By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 18, 2013 at 6:00AM
"This is what the Oscars should be like," said Warren Beatty after the fifth non-televised Academy Governors Awards Saturday night at Hollywood & Highland. The evening was happy/sad. One minute the dinner guests were choking back tears, the next erupting in laughter. This far less formal dinner award show (smoothly produced by Paula Wagner) is a more intimate industry event, with old friends rubbing shoulders at tables and serious opportunities for Oscar networking.
Accepting the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award, Angelina Jolie, with partner Brad Pitt and son Maddox Jolie Pitt on hand, gave a heartrending two-and-a-half minute speech about being of service that reduced many at my table to tears. Me too. She talked about her mother (not mentioning her father Jon Voight, who was in the room) who made it "very clear nothing would mean anything if it wasn't of use to others," Jolie said. "We are all every one of us in this room so fortunate," she added as she described her counterpart: "A woman just like me sits in a refugee camp...She has no voice. I will do the best I can with this life to be of use."
The Bosnian cast of her directing debut "The Land of Blood and Honey" and actress Gena Rowlands introduced and her friend George Lucas presented the Hersholt award to Jolie, who also singled out her tablemate Lou Zamperini, the subject of her currently filming second directing gig, "Unbroken."
During a break --as Oscar hopefuls worked the room packed with Academy members-- Jolie told me that she had to be back on the "Unbroken" set on Monday; I had interviewed her Director of Photography Roger Deakins that afternoon in Australia via Skype. His ears were ringing as she and "Prisoners" star Jake Gyllenhaal both sang his praises.
Geoffrey Rush ("The Book Thief"), Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks") and Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne introduced Angela Lansbury, stating the obvious, that the star of stage, screen and television "had huge range." Lansbury thanked Thompson for helping her to get back on track after the death of her beloved husband by playing Aunt Adelaide in "Nanny McPhee." And she thanked Osborne and TCM for keeping her legacy alive.
Brit Lansbury was only 17 when George Cukor plucked her to debut in "Gaslight," which earned her the first of three Oscar nominations. Katharine Hepburn helped her to land a key part in "State of the Union." One of my favorite of her movie roles is the nasty mom in "The World of Henry Orient." But the scariest mother she played was in "The Manchurian Candidate." She figured she couldn't top that, so she turned back to the stage, for "Mame" and several Stephen Sondheim musicals (I was lucky enough to see her and Len Cariou in "Sweeney Todd"). It seems she went into the recording studio and nailed the theme for "Beauty and the Beast" in the first take: the song won the Oscar.
Steve Martin's high school friend Bill Taylor, now a visual effects artist and cinematographer, performed some magic tricks that the young Martin had taught him back in the days when he worked at Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm. Martin Short hilariously roasted Steve Martin--"tonight is one of those magical nights when the 1% come to honor one of their own... the highest Oscar honor you can receive in mid-November"-- while Tom Hanks more sincerely lauded Martin for his prowess writing films, books, plays and essays, directing, acting, tap-dancing, throwing a lasso, and playing the banjo. Oscar honoree Martin made the audience laugh and cry when he choked up during his speech. "Everyone loves Tom Hanks," he said. "Tom Hanks. I saw 'Captain Phillips,' I didn't think it was so funny." Martin reminded me of why I like him so much as an Oscar host.
After intros by costume designers Jeffrey Kurland, Milena Canonero, and Ann Roth, Italian actress Claudia Cardinale accepted the honorary Oscar for legendary Italian costume designer Piero Tosi ("Ludwig," "La Cage aux Folles," "La Traviata," "The Leopard"), who has never traveled to the U.S. and was too unhealthy to do so, even now that the Academy boasts a proper costume branch. "Art does not call attention to itself," said Roth. "It has to be experienced in the heart."
During the social part of the evening, Emma Thompson was holding court at the "Saving Mr. Banks" table with Disney motion picture chairman Alan Horn, production chief Sean Bailey, co-star Colin Farrell, director John Lee Hancock, producer Alison Owen, and "Mary Poppins" composer Richard Sherman. Thompson told me that there was a rare esprit de corps on the set of "Saving Mr. Banks" that suffuses the movie, which balances the dark story of "Mary Poppins" author's Australian childhood with the fractious creation of the Disney movie. It's playing well for Academy members.
After Margo Martindale and I debated the meaning of the last shots in "August: Osage County," director John Wells told me he locked the movie Friday with a slightly changed ending that is less ambiguous, he said. (I cried at the one shown in Toronto.) And David O. Russell said he will finish the final mix of "American Hustle" Sunday, presumably in time to deliver a print for the scheduled screening December 2 for the New York Film Critics Circle, who vote on December 3. He flinched slightly when I said I had been talking to his star Christian Bale about Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace." Clearly, Bale is favoring that film.
Lionsgate exec Rob Friedman, who released "The Hurt Locker" at Summit, was hanging with Kathryn Bigelow and "Mandela" star Idris Elba. Naomie Harris was also at the Weinstein Co. table with "Fruitvale" stars Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer and director Ryan Coogler, "The Butler" star Forest Whitaker, director Lee Daniels and writer Danny Strong. My theory: if the year-end movies disappoint, these two indie hits could catch up with the rest of the Oscar pack.