Everyone's a Winner at AFI Awards, But Some Have More to Look Forward to Than Others (Analysis)
A day after the Academy revealed its Oscar nominations, and on the eve of Golden Globes weekend, the AFI honored the best and brightest of screens big and small.
Lincoln director Steven Spielberg and star Daniel Day-Lewis and Argo producer George Clooney and director Ben Affleck chatted and posed for photos together during the cocktail hour. Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow strode in wearing dark shades and looking like an all-business CIA agent herself just before the ceremony began. Louie creator/star Louis C.K. laughed admiringly at clips of other comedies that played on the big screen at the front of the room. And, as the festivities ended and people started to clear out of the room, former Fox chair and CEO Tom Rothman lifted up one of his pants legs to show David O. Russell that he has an ankle tattoo bearing the same motto that Bradley Cooper cites throughout Silver Linings Playbook: "Excelsior."
These are but a few memorable scenes from the American Film Institute's 13th AFI Awards luncheon, an annual event that celebrates the year's 10 best scripted, English-language films and TV shows, as determined by an AFI jury and revealed to the public back in December.
This year's luncheon was held on Friday at The Four Seasons in Los Angeles and attracted many of the honorees' A-list stars (i.e. Hugh Jackman from Les Miserables and Lena Dunham from Girls), directors (i.e. Life of Pi's Ang Lee and The Dark Knight Rises' Christopher Nolan) or showrunners (i.e. Mad Men's Matt Weiner and Breaking Bad's Vince Gilligan) and writers (i.e. Lincoln's Tony Kushner), as well as the heads of studios (i.e. Fox's Jim Gianopulos and Sony's Amy Pascal) and networks (i.e. Disney's Anne Sweeney).
After a long cocktail hour in which the best of the small screen and big screen mingled for the first time this week -- the Golden Globes are on Sunday night -- things got underway with a montage celebrating memorable movies from each year since 1912 that ended in a two. These included scenes from Casablanca (1942), High Noon (1952), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Godfather (1972), E.T. (1982), Unforgiven (1992) and Chicago (2002). Two that drew big laughs: a scene of Daniel Day-Lewis, in Gangs of New York (2002), throwing a knife at a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and, to close things out, a scene of Alan Arkin, playing a Hollywood hotshot in Argo, urging, "Argof---yourself!"
As AFI president Bob Gazzale noted in his welcoming remarks, part of the appeal of the AFI luncheon versus other awards ceremonies is that "there are no envelopes, there are no winners, there are no losers." He urged guests, "Relax! You've won already. And you don't have to thank anyone. It's our job today to thank you." And he added that, unlike many other awards shows, "We don't honor you and then ask you to pay for your table. We pay -- or we have our friends [advertisers] pay."
Former Disney TV chief and TV Academy president Rich Frank was then called upon to read a few sentences (soon to be be entered into the AFI's permanent records) about each of this year's TV series honorees (followed by a clip). They were: American Horror Story: Asylum, Breaking Bad, Game Change, Game of Thrones, Girls, Homeland, Louie, Mad Men, Modern Family and The Walking Dead.
Then, film historian Leonard Maltin was brought forth to handle the film honorees: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Of the AFI's 10 titles, an impressive eight ended up among this year's nine nominees for this year's best picture Oscar. (Amour, a non-English language film, was ineligible; meanwhile, the Academy took a pass on The Dark Knight Rises and Moonrise Kingdom.)
Fun facts: Hathaway, who was in attendance and mingled with Cooper and Day-Lewis, among others, appeared in two film honorees, The Dark Knight Rises and Les Miserables, and Adam Driver, who was not present, appeared in one film honoree and one TV honoree, Lincoln and Girls, respectively. Both showed up in multiple clips. Also, as Gazzale noted, 30 AFI alums were associated with this year's honorees.
Even though everyone had "won already," some appeared to win more than others, at least judging by the applause after each clip. On the film side of things, the loudest was reserved for Les Miserables, the clip of which was almost entirely devoted to Hathaway's rousing rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Also particularly well received was the clip from Django Unchained, featuring Christoph Waltz's gutsy showdown with a local sheriff; Life of Pi, featuring flying fish; Moonrise Kingdom, featuring the film's child stars discussing their nuptials; and Silver Linings Playbook, featuring funny banter between Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
In terms of TV, a scene from Louie, featuring a sexually frank debate between C.K. and Melissa Leo, had the audience in stitches, as did a scene from Girls, in which Dunham confronts Driver about sexting gone wrong.
Things wrapped up poignantly when Gazzale announced that the event's "closing benediction" would be delivered by the legendary director Norman Jewison, 86, and the audience rose to its feet to give the director of In the Heat of the Night (1967) and so many other classics a standing ovation. Jewison has been a supporter of the AFI since its inception, and also founded the Canadian Film Centre, which is something of a sister organization, in his native Canada. "I stole the idea from the AFI and I'm not afraid to admit that," he confessed, "because you've all seen Argo and you know that Canada has done some nice things for America too!" (Affleck could be seen laughing along with the rest of the audience.)
On a more serious note, Jewison told the honorees that they will probably "walk a mile of red carpets" this awards season, but that it is essential that they "just remember that none of that really matters." What matters, he said, is the work, which will outlive us all.