking.

Accepting the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award, Angelina Jolie, with partner Brad Pitt and son Maddox Jolie Pitt on hand, gave a heartrending two-and-a-half minute speech about being of service that reduced many at my table to tears. Me too. She talked about her mother (not mentioning her father Jon Voight, who was in the room) who made it “very clear nothing would mean anything if it wasn’t of use to others,” Jolie said. “We are all every one of us in this room so fortunate,” she added as she described her counterpart: “A woman just like me sits in a refugee camp…She has no voice. I will do the best I can with this life to be of use.”

The Bosnian cast of her directing debut “The Land of Blood and Honey” and actress Gena Rowlands introduced and her friend George Lucas presented the Hersholt award to Jolie, who also singled out her tablemate Lou Zamperini, the subject of her currently filming second directing gig, “Unbroken.” 
During a break –as Oscar hopefuls worked the room packed with Academy members– Jolie told me that she had to be back on the “Unbroken” set on Monday; I had interviewed her Director of Photography Roger Deakins that afternoon in Australia via Skype. His ears were ringing as she and “Prisoners” star Jake Gyllenhaal both sang his praises. 

Geoffrey Rush (“The Book Thief”), Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”) and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne introduced Angela Lansbury, stating the obvious, that the star of stage, screen and television “had huge range.” Lansbury thanked Thompson for helping her to get back on track after the death of her beloved husband by playing Aunt Adelaide in “Nanny McPhee.” And she thanked Osborne and TCM for keeping her legacy alive. 

Brit Lansbury was only 17 when George Cukor plucked her to debut in “Gaslight,” which earned her the first of three Oscar nominations. Katharine Hepburn helped her to land a key part in “State of the Union.” One of my favorite of her movie roles is the nasty mom in “The World of Henry Orient.” But the scariest mother she played was in “The Manchurian Candidate.” She figured she couldn’t top that, so she turned back to the stage, for “Mame” and several Stephen Sondheim musicals (I was lucky enough to see her and Len Cariou in “Sweeney Todd”). It seems she went into the recording studio and nailed the theme for “Beauty and the Beast” in the first take: the song won the Oscar. 

Steve Martin‘s high school friend Bill Taylor, now a visual effects artist and cinematographer, performed some magic tricks that the young Martin had taught him back in the days when he worked at Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm. Martin Short hilariously roasted Steve Martin–“tonight is one of those magical nights when the 1% come to honor one of their own… the highest Oscar honor you can receive in mid-November”– while Tom Hanks more sincerely lauded Martin for his prowess writing films, books, plays and essays, directing, acting, tap-dancing, throwing a lasso, and playing the banjo. Oscar honoree Martin made the audience laugh and cry when he choked up during his speech. “Everyone loves Tom Hanks,” he said. “Tom Hanks. I saw ‘Captain Phillips,’ I didn’t think it was so funny.” Martin reminded me of why I like him so much as an Oscar host.
After intros by costume designers Jeffrey Kurland, Milena Canonero, and Ann Roth, Italian actress Claudia Cardinale accepted the honorary Oscar for legendary Italian costume designer Piero Tosi (“Ludwig,” “La Cage aux Folles,” “La Traviata,” “The Leopard”), who has never traveled to the U.S. and was too unhealthy to do so, even now that the Academy boasts a proper costume branch. “Art does not call attention to itself,” said Roth. “It has to be experienced in the heart.” 
During the social part of the evening, Emma Thompson was holding court at the “Saving Mr. Banks” table with Disney motion picture chairman Alan Horn, production chief Sean Bailey, co-star Colin Farrell, director John Lee Hancock, producer Alison Owen, and “Mary Poppins” composer Richard Sherman. Thompson told me that there was a rare esprit de corps on the set of “Saving Mr. Banks” that suffuses the movie, which balances the dark story of “Mary Poppins” author’s Australian childhood with the fractious creation of the Disney movie. It’s playing well for Academy members.

After Margo Martindale and I debated the meaning of the last shots in “August: Osage County,” director John Wells told me he locked the movie Friday with a slightly changed ending that is less ambiguous, he said. (I cried at the one shown in Toronto.) And David O. Russell said he will finish the final mix of “American Hustle” Sunday, presumably in time to deliver a print for the scheduled screening December 2 for the New York Film Critics Circle, who vote on December 3. He flinched slightly when I said I had been talking to his star Christian Bale about Scott Cooper’s “Out of the Furnace.” Clearly, Bale is favoring that film.

