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Governors Awards: Inside Hollywood’s Attempt to Clear Post-Election Fog and Kickstart Oscar Race

During uncertain times, the Hollywood community came together Saturday at the Academy's annual honorary awards dinner in order to give and chase Oscars, as well as an inclusionary forward agenda.

Bruce Dern and Laura Dern at The Governors Awards



In its own way, the Governors Awards is the most important film event of the year. On the surface, it’s the Academy Awards rendered in miniature as the Academy Board of Governors presents honorary Oscars to veteran film artists. But in reality, this is the Oscar starting gun wrapped in tuxedos and Louboutins: There’s never greater proximity to Academy voters.

Amy Adams and Pedro Almoddovar

Amy Adams and Pedro Almodovar

Anne Thompson

Launched in 2009 to present career awards while not extending the already-long Oscarcast, the Governors Awards are meant to evoke the more-intimate feel of early Academy Award ceremonies. However, Oscar consultants quickly saw the event as an odyssey in its own right, since it provides an opportunity for intimate, grade-A campaigning just at the start of Phase 1 — the period that defines the Oscar season up until nominations are announced.

It’s a moment that won’t be matched for the rest of the season, but it also makes for something of a crush inside the Dolby Ballroom. (It’s gotten to the point that the Academy Board of Governors holds its own pre-show cocktail party, so they can have a chance to talk with each other and the Honorary Oscar winners. Otherwise, as one Oscar-winning director noted, “It’s impossible.”)

On my way up the stairs to the Dolby Ballroom, I greeted “Queen of Katwe” star David Oyelowo in a splendid silver suit. He went on to chat with Common, who could win a second Oscar for his song for Ava DuVernay’s incendiary Netflix documentary “13th.” Another song contender, Pharrell Williams (“Hidden Figures” song “See a Victory”) was there, wearing his trademark wide-brimmed hat. “Florence Foster Jenkins” star Hugh Grant trailed behind Amy Adams (“Arrival”), who was schmoozing with Pedro Almodovar (Spanish Oscar entry “Julieta”).

Common and Chris Pine

“13th” songwriter Common with “Hell or High Water” star Chris Pine.

Anne Thompson

The Sony Pictures Classics gang lined up for a photo: Almodovar, Isabelle Huppert (French Oscar submission “Elle”), Michael Barker, and Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek (German Oscar submission “Toni Erdmann”).

Pedro Almodovar, Michael Barker, Isabelle Huppert, Sandra Huller, Peter Simonischek

Pedro Almodovar, Michael Barker, Isabelle Huppert, Sandra Huller, Peter Simonischek

Anne Thompson

During the 8th Governors Awards dinner, honorees included the “chantastic” global movie star Jackie Chan, as introduced by Best Actor candidate for “Sully,” Tom Hanks. The Hong Kong martial arts maestro recalled watching the Oscar show with his parents. His father once asked him, “Son, you get so many movie awards in the world, when will you get one of those?”

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jackie Chan

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jackie Chan

Anne Thompson

Chan replied, “Dad, I make action comedies.” Accepting his Oscar at the Dolby Ballroom, he said, “Finally, after 200 films and so many broken bones, I get one. Thank you Hollywood for teaching me and making me a little bit famous.”

Also inspiring standing ovations was long-time editing branch governor Anne V. Coates, who started out as an assistant to Michael Powell on “The Red Shoes,” went on to pioneer jump cuts on David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” and contributed to many more, from “Chaplin” and “Erin Brockovich” to sexy “Out of Sight,” “Unfaithful,” starring presenter Richard Gere, and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Oscar contender Nicole Kidman (Weinstein Co.’s “Lion”) told Coates that every actor knows the editor “is your gold. We appreciate you for scouring through everything to find that little moment.”

Jeff Bridges and Lynn Stalmaster

Jeff Bridges and Lynn Stalmaster

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Presenter Jeff Bridges (“Hell or High Water”) called legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster the “master caster.” Bruce and Laura Dern both thanked the casting director, who started out as an actor, for helping them with their respective careers. Stalmaster is the first casting director to receive an Oscar, after a career serving the likes of Billy Wilder, John Sturges, George Stevens, Stanley Kramer, Norman Jewison, Hal Ashby, Blake Edwards, Mike Nichols, and Sydney Pollack, in movies from “The Great Escape” to “West Side Story,” to a total 36 nominations and 11 Oscar wins. Said Stalmaster, “You never know where or when you will find the answer.”

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog

Anne Thompson

Don Cheadle gave tribute to cinema verite champion Frederick Wiseman (“Titicut Follies”), saying: “In these times, there’s nothing more important than empathy.”

