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The 15th annual Hollywood Awards took place on Monday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, kicking off a months-long season of self-congratulations and chicken dinners shared by the same core group of people.
There is something special about this event, though, because it offers industry observers our first opportunity to see how dozens of awards hopefuls handle the spotlight. There is no tension about who will get called to the podium, since the honorees are announced weeks before the ceremony (determined by the event’s executive director Carlos de Abreu and a panel of advisors), but there is still plenty on the line. Indeed, a highlight clip, introduction, or acceptance speech can immensely help or hurt a contender’s prospects, as the many studio publicists, executives, and chiefs in attendance (including The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein and Sony Pictures Classics’s Michael Barker) were well aware.
Based on what I was able to gauge last night from a seat in the audience and access that I was exclusively granted to the backstage area and green room throughout the show, nobody really set themselves back very much at this particular awards show, but a few people certainly came away from the festivities stronger than they entered them.
- The biggest winner of the night, in my estimation, was Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn), a top contender for the best actress Oscar, who was the recipient of the Hollywood Actress Award. Williams looked beautiful and spoke eloquently, as always, but was helped most by the person who presented her award to her: 82-year-old screen legend Don Murray, “the last of the on-screen lovers of Marilyn Monroe.” Murray earned an Oscar nod for his film debut opposite the blonde bombshell in Bus Stop (1956), which was released in the same year in which Williams portrays Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, which makes him as qualified as just about anyone alive to evaluate Williams’ performance — and he couldn’t have offered a more ringing endorsement. Murray, who drove down to the event from Santa Barbara with his wife, told the audience, “She created some moments that were so intimately familiar to me because I spent 14 weeks with Marilyn… I know that Michelle studied everything — read every book she could find — about Marilyn… and the amazing thing is that there is not one thing in that film that is not truthful… it was just a revelation… she holds the mirror up to nature and she gets into acting that is beyond acting, that is being… Michelle’s performance made me appreciate Marilyn.” Afterwards, in the green room, he reiterated to me: “She nailed it.”
- The cast of The Help, which is a top contender for the best picture Oscar, was the recipient of the Hollywood Ensemble Award, and selected Viola Davis, who is a top contender for the best actress Oscar, to speak on their behalf from the podium. Joined on-stage by co-stars Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mary Steenburgen, Ahna O’Reilly, and Cicely Tyson (who was very reluctant to appear on stage but was begged to by Stone and Howard and eventually acquiesced), Davis delivered what was probably the best acceptance speech of the night. She noted that what makes a project special for an actor can easily be forgotten during “the Oscar push,” but that she will never forget how special this one was: “This cast was 99 percent women, and we all walked away just loving each other.” She teared up when she looked at her castmates and told them, “It was an honor to work with all of you.”
- Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), who is a top contender for the best actress Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Career Achievement Award by fellow acting veteran Ted Danson, received a hearty standing ovation, and delivered a characteristically eloquent and humble acceptance speech. It is hard to believe that this talented and well-liked actress has yet to win an Oscar, despite scoring a string of five nominations in seven years back in the eighties.
- It was uncertain how Christopher Plummer (Beginners), the 81-year-old who is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the best supporting actor Oscar, would handle himself upon being presented with the Hollywood Supporting Actor Award by his co-star Ewan McGregor. Plummer has a reputation for being a bit curmudgeonly, especially when it comes to the gladhanding part of awards campaigning, which might explain why he has only been nominated for an Oscar once — for best supporting actor for The Last Station (2009) — despite having given great performances for decades. But he passed this early test with flying colors, joking that he was pleased to be among the first to be honored because it was “way past my bedtime”; stating, “I’ve never been so relaxed in front of a camera”; and profusely thanking his “son” McGregor, his “partner” Goran Visnjic, writer/director Mike Mills, and, “of course, Cosmo, the dog.”
- Carey Mulligan (Shame) flew in from the Australia set of Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D take on The Great Gatsby to accept the Hollywood Supporting Actress Award. In the green room, she hung out with fellow actors Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
- Diablo Cody (Young Adult), who is a top contender for the best original screenplay Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Screenwriter Award by fellow Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino, with whom she animatedly discussed her film and sipped champagne in the green room earlier in the night. Tarantino introduced her as someone who he regards as being “in the class of a Paddy Chayefsky, in the class of a William Goldman,” and noted that she and Jason Reitman, who collaborated on Juno (2007) prior to re-teaming for Young Adult, “truly bring the best out of each other.” He closed by paraphrasing a snide remark by the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott: ‘Well, if you think Quentin Tarantino is a great writer, then I guess you think Diablo Cody is a great writer.’ Well I do, and I do!” Cody thanked him, calling him “one of my heroes,” and joked about having come so far from her “early work,” which in reality was only a few years ago.
