George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Leading Contenders Call an Awards Truce at the AFI Awards Luncheon

Momentarily putting aside their competitive instincts, a high-profile sampling of this season’s starriest awards hopefuls sat down to break bread with each other at the American Film Institute’s annual AFI Awards Luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday.

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As the crews from The Artist, The Descedants and The Help all mixed and mingled with one another – as well as such television teams as the talent behind Boadwalk Empire, Breaking Bad and Homeland – AFI president Bob Gazzale welcomed the well-heeled crowd, with included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Rob Lowe and Louis C.K., “Relax, you’ve won. There’s no acceptance speeches," he advised them.

Instead of pitting filmmaker against filmmaker, the AFI offered up film clips from the ten movies and ten television programs that two juries had selected as the best of 2011 last month.

Rich Frank, chair of the TV jury and a vice chair of the AFI board of trustees, read out the list of honored television shows, which consisted of Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Homeland, Justified, Louie, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation.

He also offered a rationale for each program’s selection.

He praised Curb for “this year, adding the terms ‘Palestinian chicken’ and ‘social assassin’ to the American lexicon and delivering borscht belt belly laughs to Beverly Hills and beyond.” And he described Homeland as “a taut and timely tale of homeland insecurity.”

Critic Leonard Maltin, who chaired the film jury, introduced the movies of the year: Bridesmaids, The Descandants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, Hugo, J. Edgar, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life and War Horse.

Maltin described The Help as “an intimate epic that measure the cultural divide in the American south a critical moment in the nation’s march toward racial harmony.” And he praised The Tree of Life for being “an awe-inspiring cinematic miracle.”

Because the AFI Awards are reserved for American productions, two special awards were given to The Artist, the silent movie from French director Michel Hazanavicius, who was joined at his table by the movie’s American patron Harvey Weinstein, and the entire Harry Potter series, which was recognized for amounting to “eight films that earned the trust of a generation who wished for the beloved books of J.K. Rowling to come to life on the silver screen.”

It remained for Howard Stringer, chairman and CEO of Sony Corp. and chair of the AFI board of trustees to give the concluding benediction at the luncheon, sponsored by Verizon Digital Media Services.

First, though, he took the time to observe that three of the winning movies had been directed by AFI Life Achievement Award Winners: J. Edgar’s Clint Eastwood, who Stringer noted has completed virtually a second career’s worth of work since he was honored in 1996; War Horse’s Steven Spielberg, who Stringer predicted would be back in the room next year for his 2012 feature Lincoln; and Hugo’s Martin Scorsese, who, said Stringer, “took AFI’s mission of film preservation and gave it heart.”