By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin January 18, 2011 at 5:00AM
Everyone agrees there are too many award shows, but nobody’s about to change that situation, especially when the stars and Hollywood heavyweights continue to turn out in force. I attended three events in the past week and want to share some of my experiences with you. My odyssey began in New York City, where I traveled for the National Board of Review ceremony—because I was actually going to receive an award there. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with such things, but since it was given in the name of my hero and mentor, William K. Everson, and presented to me by my old friend Jeanine Basinger (one of the country’s great—
—film teachers, writers, and scholars), I couldn’t say no.
The gala was quite elaborate, and took place in the cavernous Cipriani restaurant on 42nd Street that used to be a branch of the Bowery Savings Bank. The turnout was large and glittery: the NBR bestows a great many awards and every winner was present. No one expected it to be a brief ceremony, but filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan got things off on the wrong foot when he spoke at great length about his enthusiasm for screenwriter Chris Sparling (although, as it turns out, his speech was as much about himself as the recipient). As it turns out, almost every presenter was long-winded—much more so than the recipients—and the event turned out to be about as long as a Eugene O’Neill play.
Still, there were some pearly moments. It has real meaning when the screenwriting award (for Aaron Sorkin) is given by the estimable William Goldman, or when the directing award (for David Fincher) is handed out by Mike Nichols. Stephen Colbert livened things up with his funny and energetic delivery of the final award of the evening, to The Social Network.
But for me, the true highlight—almost worth a trip to Manhattan in itself—was the unexpected presence of Bill Murray to give a special award to Sofia Coppola for her movie Somewhere. As I am not a fan of that picture, I was preparing to endure this presentation until Murray popped on stage and began a hilarious, typically deadpan spiel about Sofia (who directed him so effectively in Lost in Translation). Aware that the program was running long, he explained that he popped a Red Hot in his mouth just before walking on stage, and figured he should speak as long as its flavor lasted; then he cheated and popped another half-piece midway through his speech.
But I didn’t care: he makes me laugh as few people can, and he also spoke with sincerity about the importance of encouraging artistic individuals like Coppola to stay on their path and keep working.
When the time came to receive my honor I was so undone by Jeanine’s beautiful, and highly personal, words of praise that I forgot what I had planned to say and fumbled a bit. I hope I conveyed how flattered I was to receive an award for doing something I have always loved.
Friday afternoon I had the pleasure of reading the “rationales” for this year’s ten most significant films as voted by the American Film Institute jury, on which I’ve served several times. AFI’s annual luncheon, at the Four Seasons Hotel, is one of the classiest events of the award season and I feel very lucky to attend. Everyone’s guard is down as there is no media inside the event, so it’s possible to chat in an informal manner with all sorts of people—actors, filmmakers, executives—one wouldn’t necessarily come into contact with anywhere else.
Mila Kunis, who’s received her share of praise for Black Swan, confessed that while she is grateful for the accolades she’s unaccustomed to this kind of attention and feels a bit awkward. I told her that I’ve never forgotten when, years ago, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association gave its Best Actor prize to the towering Gene Hackman. In accepting the prize he said he was extremely uncomfortable, and remarked, “This is something they don’t teach you in acting school.”
Schmoozing with everyone from Aaron Sorkin and Amy Adams is pretty heady stuff for someone who is first and foremost a fan. So is Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men; he was just as excited as I was to meet Claire Bloom, who was there as part of The King’s Speech ensemble.
Bob Gazzale, who presides over the AFI, always chooses an elder statesman to make a closing speech, and hit a bull’s-eye when he persuaded Kirk Douglas to come and speak about Spartacus and his employment of the long-blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. As in every public appearance I’ve witnessed in recent years, the hearty nonagenarian had the audience eating from the palm of his hand.
Finally, on Saturday night I served as master of ceremonies for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards dinner. I enjoy this task, so when our current president, Brent Simon, asked if I’d be willing I didn’t hesitate. Where else do I get to spring wisecracks on a tony industry crowd and share a stage with the best and the brightest in our field?
This was the second time in a week that I heard the Australian actress Jacki Weaver accept a (well-deserved) award for her canny performance in Animal Kingdom, and once again she gave a terrifically funny speech. I hope some smart American producers are cooking up projects for her so we can see more of this treasured Aussie.
Olivier Assayas is the latest in a long line of French filmmakers who started out writing for Cahiers du Cinema, and he was eloquent in his acceptance of our Best Foreign Film award—for the second year in a row. Last year it was for the moving and profound family drama Summer Hours; this year it was for the riveting miniseries Carlos, starring another foreigner who ought to find more work on these shores, the brilliant Argentinian actor Carlos Ramirez.
The centerpiece of our evening was a career tribute to the great Paul Mazursky, whom his friend Mel Brooks referred to as “our Bergman, our Fellini.” We could certainly use the kind of humanist comedies and dramas he co-wrote and directed so successfully in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but Hollywood has passed him by, sad to say, in favor the new kids on the block. But Mazursky’s reputation is secure, and two longtime friends came to literally sing his praises as a musical surprise at the beginning of the night: Jackie DeShannon and Kris Kristofferson (who costarred in Mazursky’s Blume in Love).
A package of film clips reminded us all that he is the only man alive who acted for Stanley Kubrick and directed Woody Allen, John Cassavetes, and Federico Fellini. That’s an achievement that will stand forever, along with all the wonderful movies he’s given us.
Are there too many award shows? Sure there are. I can’t imagine what it’s like for the people who have to attend each and every one, packed so closely together. But for me, being a part of these three was a treat.
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