By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 14, 2011 at 11:05AM
The American Film Institute annual TV and Film Awards lunch is one of the year's most intimate industry gatherings, just a few hundred people sitting at tables at the Four Seasons with name cards. The studio heads show up to support their winners, and many top Oscar contenders come too. It's painless for everyone: they get to network and work the room, and don't have to listen to any acceptance speeches. It's fun to watch Sony's Amy Pascal schmoozing Ben Affleck, while Warners' Jeff Robinov insists that he's close to nailing the new A-list director to a deal, even after he turned down the reboot of Superman. Or seeing Tom Rothman talking to King's Speech director Tom Hooper. These people are in the winners' circle--for the moment--and are hot commodities. Black Swan's Darren Aronofsky is just starting to turn his attention to writing Fox's Wolverine, and yes, his mother reprimanded him for his bad behavior at the New York Film Critics.
It's also educational to see how the film clips play in the room. Warmest response by far: The King's Speech, which as a British film had to be added to the American narrative list of ten for a special award (along with doc Waiting for Superman). Was that for the movie or Colin Firth, who smiled at the screen over the back of his chair? Hard to say. I enjoyed meeting that film's screenwriter, ex-stammerer David Seidler, who's been writing for television in L.A. for 30 years. It took the warning bell of a cancer diagnosis to drive him to write the story that had always been his passion. (He's clean now.) He's writing a movie about a female Lawrence of Arabia, Lady Hester Stanhope, who organized 19th century Arabian nomads 100 years earlier.
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Kirk Douglas gave a moving speech on the occasion of an honorary award for Spartacus, reminding those in the room of what it means to stand up for what is right, against the tenor of the time. He singlehandedly broke the Hollywood blacklist by putting Hollywood Ten screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's real name on the film.
The studio heads drive themselves to these functions; both Rothman and Sony's Michael Lynton walked along Doheny to where they had parked their cars. Waiting for the valet is a waste of time.