Wiseman was one of many documentarians in the room, including Oscar contenders Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, who directed “Weiner,” a movie about the notorious New York mayoral candidate and sex addict who had an unexpected impact on the presidential race, as well as Kirsten Johnson (“Cameraperson”), Ava DuVernay (“13”), Morgan Neville (“The Music of Strangers”), Roger Ross Williams (“Life, Animated”), Werner Herzog (“Into the Inferno”) and Alex Gibney (“Zero Days”). One studio chief exhorted Gibney to go out and do some deep reporting on Donald Trump.

"Weiner" directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman

“Weiner” directors Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman

Anne Thompson

The new Republican order was a humming conversation, as friends gave each other longer hugs than usual. I got mine from two animation czars, DreamWorks Animation’s Bonnie Arnold and Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter, who said, “I know what we have to do for the next four years—make more movies like ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Moana’ that change how people see the world.”

Photo by Buckner/VAR/REX/Shutterstock

Next to him, “Moana” songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) explained why he was wearing a safety pin on the lapel of his dinner jacket: “There’s a lot of people who don’t feel safe in this country,” he said. “You put this on to let them know, if you see me wearing this, you’re safe—you’re safe.”

Hugh Grant and Lupita Nyong'o

Hugh Grant and Lupita Nyong’o

Anne Thompson

At the start of the night, as she announced the spring launch of the Academy Talent Development and Inclusion Program, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs reminded that movies, “in uncertain times, they can connect us, change us and unify us. Inclusion is not just a favor we’re doing for anyone. It’s a strategic imperative for our industry.”

Paramount packed several tables not only for Denis Villeneuve’s new Amy Adams hit “Arrival,” Bob Zemeckis’s World War II thriller “Allied” (Marion Cotillard), and Stephen Frears’ opera comedy “Florence Foster Jenkins” (supporting actors Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg), but also Denzel Washington’s August Wilson adaptation “Fences,” with supporting players Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson and Jovan Adepo on hand.

Fox boosted multi-hyphenate Warren Beatty’s ’50s Hollywood story “Rules Don’t Apply,” starring gold-clad Lily Collins and Alden Ehrenreich and Ryan Reynolds’ turn in Marvel’s “Deadpool,” as well as the star trio from ’60s NASA drama “Hidden Figures:” Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Jonelle Monae. And then there was Searchlight’s “Jackie,” directed by Pablo Larrain (who also has The Orchard’s Chilean Oscar entry “Neruda”) and  “The Birth of a Nation” (supporting actors Armie Hammer and Aji Naomi King); scandal-plagued director-star Nate Parker stayed home.

Universal’s Focus Features hosted writer-director Tom Ford’s exercise in style “Nocturnal Animals” (Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon), and J.A. Bayona’s fairy tale “A Monster Calls” (Felicity Jones) as well as Jeff Nichols’ biracial romance “Loving” (Ruth Negga). Disney brought in director Mira Nair as well as stars Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o for “Queen of Katwe.”

Andrew Garfield and Lucas Hedges The Governors Awards, Ar

Andrew Garfield and Lucas Hedges

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Buckner/VAR/REX/Shutterstock

At the A24 table were “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins and supporting stars Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali (who also stars in “Hidden Figures”) as well as Plan B producer Jeremy Kleiner (“12 Years a Slave,” “The Big Short”) and “Twentieth Century Women” writer-director Mike Mills, stars Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig, and Annapurna founder and Oscar perennial Megan Ellison with her new president, Marc Weinstock, who was exhilarated to be liberated from serving a studio.

 (7431523ho) Emma Stone

Emma Stone

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Lionsgate brought Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone to support popular musical “La La Land,” along with Best Actor hopeful Andrew Garfield of “Hacksaw Ridge,” but not director Mel Gibson, who’s acting in a Sean Penn movie. Mark Wahlberg was on hand for CBS Films’ AFI FEST closer “Patriot’s Day,” the second 2016 release he starred in for director Peter Berg (“Deepwater Horizon”).

Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams

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Amazon Studios and distributor Roadside Attractions hosted the “Manchester by the Sea” gang, including writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and financier Kimberly Steward, who hopes to support more worthy indies in future. Kate Beckinsale, squeezed into a narrow white gown, stars in their biggest hit of the year, Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen romp, “Love & Friendship.”

Among the other indie hopefuls at the event were statuesque British actress Rebecca Hall, who stars as a real-life suicidal newscaster in Sundance hit “Christine.” Like every other rising star working the room, she likes to balances risky indie parts with well-paying studio gigs. Next up: Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner.”

"Christine" star Rebecca Hall

“Christine” star Rebecca Hall

The distributor behind last year’s Oscar-winner “Spotlight,” Open Road, is now pushing Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart for boxing picture “Bleed for This.” STX brought “Edge of Seventeen” star Hailee Steinfeld (Oscar-nominated for “True Grit”), produced by James L. Brooks,  as well as writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Bleecker Street’s “Eye in the Sky” star Helen Mirren introduced the night’s proceedings.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX/Shutterstock (7431524e) Helen Mirren The Governors Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Nov 2016

Helen Mirren

Dana Harris contributed to this report. 

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