Governors Awards draws heavyweights

Relaxed event honors Bacall, Corman, Willis, Calley

Handing out honorary Oscars to Lauren Bacall, producer-director Roger Corman and cinematographer Gordon Willis and presenting its Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to movie exec/producer John Calley, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences partied on Saturday night like it was 1929.

That was the year the Academy gathered for a private luncheon at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel for its first Oscar ceremony, and the inaugural Governors Awards, held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, also played like a gathering of film industry heavyweights. Between them, the presenters could boast of 73 Academy Award nominations and 16 Oscars.

Giving the honorary awards a full evening of their own -- separate from the time constraints of the Oscar broadcast, which will take place March 7 -- resulted in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere as the kudos, produced by Bruce Cohen, took place without, as Warren Beatty noted, anyone having to worry about ratings.

"How lucky we are to be able to come together tonight and seize this wonderful opportunity to honor such deserving members of our industry," Academy president Tom Sherak said as he raised a glass for the first of the evening's many toasts.

Ron Howard, one of Corman's many proteges on hand, led off the program, proclaiming himself "a proud graduate of the RCU of PC -- the Roger Corman University of Profitable Cinema." Quentin Tarantino offered a film clip survey of the more than 550 films Corman produced as well as the more than 50 he directed, including Ray Milland's appearance as the man with the X-ray eyes, which, Tarantino said of Corman, "shows the sensibility and the fucking coolness of this man."

"I think Roger is an addictive, literally an addictive filmmaker," Jonathan Demme said as he presented the award. Sharing the award with his wife and producing partner, Julie Corman, and also all the indie filmmakers with whom he'd worked, Corman urged his fellow filmmakers to "keep gambling, keep taking chances."

Caleb Deschanel rose to laud fellow cinematographer Willis, who inexplicably wasn't even nominated for his groundbreaking work on films like the first two "Godfather" movies and Woody Allen's "Manhattan."

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Calling Willis to the podium, Jeff Bridges credited him with creating "some of the most exquisitely photographed movies in the history of the art form."

Willis described his career as "a series of great encounters -- I've always had the opportunity to do what I want the way I want."

One movie star paying tribute to another, Kirk Douglas confessed that he once tried to seduce Bacall -- "without success." And Anjelica Huston, proudly recounting her family history with the actress, described "that voice, those eyes, that fabulous face -- Lauren Bacall defines what it means to be an actress and also an incredible movie star."

Hoisting her Oscar aloft, Bacall exclaimed, "My heavens, I can't believe it, a man at last!"

Although illness prevented him from attending, producer and former studio exec Calley appeared in a taped retrospective of his career. While he said of his producing career "the only thing I could do was make movies that I really liked," he struck a more ambivalent note about his tenure as a studio head at Warners, UA and Sony, greenlighting big-budget pictures, saying, "you're very unhappy for a long period of time, and you don't experience joy. At the end, you experience relief if you're lucky."

In Calley's absence, the Academy summoned an impressive lineup of previous Thalberg winners to accept for him: Walter Mirisch, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Saul Zaentz, Norman Jewison, Beatty and Dino De Laurentiis.

Hanks presented the honor, noting, "If you've been going to the movies for the last 40 years, you've been under the influence of the artist John Calley," while Spielberg sent a message to Calley: "Please know how proud all of us are to welcome you to our ranks."