With the clock ticking down to the close of Oscar voting at 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday, nominees are clamoring for face time with Academy members who may not have cast their ballots yet, and Sunday night’s 10th L.A., Italia Awards — a part of the week-long L.A., Italia Film Fashion and Art Fest, and a sister event to Italy’s Capri-Hollywood and Ischia Global film festivals — offered several of them just that.
The annual gathering draws several hundred people, including a not inconsiderable number of Academy members — many with ties of some sort to Italy (i.e., Camelot actor Franco Nero, Crash co-screenwriter Bobby Moresco and songwriter Tony Renis are members of the fest’s advisory board), but others as well (i.e. “Hound Dog” songwriter Mike Stoller) — and has been described by more than a few as “Fellini-esque.”
Attendees — many dressed in tuxes and designer gowns — pack into a theater within Hollywood’s TCL Chinese venue for a night of music, movies and mayhem. Emceed by the event’s founder Pascal Vicedomini, an indefatigable force of nature, it is structured — “improvised” may be a more appropriate word, with live piano accompaniment — around the presentation of several awards, the names of which aren’t always disclosed, but which provide Oscar hopefuls with ample enough reason to get up in front of the room and hit their talking points for perhaps the last time.
Several Oscar nominees associated with The Imitation Game were on hand to collect prizes — for best picture (producers Teddy Schwarzman, Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky), best director (Morten Tyldum) and best screenplay (Graham Moore). Tyldum, who is Norwegian, said, “Italy has always meant a lot to me,” and then hammered home the point that he and The Weinstein Co. have been trying to sell to voters all season: support for The Imitation Game equals support for its late and unjustly persecuted subject, Alan Turing. To that end, Moore, an American, chimed in, “Thank you for giving us this platform to talk about Alan Turing,” adding, “He’s who we’re here to celebrate.”
The fest also feted Rory Kennedy, the American director of best documentary feature Oscar nominee Last Days in Vietnam, whose 2012 doc Ethel screened at the Ischia Global film fest a couple of years ago. “Outside of the United States my favorite country in the world is Italy,” she said, before noting — entirely accurately — that many think they remember the U.S. evacuation of Vietnam, but her film highlights its final 24 hours and calls to attention numerous things that many do not remember, or never knew, which might be why similar things are occurring as the U.S. leaves Iraq.
The highest-profile honoree of the night actually had nothing to do with this year’s Oscar race: it was Jimmy Kimmel, who was presented with an Award of Excellence. His connection to the event apparently was that his mother, who accompanied him to it, was born in Italy. He joked, “This is especially special for me because I saw Iron Man 2 in this theater,” also sharing information about his family’s history and adding, “It’s somewhat poetic: The women in our family used the same wooden spoon they cooked with to beat us with.”
This year’s L.A., Italia fest is dedicated to Frank Sinatra in honor of the Chairman of the Board’s birth. The young Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo opened the awards ceremony by singing an operatic version of “My Way” and “New York, New York,” and veteran singer/actor Robert Davi later added his baritone takes on “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “That’s Life.” (Davi also sang “Ol‘ Man River,” prompting Kimmel to crack, “I want to ask the [black] saxophone player — you have mixed feelings about ‘Old Man River,’ right?”)
The ceremony culminated with the world premiere of Marco Pontecorvo‘s Partly Cloudy (With Sunny Spells), a new film starring John Turturro and Luca Zingaretti — Pontecorvo also received an Award of Excellence — and was followed by a lavish Italian dinner at the nearby Trastevere Italian restaurant.
The L.A., Italia Film, Fashion and Art Fest will continue through Oscar week. Liza Minnelli will receive this year’s Jack Valenti Award, which honors “Italian-Americans who have made great contributions to cinema,” at a ceremony Feb. 20. (Previous recipients have included Anjelica Huston, Al Pacino and Bono.) Best original song Oscar nominee Gregg Alexander (“Lost Stars” from Begin Again) will perform that night; it remains to be seen if he also will receive an award.