New Academy president David Rubin told would-be Oscar contenders packing Ray Dolby Ballroom that they were in the “anxiety-free zone.” It’s a soothing concept, but the truth is the Governors Awards are the well-mannered, black-tie starting gun to what will be a competitive race. This year’s selection reflects the Academy’s current emphasis on diversity, as the first Oscar-nominated woman director, Lina Wertmüller (“Seven Beauties”) and Native American actor Wes Studi (“The Last of the Mohicans”) joined long-overdue director David Lynch (Oscar-nominated for “Blue Velvet,” “Elephant Man” and “Mulholland Drive”) to accept honorary Oscars.
Supporting Actress frontrunner Laura Dern (“Marriage Story”) and her “Blue Velvet” costars Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan lauded their director Lynch. “You have to let his quiet guide you,” said Rossellini. “He tries to capture the mysteries of our emotions, passions, and our lives.” Dern recalled first meeting with MacLachlan and Lynch, who doodled cartoons in ketchup at Bob’s Big Boy, and the first of many night shoots as Lynch blared Shostakovich over loudspeakers. Enigmatic to the end, Lynch took the stage to say only: “To the Academy and everyone who helped me along the way, thanks.” Turning to his Oscar, he added: “You have a very nice face. Good night.”
“Ford v Ferrari” Best Actor candidate Christian Bale presented to his “Hostiles” costar Wes Studi, praising him as not only a powerful actor but a combat veteran, musician, and an expert horseman and linguist who has spoken two dozen languages on screen. “Too few opportunities in film have gone to Native or indigenous artists,” said Bale. “We’re a room full of people who can change that.”
Studi thanked directors Kevin Costner, Michael Mann and Walter Hill for casting him in such classics as “Dances with Wolves,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” and “Geronimo.” “It’s about time,” said the Cherokee-American actor, pressing his Oscar into bicep curls. “I’m proud to be here tonight as the first native, indigenous American to receive an Academy Award.”
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” Supporting Actor contender Tom Hanks (who hasn’t been nominated since “Cast Away” in 2001), presented the statuette to his “League of Their Own” costar and “tall drink of water” Geena Davis, who starred in “The Fly,” “Beetlejuice” and Oscar-nominated “Thelma & Louise,” and took home an Oscar 30 years ago for “The Accidental Tourist,” and went on to found the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
“Who better to present Geena Davis with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award than a white guy who’s been on the cover of AARP Magazine?” said Hanks. “She’s hilarious in person, delightful at a distance, and even better up close.” And, he pointed out, she’s an Olympic-level archer. “Do not cross Geena Davis.”
“Thelma & Louise” and costar Susan Sarandon inspired Davis, she said, to speak her mind. “I would rather play the baseball player than the girlfriend of the baseball player,” she said. And her work in gender equality inspired her mantra: “If she can see it, she can be it.” Gender representation in Hollywood fiction is far worse than reality, she said, exhorting the power players in the room to “do a gender and diversity pass” on their current projects and “boost the female population.”
At the end of the evening, director nominees Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) and Jane Campion (“The Piano”) presented to Italian auteur Lina Wertmuller, who in 1975 was the first woman director ever nominated for the Oscar, for “Seven Beauties,” starring Giancarlo Giannini, just one of 30 features she directed over four decades. “She has made history by being herself,” said Sophia Loren.
In a video assembled by Marina Zenovich, Martin Scorsese put Wertmuller in the tradition of the Commedia dell’arte. “She was the first female director I knew by name,” said Quentin Tarantino, pointing out that Wertmuller was the only woman to direct a spaghetti western (“The Belle Starr Story”).
Gerwig described Wertmuller’s films as “the cinema of seduction,” she said, “personal, truthful, and idiosyncratic…naughty and playful, earthbound and bawdy.” Campion memorably reminded that she and Gerwig were among five total women who have been nominated in Oscar history, out of 350 men. “How do you correct centuries of patriarchal domination?” she asked. “You are a film warrior, an artist who is brave and brilliant,” she told Wertmuller. “‘Seven Beauties’ is one of the best films of the twentieth century.” When Wertmuller visited her film school in Australia, Campion recalled a student asking her just how to raise funding. “You beg, borrow, and steal,” Wertmuller said. “You do whatever is needed.” As she accepted her Oscar, Wertmuller said, “I would like to change the name Oscar to a feminine name — Anna.”
The reason so many folks were willing to get gussied up on a Sunday was the chance to work a roomful of Academy members at the start of awards season. Los Angeles has been packed with activities for a week as Oscar campaigners pulled their top talent into town. Quentin Tarantino was one of the first to arrive for cocktails, chatting with “The Two Popes” screenwriter Anthony McCarten about the dangers of bogging down in research, as well as power couple Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. At the dinner Tarantino sat with his “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” star Leonardo DiCaprio and Sony chief Tom Rothman, who was also hosting “Little Women” and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Pain and Glory.” Pedro Almodovar told me he hadn’t expected his very personal story to touch so many people, before greeting Gerwig and her “Little Women” star Saoirse Ronan.
Supporting Actor candidate and emcee Jamie Foxx got things off to a rousing start by bringing “Dolemite Is My Name” star Eddie Murphy up to the stage. “I have nothing planned,” Foxx riffed, as Murphy basked in the first of many standing ovations during the long evening. Netflix loomed large in the room, packing its tables with talent from nine possible Oscar contenders, including Harvey Keitel from “The Irishman,” Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern from “Marriage Story,” McCarten and Fernando Meirelles from “The Two Popes,” Mati Diop from Senegal international entry “Atlantics,” and Petra Costa from Brazilian documentary “The Edge of Democracy.”
Among the indies, A24’s roster included “The Farewell” star Awkwafina and writer-director Lulu Wang, as well as “The Lighthouse” team of Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe and Robert Eggers, “Waves” star Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and writer-director Trey Edward Shults, and the “Uncut Gems” posse of Benny and Josh Safdie, Adam Sandler, and Idina Menzel. Fox Searchlight welcomed triple threat Taika Waititi, writer-director-star of “Jojo Rabbit,” as well as Valerie Pachner, star of another World War II movie, Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life.”
Neon’s Tom Quinn assembled “Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho, “Clemency” director Chinonye Chukwu and her stars Alfre Woodard and Aldis Hodge, “Apollo 11” director Todd Douglas Miller and Alejandro Landes, director of the Colombian entry “Monos.” STX executive Adam Fogelson’s “Hustlers” table drew stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, and Keke Palmer. Roadside Attractions brought in “Judy” Best Actress frontrunner Renee Zellweger and her costar Finn Wittrock, along with Dakota Johnson and her “Peanut Butter Falcon” costar Zack Gottsagen.
Universal’s Ron Meyer is cheering on Focus Features’ “Dark Waters” from director Todd Haynes and Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet” starring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, while he waits for Tom Hooper to get “Cats” finished in time for Christmas. Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos hosted “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton and Jamie Bell and director Dexter Fletcher. Lionsgate brought in “Bombshell” stars Charlize Theron and John Lithgow, writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach, as well as “Knives Out” auteur Rian Johnson. Warner Bros. was on hand with Edward Norton (“Motherless Brooklyn”) and Todd Phillips (“Joker”), while Marvel studio chief Kevin Feige seemed unfazed by all the shots he’s been taking from the likes of Scorsese and Francis Coppola. It’s the price of success, he said. “Back in the ’80s, it was Lucas and Spielberg.”