- Perennial honoree George Clooney (The Descendants), who is a top contender for the best actor Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Actor Award by his co-star Beau Bridges, and gave a characteristically humble acceptance speech, emphasizing to the audience, “I am very lucky. I’m a lucky man.” He was referring to some of the breaks that he’s had over the course of his career, such as the fact that ER, the show that made him a household name, played on Thursday nights instead of some other time slot in which he would have been less exposed… but if you saw how beautiful his girlfriend Stacy Keibler looked last night (they stayed almost until the end and ultimately left hand-in-hand), you’d be forgiven for thinking he was referring specifically to her!
- Joseph Gordon-Levitt (50/50), who is a possible contender for the best actor Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Breakthrough Actor Award, which prompted his co-star Bryce Dallas Howard to say to him, when they ran into each other before the show, “Breakthrough actor?! You’ve been acting since you were six. You are so cheating!” Later in the night, his friend Anne Hathaway came out to present him with his statuette, and disregarded her teleprompter introduction in favor of a humorous off-the-cuff ribbing of the Hollywood Awards for not having honored Gordon-Levitt for his many other “breakthroughs” in years past, especially 500 Days of Summer (2009) and Inception (2010).
- Bennett Miller (Moneyball), who is a top contender for the best director Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Director Award by one of his film’s stars, Jonah Hill. Hill, who was best known for playing sophomoric teenagers in raunchy comedies prior to Moneyball, said, “My natural intuition is to try to be funny… telling a joke is a way to try to avoid revealing how you really feel… but I love this guy very much — he’s a wonderful human being.” After Miller took the stage and the two embraced, the director cracked about the intro, “There was nothing funny about that!”
- Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), who is a top contender for the best director Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award. Meanwhile, backstage in the green room, The Artist stars Berenice Bejo (Hazanavicius’s wife) and Jean Dujardin chuckled with George Clooney as several people tried to pronounce his last name but failed miserably.
- Letty Aronson (Midnight in Paris), a top contender for the best picture Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Producer Award by her film’s star Owen Wilson. The reception that both of them — and the clip of their film — received from the audience only enhances my current suspicion that it will wind up as one of this year’s best picture nominees even if there are only five films that make the cut in the category.
- Alberto Iglesias (The Skin I Live In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), who is a top contender for the best original score Oscar (for both of those films), was presented with the Hollywood Composer Award. Antonio Banderas, his fellow Spaniard and the star of Skin, was to do the honors, but he had to cancel at the last minute because he couldn’t get away from a fundraiser that he was holding for President Barack Obama, who is in town. Consequently, Michael Barker, the co-chief of Sony Pictures Classics, which is distributing Skin, stepped up and gave an excellent off-the-cuff intro. He noted that Pedro Almodovar, Skin‘s director, had told him with great pride that he fully expected people decades from now to closely associate his success with Iglesias’s work in the same way that they do Alfred Hitchcock with Bernard Herrmann‘s and Federico Fellini with Nino Rota‘s, which is no small compliment.
- Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life), who is a top contender for the best cinematography Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Cinematographer Award by Ben Affleck, one of the stars of the untitled Terrence Malick film that Lubezki is editing. Affleck, sporting a beard, sung Lubezki’s praises and emphasized that much of his best work didn’t even make it into the highlight reel that preceded his introduction. Lubezki profusely thanked Affleck for coming to present him with the award despite being in the midst of shooting a film.
- Stephen Mirrione (The Ides of March), who is a top contender for the best film editing Oscar, was presented with the Hollywood Film Editor Award by George Clooney, who has had him edit three of the four films he has directed — Good Night, and Good Luck, Leatherheads, and Ides — and several other films in which he has starred, which Clooney joked about: “He edited Oceans 11, 12, and 13. He actually completely edited out 14 — he did that for you guys!”
- Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Elle Fanning (Super 8), my table mate Amber Heard (The Rum Diary), Andrea Riseborough (W.E), Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), and Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy) were presented with this season’s Hollywood Spotlight Awards, which celebrate breakthrough acting achievements. Backstage before the presentation, I chatted with down-to-earth Yelchin, who I feel like I’ve seen more than my family over the past week or so, and lovely Woodley, who told me that she was very excited to receive the first award of her career, and also exhausted but exhilarated from traveling to something like half a dozen cities around the world over the past month on behalf of her film! (Unfortunately, she didn’t know in advance that she was supposed to deliver a brief acceptance speech, so much of her time at the podium was devoted to repeating that fact, which might be seen as a lost opportunity to connect with the industry. That being said, she’ll surely have many more chances.)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, which is a possible contender for the best picture Oscar, was chosen as the winner of the Hollywood Movie Award, which celebrates the most popular film of the year and is determined by the public through voting on the Yahoo! Movies website. This was not a tremendous surprise and will, in and of itself, probably not have much of an impact on the race.
- Rosie Huntington-Whitely (Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon), the British actress who replaced Megan Fox as the Transformers franchise’s resident hottie, was in the green room before presenting one award or another, and is one of the most strikingly beautiful people that I’ve ever seen. I have never seen lips like hers except on dolls or fish… and, in case it’s not clear, I mean that as a compliment.
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