Lionsgate exec Rob Friedman, who released “The Hurt Locker” at Summit, was hanging with Kathryn Bigelow and “Mandela” star Idris Elba. Naomie Harris was also at the Weinstein Co. table with “Fruitvale” stars Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer and director Ryan Coogler, “The Butler” star Forest Whitaker, director Lee Daniels and writer Danny Strong. My theory: if the year-end movies disappoint, these two indie hits could catch up with the rest of the Oscar pack. 

Blue Sky animator Chris Wedge was selling me on the virtues of animated feature “Epic,” which I have yet to see. Academy Governor John Lasseter gave me a hug, making me feel guilty that I keep missing screenings of Disney’s “Frozen.” Geoffrey Rush and Steve Coogan (“Philomena”) were schmoozing (Judi Dench is back in England recovering from knee surgery) as were Nancy Meyers and her “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Father of the Bride” star Diane Keaton, who was wearing a fab polka dot frock. Meyers is making her next movie not at Sony but Warners– “The Intern” stars Robert De Niro as a retiree working for young entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon. 

Sony chairman Amy Pascal was hanging at the “Captain Phillips” table with producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti and CBS Films’ Terry Press, whose “Inside Llewyn Davis” star Oscar Isaac was talking to “All is Lost” director JC Chandor, while “American Hustle” star Amy Adams was sitting at the Warners table with “Her” writer-director Spike Jonze and producer/financier Megan Ellison of Annapurna, who is happy to talk at parties but will not give interviews. “Captain Phillips” discovery Barkhad Abdi has an agent and is looking at scripts, he told me. 

Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are an unusual case of Oscar producers repeating two years in a row, with the memory of the last one still fresh. They admit that they learned a lot, and are back because the ratings were so good. If the last one was Oscars the Musical, this one with host Ellen DeGeneres is going to be the Funny Oscars, they said.

At evenings end, the Academy Governors headed over to the corner for their annual picture. It struck me this time–confirmed by Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and new president Cheryl Boone Isaacs–that there were far more women than before, among them execs Pascal and Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley, actress Annette Bening, director Kathryn Bigelow, costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis and writer Robin Swicord. They’re trying.

With so many people in town for AFI FEST and the Governors Awards, it was a jam-packed awards party weekend, as Universal threw a party Friday night at Fig & Olive for blockbuster “Despicable Me 2” (an amazing $915 million worldwide) complete with a performance of their Oscar hopeful song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Other attendees were star Steve Carrell and European animator Pierre Coffin and American director Chris Renaud, who were first brought together by Illumination Entertainment animation czar Chris Meledandri. Why was “Despicable Me” so successful? They gave global audiences what they wanted: a universally relatable and lovable beleaguered single dad with adorable daughters– and lots of minions. A minions sequel is already in the works. 

Also on hand were Universal survivor Ron Meyer, new cable guy studio head Jeff Shell and ebullient author E.L. James, who’s thrilled with the casting of Brit Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie starts filming soon, she said. (She has a new book coming out, too.) The players all knew that Charlie Hunnam was dragging his feet. Better to have someone game and enthusiastic, people close to the movie are telling me. 

At Friday’s Fox Searchlight party at Cecconi’s, Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula hosted a holiday/awards fete for their two specialty hits, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Nicole Holofcener’s  “Enough Said.” I think the critics will come through for the “12 Years a Slave” and McQueen, John Ridley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, turning the film into an Academy must-see. 

Relationship comedy “Enough Said” could use critics awards to lend it gravitas–Holofcener has the best chance of landing an original screenplay Oscar nomination (which is why she appeared on the writers and not the directors Hollywood Reporter roundtable), although that category boasts contending scripts that could be considered adaptations, such as true stories “The Butler” and “Fruitvale Station.” “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus told me she’s glad to be reading taller stacks of movie scripts–she just wishes they were better. Holofcener’s writing something for her, too. And studio chairman Jim Gianopulos remains optimistic about awards chances for Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” It’s more likely wind up with “Enough Said” as a Golden Globes comedy.

Sunday brought dueling Academy/press brunches: Focus Features’ “Dallas Buyers Club” at Craft with Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and actor/rocker Jared Leto (also needing to fly out Sunday for a concert in the U.K. on Monday), and Working Title’s celebration of Richard Curtis’s “About Time” and Ron Howard’s “Rush” (Daniel Bruhl has a shot at supporting actor) at Chateau Marmont. 

A hot topic of conversation all weekend: when will Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street” finish? And how long will it finally be? Two hours 30? 45?

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