How do you get someone to schlep to Los Angeles, decked out in black tie, to accept an awards tribute? You grab them when they have something to promote—and a studio willing to support costs of video, travel, styling and table.
This year’s British Academy Britannia Awards were enjoyably hosted by Brit comedian Ben “Doc” Brown Smith, who raps well enough to audition for “Hamilton” and was eager to raise his stateside profile.
The winner of the night’s big prize, the Albert R. Broccoli Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment, Samuel L. Jackson, is an awards perennial, with directors Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee happy to sing his praises on the Tribute video. This year, he was promoting Warner Bros.’ “Kong: Skull Island,” which was why his elegant costar and recent Best Actress Oscar-winner Brie Larson did the presenting honors.
Similarly, super-pro Tom Hanks riffed off a well-written teleprompter speech (studios like Sony give their stars speechwriters) in support of his “Inferno” costar Felicity Jones. They both happen to be up for Oscars, for Warners’ “Sully” and Focus Features’ “A Monster Calls,” respectively. “I’ve never seen a man so obsessed with tiny Italian cars,” said British Artist of the Year Jones of Hanks. Disney, whose motion picture chief Alan Horn was on hand, is also supporting Jones as the star of the upcoming “Star Wars” installment “Rogue One.”
Jodie Foster, whose most recent directing effort was Sony’s “Money Monster,” took home the Stanley Kubrick Award for Excellence, presented by Jennifer Lawrence, her star in “The Beaver.” They sat together at a center table, and Lawrence gave a sincere (and professionally drafted) speech in support of her mentor. “It is rare for actors to go to college and for women to direct,” Lawrence pointed out, adding that the two actresses share a common theme in their films: “White trash with too much responsibility!”
Why did Lawrence go out of her way for Foster? She genuinely admires her, but she’s also in the Best Actress race for Foster’s “Money Monster” distributor Sony’s yet-unseen “Passengers.” Foster called out her two sons and her wife in the room and thanked Hollywood for letting her tell true stories: “I’m not done yet!”
Excellence in Directing went to Taiwan-born Ang Lee, whose tribute reel reminded the audience of his extraordinary Oscar-rewarded achievements to date on such films as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Life of Pi.”
This year’s would-be Oscar contender, Sony/TriStar’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” may be another technical pioneering effort —much like “The Hulk,” in the sense that the film, shot in 3D with a fast frame rate (120 vs. the usual 24 fps), is ahead of its time. Lee gave a charming off the cuff speech thanking his presenter Jake Gyllenhaal (an Oscar hopeful for “Nocturnal Animals”) who recalled the fervor surrounding the romance 11 years ago. His taciturn director beamed after his “Brokeback” love scene with Heath Ledger. “So gay!” Lee said.
Accepting the humanitarian award was Ewan McGregor, who exhorted the room to help organizations like Unicef to look after children, who have done nothing to deserve the wars that disrupt their young lives. “They’re just kids!” said the actor-director, whose directing debut “American Pastoral” (Focus Features), an adaptation of the Philip Roth classic, failed to achieve lift-off. His presenter, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, plays feather duster Plumette to Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere in Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of “The Beauty and the Beast” (2017), directed by Bill Condon.
Ricky Gervais, sans teleprompter, nonetheless left the room crying with laughter as he accepted the Excellence in Comedy Award, tributed on video by his U.S. “Office” counterpart and pal, Steve Carell.