A Glittery Prelude to Oscars’ Big Night
Governors Awards Becomes a Red-Carpet Stop
By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNES
Published: November 17, 2013
LOS ANGELES — Dark horses. Underdogs. Some who would be thrilled just for a nomination.
Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The annual Governors Awards banquet of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in its fifth year, found its identity on Saturday night: It is where some of the most dazzling people ever to be overlooked can go to be seen.
“The Governors Awards are considered the highest honor an actor can receive in mid-November,” said Martin Short, as he teed up the presentation of an honorary Oscar to Steve Martin.
Mr. Short caught the mood of an evening that he described as “one of those magical moments when the 1 percent gather to honor some of their own.”
First held in 2009, the Governors Awards started as a low-key, parlor-style celebration that was meant to push the honorary Oscars, and their aging recipients, out of the annual telecast. But it now has a full-blown red-carpet walk and has evolved into a free-for-all campaign stop for those who want to be seen as candidates for the current round of Oscars, though almost no significant film awards or nominations have yet been conferred.
“It’s has become a very hot ticket, one of the hottest actually, in part because of the timing,” said Sue Kroll, president of marketing at Warner Bros., who was on hand at Saturday’s event. “Everyone is still in the race.”
On Saturday, in front of a giant Hollywood ballroom that will hold the official Oscar night reception on March 2, a parade of toastmasters made up for decades of near misses and recognition deferred.
In a speech by Tom Hanks, for instance, Mr. Martin was compared favorably to the likes of Voltaire. But after working on more than three dozen movies, including “Shopgirl” and “Roxanne,” this actor-writer-producer-musician had never won an Academy Award.
Neither had the costume designer Piero Tosi, nor the actress Angela Lansbury, who also got honorary Oscars, though Angelina Jolie — who was given an award for humanitarian work — had been named best supporting actress in 2000 for her work in “Girl, Interrupted.”
Ms. Lansbury, who received an Oscar nomination in 1945 for her first film appearance, in “Gaslight,” described having given up on the movies to work in theater and television. “What an 11 o’clock number,” she said of an award that could only be seen as very late arrival.
Outside the hall and around the tables, dozens of Hollywood luminaries fought to avoid the sort of neglect that had afflicted some on the stage.
It is not a mandatory stop for perceived Oscar front-runners. Sandra Bullock, high on the best-actress lists for her work in “Gravity,” and Robert Redford, another favorite, for “All Is Lost,” were not on the celebrity roster now circulated in advance by the Academy’s busy publicists. But those still scratching for position were everywhere.
Bruce Dern, suddenly in the limelight for his performance as a single-minded coot in pursuit of a lucky break in “Nebraska,” was planted squarely in front of the main entrance. Wispy-haired, with a glowing smile, he stood next to June Squibb, who plays his long-suffering wife in the film.
At the CBS Films table, Oscar Isaac, the not entirely famous star of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” kept company for a while with the CBS chief executive Les Moonves. Mr. Isaac then hustled off to another Oscar campaign stop: an official academy screening of his film that was taking place elsewhere.
During the cocktail hour, Ben Stiller, a hopeful for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” was in aw-shucks mode. “I’ve been to the Oscars as a presenter before, but all of this is new to me,” he said.
Some of it may work.
Mr. Hanks, presumably hoping that both his “Captain Phillips” and “Saving Mr. Banks” will be recognized, got a boost from Mr. Short, who introduced him as an Oscar winner “from the 1990s.” (Hint: It’s time again.) Mr. Martin doubled down when he joked that he had seen “Captain Phillips” — a brutal drama about Somali piracy — and “didn’t think it was so funny.”
Certainly, it was clear who was running and who was not. The producer Kathleen Kennedy, last year a hopeful for “Lincoln,” stayed glued to her seat across from a similarly stationary George Lucas. Octavia Spencer, who campaigned heavily two years ago for “The Help,” this time was not interested in lingering chitchat. “I’m sorry, I’m looking for my date,” she said, cutting a conversation short during the cocktail hour.
The evening also served as a type of coming out party for Jeff Shell, who took over as chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group two months ago after a career in television. “All of this is new to me,” he said, shaking one hand after another near the entrance to the ballroom. “What’s your advice?”
Most of the presentations this year were canned speeches that scrolled by on teleprompters, pre-empting the occasional obscenities and missteps that warmed past events. But with old dogs on the stage and ambitious underdogs in the crowd, the weird side of show business was bound to leak through.
An old friend of Mr. Martin’s, apropos of not much, did an awkward magic trick on the stage. Emma Thompson, who eschewed the prompters, later shared a slightly disconcerting anecdote about Ms. Lansbury.
As they were working on “Nanny McPhee,” Ms. Thompson recalled, Ms. Lansbury caught her in a dressing room, “scrubbing at my teeth.” The senior actress advised abandoning the toothbrush for Vim, which, in England, Ms. Thomson said, is used for scouring toilets.
There was genuine emotion from Ms. Jolie, who received the academy’s Jean Hersholt award for her work with refugees around the world. She spoke at length about her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, whom she credited with teaching the importance of helping others. (Jon Voight, Ms. Jolie’s father, was beaming in the front row of tables, near Ms. Jolie’s son Maddox and her partner, Brad Pitt.)
And Mr. Short, the evening’s closest thing to a wisecracking Oscar host, reminded those vying for attention not to take the hugs and kisses too seriously.
“Of all the people I have a fake show-business friendship with,” he noted of Mr. Martin, “Steve is the one I am fake closest to.”