Hitting on why many attendees see the event as a highlight of awards season, surprise speaker Al Pacino said early in his closing remarks, “I’m so happy that AFI didn’t have some envelope for me to open and say ‘The winner is…’” The Oscar-winning actor took one beat to make sure he got that right, confirming with the audience that all the talent in the room were AFI Awards 2022 recipients, and impressed, said “So I’m talking to winners now, OK!”
Taking place at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, as is annual tradition, the AFI Awards 2022 Luncheon invited the creative teams from what the American Film Institute considered to be the 10 best films and 10 best TV shows (plus one special recipient) of 2022 to all gather together and applaud each other’s work. The emphasis on support for one another factored early into the program, when AFI president Bob Gazzale alluded to the death of Lisa Marie Presley (“Elvis” was one of the film honorees this year).
“Before we begin, allow me a moment to acknowledge an honoree with us today, an ensemble of artists who attend with a heavy heart,” said Gazzale. “And as this event is founded in community, not competition, never competition, I ask that we offer a quiet moment of reflection to consider loss, not for others, but for all of us. All who create from inspiration. And in this silence, they will feel that we are here for them, and you feel that they are here for you.”
The feeling that the setting was a safe space for actors, directors, executives, and more creatives to connect without the pressure of one winning an award over the other was palpable. Filmmakers from other honorees like “TÁR” and “Top Gun: Maverick” shared their condolences with the “Elvis” producing team. Miles Teller, star of the latter film, and widely pegged as one of the finalists for the starring role in “Elvis,” was one attendee who had a meaningful catch-up with director Baz Luhrmann. The spirit of congeniality also thrived with “Avatar: The Way of the Water” director James Cameron, who could be seen chatting up “Top Gun: Maverick” filmmaker Joseph Kosinski: the director who many awards prognosticators felt took the spot they had reserved for the former winner in the Feature Film category of this year’s DGA Awards nominations.
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With many executives in the room as well, from the newly reinstated Disney chief Bob Iger, to divisive Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, it was interesting seeing which talent from other studios they sought out. For example, “Mo” was the only Netflix project honored this year, yet co-CEO Ted Sarandos was still making the rounds at the AFI Awards, talking to folks like “Top Gun: Maverick” producer Jerry Bruckheimer and “The White Lotus” creator Mike White. Meanwhile colleague Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s global head of television, could be seen talking to fellow honorees like “Hacks” producer Mike Schur or “Nope” star Keke Palmer. At one point in the lunch “Abbott Elementary” creator/star Quinta Brunson was escorted through the crowd by Zaslav and Warner Bros. TV chairperson Channing Dungey (the ABC sitcom is a WBTV production). Zaslav was also very complimentary of actress Bridget Everett when Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and HBO Max Content, brought the executive over to say hello to the “Somebody Somewhere” table.
As the crowd turned to watch the AFI Awards 2022 March of Time reel, and then clips of the honorees, the room gave indication of what films most resonated. While most applause was saved for after the rationale had been read, and the select scene had been shown, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” got cheers at the mere mention of its name. “The Woman King” proved to be a crowd pleaser, showing the clip of the Sony film’s opening action sequence, and a “Women Talking” clip highlighting Claire Foy’s performance left the viewers speechless, in awe.
When it came time to bring out Pacino, the icon and past AFI Life Achievement honoree seemed dumbstruck by the amazing art he’d just witnessed from all the winners in the room. “I can’t talk after seeing all of this power… What I have to say is so weird. I don’t want to throw off the tone in this room,” said the actor. “But I have such stupid stories that I carry with me, and I thought one would be interesting here.”
Pacino then proceeded to tell the story of the first time he attended the Oscars, as a Best Actor nominee for his work in Sidney Lumet’s 1973 film “Serpico.” He never had any interest before in attending the landmark Hollywood event, and in fact skipped it the first time he was nominated, for playing Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” but wanted to support the film. “There are all kinds of reactions when we lose the Oscars, I can give them right now,” said Pacino, cracking up onlookers like Carey Mulligan (“She Said”) and Adam Scott (“Severance”). “I was young and crazy. Drugs and alcohol were my feed. They helped me through a lot of stuff I have to admit,” he continued. “I’m not advocating it. I’m just talking here.”
Almost too inebriated to function, believing the awards were only an hour long, Pacino thought he was free from having to hear the winner of his category announced, but was informed by Jeff Bridges the show had two more hours to go. Worse than feeling the stages of grief, he suddenly thought, “Hey, what if I win? You know I can’t make it to the fucking stage.” The Best Actor winner that year? “Save the Tiger” star Jack Lemmon. Pacino’s reaction? “You couldn’t hold me in the seat.”
Once the audience was done laughing, the actor ended the AFI Awards 2022 benediction with another moment of poignancy. “We have to do this thing that we do, whatever it is, because it keeps us alive,” said Pacino. “I don’t think some of us would be able to live if we couldn’t do this. And that’s something I have to say, it’s a truth.” For his final words to the attendees, most of whom look forward to the anxiety of more competitive award shows this season, Pacino used a quote from tightrope walker Karl Wallenda meant to remind everyone that getting to make their art is what truly matters: “Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting.”
See the full lists of winners below.
AFI Movies of the Year
“Avatar: The Way of Water”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
“Top Gun: Maverick”
“The Woman King”
AFI Television Programs of the Year
“Better Call Saul”
“The White Lotus”
AFI Special Award
“The Banshees of Inisherin”