Governors Awards: Where Oscars Are Handed Out and Lobbied For in Large Numbers

Matthew McConaughey Gov Awards - P - 2013
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When the annual presentation of honorary Oscars and the occasional Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award or Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award was moved off of the main Academy Awards telecast and to an un-televised dinner in the late fall five years ago, film lovers were outraged -- but most TV viewers were perfectly delighted at the prospect of a shorter show, as were many of the show's attendees. After all, people of both varieties tended to treat these portions of the telecast as an opportune time to head to the bar or bathroom.

How ironic it is, then, that today's hottest active talent -- namely, the people in serious contention for Oscars -- now clamor to get in to the Governors Awards, at which these same presentations now take place, only over the course of several hours and without even the possibility of face-time on national TV?

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The reason that they do -- and did in larger numbers than ever before at last night's fifth annual Governors Awards -- is that the Academy, either inadvertently or ingeniously, has scheduled the ceremony each year in November and December, just as Academy members are getting ready to start considering and filling out their Oscar nomination ballots.

As you might imagine, you can't turn around at the Governors Awards without bumping into a half-dozen Academy members who are there to fete the honorees. So now, virtually every studio and distributor pays big bucks to buy seats or a table or tables, which they then fill with Oscar hopefuls from their films along with their awards strategists, who, during the cocktail hour that precedes the show and periodic lulls in the action during it, hustle the talent around the room to meet voters and tastemakers or corral voters and tastemakers to come over to meet their talent.

Some of the contenders in the room last night had more "legitimate" reasons for attending the show than others: 12 Years a Slave's producer Brad Pitt would have been there anyway, since his wife Angelina Jolie was among the honorees; Captain Phillips' lead actor/Saving Mr. Banks' supporting actor Tom Hanks is a regular presence at the event because he also serves on the Academy's Board of Governors that hosts it, and would have been there anyway as a presenter to honoree Steve Martin; and Saving Mr. Banks' Emma Thompson and The Book Thief's Geoffrey Rush are two of honoree Angela Lansbury's few living costars and probably would have been invited even if they weren't lead actress and supporting actor contenders, respectively.

But would the likes of Enough Said's lead actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is much more closely associated with television, or 42's supporting actor Harrison Ford, who doesn't go out much, or All Is Lost's writer-director J.C. Chandor, an east coaster who has been trekking around for months on behalf of his little film, even be there if not for the fact that they and their films are in the Oscar hunt? It is doubtful.

Some films were particularly well represented on Saturday night. Among them: 12 Years a Slave (director Steve McQueen, lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, supporting actresses Lupita Nyong'o and Alfre Woodard and composer Hans Zimmer); Dallas Buyers Club (lead actor Matthew McConaughey, supporting actor Jared Leto and supporting actress Jennifer Garner and co-writer Craig Borten); Fruitvale Station's writer/director Ryan Coogler, lead actor Michael B. Jordan and supporting actress Octavia Spencer; Inside Llewyn Davis (lead actor Oscar Isaac, supporting actors F. Murray Abraham and John Goodman and executive music producer T Bone Burnett); Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (producer Anant Singh, director Justin Chadwick, lead actor Idris Elba and supporting actress Naomie Harris); Nebraska (lead actors Bruce Dern and Will Forte and supporting actress June Squibb and producer Ron Yerxa); and Saving Mr. Banks (director John Lee Hancock, supporting actor Colin Farrell, plus Thompson and Hanks).

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Flying solo or with just one mate were August: Osage County's director John Wells and supporting actress Margo Martindale; Blue Is the Warmest Color's lead actress Adele Exarchpoulos and supporting actress Lea Seydoux (my tablemates); Captain Phillips' supporting actor Barkhad Abdi, who was particularly delighted to meet Pitt and Lone Survivor's lead actor/produder Mark Wahlberg (who sat with the film's director Peter Berg); The Croods' writer/directors Kirk DeMicco and Chris Sanders; Enough Said's writer/director Nicole Holofcener; Epic's writer/director Chris Wedge; Frozen's co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; Gravity's co-screenwriter Jonas Cuaron; Her's writer/director Spike Jonze; Kill Your Darlings' supporting actor Dane DeHaan; Lee Daniels' The Butler's director Lee Daniels and lead actor Forest Whitaker; Monsters University writer/director Dan Scanlon; Philomena's supporting actor Steve Coogan; The Place Beyond the Pines' writer/director Derek Cianfrance; Prisoners' supporting actor Jake Gyllenhaal; Rush's supporting actor Daniel Bruhl; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty's director/lead actor Ben Stiller; and The Way, Way Back's co-writers/co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Even representatives from movies that haven't yet screened for anyone -- but soon will -- were making the rounds. American Hustle's writer/director David O. Russell, joined by lead actress Amy Adams and supporting actor Jeremy Renner, excitedly talked up his film, while The Wolf of Wall Street's Jonah Hill also shook a lot of hands.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg