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“It’s amazing,” actress and rapper Awkwafina said of getting the opportunity to host the Hollywood Film Awards on Sunday night. “I’ve wanted to host these awards since I found out about them two weeks ago,” she joked.
The HFAs don’t quite have the pop cultural cachet of the Golden Globes or the prestige of the Academy Awards, but this year’s fete — produced by Dick Clark Productions, which shares a parent company with The Hollywood Reporter — lured an A-list assembly of pre-determined honorees (the roster included Glenn Close, Hugh Jackman, Timothee Chalomet and Nicole Kidman), and the evening, one of the events kicking off awards season, served as an early toe-dip into which potential trophy campaigns will be waged in earnest in the coming weeks.
Following a breakout year appearing in the ensembles of both Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s 8, Awkwafina introduced the event, once again held in its traditional home at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, by setting a light, loose and teasingly irreverent tone that was followed by a brisk and straightforward, if suspense-less, series of tributes to several contenders that may become familiar faces as the awards race grows more serious in the months ahead.
The success of diversity-rich films that both shattered cultural norms and box office records throughout much of 2018 was celebrated throughout the night, with particular attention given to Crazy Rich Asians — the international, all-Asian cast collected the Breakthrough Ensemble award — and Black Panther, which received the Hollywood Film Award, the HFA’s take on a best picture distinction.
“I’ve worked around the world for a very long time, for 30 years, and this is the first time I’ve been part of an all-Asian cast from all over the world,” Crazy Rich Asians star Michelle Yeoh said onstage. “I can tell you, the honor of receiving this award, and the significance behind it, is not lost on any of us. We are thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking moment in Hollywood. Such a long time for this to happen, and this win is not just for us personally, but for representation and inclusion. This is only the beginning. The doors are open. Let’s just kick ass.”
“I spent more time on casting this movie than any other movie I’ve done, and I think that’s what’s made the difference,” the film’s director Jon M. Chu told THR before the ceremony. “Our cast is so strong. Every piece of it, they deliver in spades, and we wrote to them at a certain point.” He also said he wasn’t prepared for just how much representation would mean to the audience. “I think I understood it on an intellectual level, on a personal level,” said Chu, “but to actually see lobbies full of people after the movie talk for an hour about it, seeing people dress up about it, they bring their grandparents back — I’ve never experienced a movie that I made have that kind of impact. I don’t know. It makes me realize the power of film and the power we have as filmmakers to do something and push the art forward.”
Black Panther filmmaker Ryan Coogler revealed onstage that while on a recent, increasingly rare date night with his wife, Zinzi Evans, that found themselves at Target, he was struck by a subtle illuminating moment regarding the film’s considerable impact.
“We were in the costume section because it was before Halloween, and I was talking and looking at something else, and Zinzi tapped me and said, ‘Hey, check this out.’ It was a Hispanic family in the costume section, and a young man was about 8 years old, and he reached up on the costume shelf and snatched up T’Challa’s costume, and talked to his mom about getting it and threw it in the basket, And that was something that was so, so rewarding. … That kid felt powerful dressing like an African superhero,” said Coogler.
The Marvel Studios film’s producer Nate Moore told THR the resounding success of Black Panther has the company looking closely at its fabled library of superpowered characters for more heroes that will have significant cultural resonance.
“It’s definitely a factor,” he said. “I think representation is important. I think even inside Marvel, we did not realize how important it could be until Black Panther came out, and you get to see kids finally feeling like they’re represented. The truth is, there are a ton of groups that feel underrepresented, and there are stories to be told in all those groups, all those subcultures, that are also really resonant for everyone.
“I think we have a responsibility as storytellers, frankly, and audiences want it,” continued Moore. “We’re behind the curve. Audiences are willing to embrace a lot of things that I think traditionally people have said they aren’t, and I think for us, it is smart as storytellers to tell those stories.”
Hollywood’s increasing appetite for diverse representation was also reflected with trophies awarded to Green Book, which celebrates an unlikely true-life friendship between a classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) and a rough-around-the-edges bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) in the Deep South of the 1960s, which collected awards for its ensemble cast and its screenwriting team, which included director Peter Farrelly.
“I did know that it resonated today big time, but it wasn’t something we focused on,” Farrelly told THR. “I wasn’t trying to make a message movie. I think if you focus on making a message movie, you lose your way. The message doesn’t come through. I remember seeing the movie the first time, and realizing, ‘Wow, there’s a great message in here,’ but it was sort of the result of this relationship.”
Emerging new talents singles out were schoolteacher-turned-actress Yalitza Aparicio (Roma) as New Hollywood Actress, John David Washington (BlackKklansman) as Hollywood Breakout Performance Actor, Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) as Hollywood Breakout Performance Actress and Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen (Beautiful Boy) as Hollywood Breakthrough Director.
There was a theme of a desire for optimism amid the fraught real-world politics of the moment that also pervaded the proceedings, as evidenced by filmmaker Damien Chazelle’s comments after collecting the Hollywood Director Award for his Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, which focused on the astronaut and his wife’s efforts to move forward following the death of their young daughter, ultimately culminating with Armstrong taking the first human steps on the surface of the moon.
“In this climate, their story gives me a certain amount of hope, because it reminds me that all of us ordinary, flawed, fallible human beings, when pushed, can be capable of anything and everything,” said Chazelle, who noted he’d initially turned the project down until he learned of the Armstrong’s tragic backstory. “That’s something that I’ve tried to learn from. It was a huge honor to get to tell a story about that. I want to thank the producers for not taking ‘no’ for an answer from me … and most of all, I want to thank the astronaut families for what they did, for their perseverance, and for their sacrifice.”
Along with Awkwafina’s steady stream of one-liners, Anne Hathaway pumped a much-appreciated dose of levity into the ceremony while paying tribute to her Les Miserables co-star Jackman, recipient of the Hollywood Actor Award for his turn as scandal-stricken presidential candidate Gary Hart in The Front Runner.
Hathaway playfully mocked the actor’s sterling reputation: “I once saw Hugh Jackman, the nicest guy in Hollywood, lose his shit!” But in Hathaway’s telling, his low point was merely a mildly terse acknowledgment of the many rigorous demands of making their film together. “Hugh drew in a ragged, powerful breath, locked his gaze on mine, and said through gritted teeth, ‘Annie, it’s a lot. It’s a lot,’ she quoted in a clenched take on the actor’s Aussie accent. “That’s it. That’s the worst behavior I’ve ever seen.”
“Annie, you make me sound so annoying,” laughed Jackman onstage.
On the red carpet before the ceremony, the actor told THR that The Front Runner tested him in unexpected ways as well. “I’d never played anyone alive before, who I knew was going to see the movie,” Jackman said. “Someone I call a friend and who is super intelligent. Who he is, is a different type of character that I’ve played, very different to who I am as a person. It was a real stretch in every way.”
Showing the film to Hart was a nerve-wracking experience all its own, Jackman admitted: “I was very nervous. He’s a gentleman, so he was super complimentary about Vera [Farmiga’s] performance [as Hart’s wife, Lee]. He often says Lee is the strongest woman he’s ever met, that’s his wife. And he said some other things. If you’ve seen the movie, he’s a very private person. I feel I’m betraying him if I said everything he told me!”
In the thick of his series of personal thank-yous while accepting the Hollywood Supporting Actor Award for his turn in Beautiful Boy, Chalamet was suddenly struck by a burst of laughter after thanking one of the film’s producers, Brad Pitt, tickled by his own casualness in acknowledging a major Hollywood superstar.
Collecting the Hollywood Actress Award for her blistering turn in The Wife, Close noted that Brit Jonathan Pryce joined the cast as her spouse because “there was no American actor who wanted to be in a movie called The Wife.” But she was thrilled at the diversity on display among her fellow honorees.
“Why I feel so passionate about what we all do in this room is that in this connected world, the stories that we tell go directly into our collective nervous system,” said Close. “That gives us great power. Humans die without connections. And it gives me such hope to be here this evening, to see the movies that are being made, the artistry, the humanity, the stories that are being told, the diversity that those stories represent, that I have a feeling after being here that we will save ourselves with the stories that we choose to tell.”
A teary-eyed Kidman grew visibly emotional accepting her Hollywood Career Achievement Award from her admiring Big Little Lies co-star Shailene Woodley, and acknowledged the acting opportunities she’d enjoyed in two of the films she appears in this year, Boy Erased and Destroyer, in which she plays two otherwise very different women who share a sense of trying to correct the mistakes they made as mothers, something that rang painfully true to her, “because I’ve made mistakes as a mother. I’m always on the path to try and heal them and create a better life for my children.”
“I’m in the position of being able to, right now, give voice to complicated women, have them be seen, have them be heard, have them be understood,” Kidman told the audience. “And I’m also in a position of supporting female directors, and female crews. … So I’m incredibly grateful for the career that I’ve been given by you, the Hollywood community, by this industry. You’ve allowed me to take risks, you’ve allowed me to fall down. You’ve picked me back up again. You’ve given me a second, third and fourth chance. I’m so grateful to that, and I will continue always to give back to this community, and give back to this industry, and give back to my craft.”
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