Oscars: Who Deserves the Academy's Governors Awards? (Analysis)

The 48-member Board of Governors meets tonight to bestow as many as four total awards that can include honorary Oscars, a Thalberg Award and a Hersholt Award.
Scott Feinberg
Actress Kristen Stewart, right, chats with a friend at the 2012 Governors Awards ceremony.

On Tuesday night, the Academy's 48-member Board of Governors will convene for the first time since elections were held a month ago, and, among other things, will determine which members of the film community will be honored at the Governors Awards later this fall.

According to an Academy source, every one of the roughly 6,000 Academy members were invited to submit suggestions this year about who should be honored with each of the three awards that can be presented at the ceremony: an honorary Oscar (presented each year as sort of a lifetime achievement award), an Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (given periodically -- only 39 times, thus far -- to a producer with an impressive body of work) or a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (the least frequently presented award -- it has been awarded only 35 times -- given to someone who has done important work for others).

On Tuesday night, board members will officially winnow the list down to no more than four honorees, per Academy rules.

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The process works as follows: Each governor can nominate as many people as he or she wishes for each award. The names are then posted in the board's meeting room. Each governor can then can vote for one nominee to receive one award. The nominee who has the most support is then put before the entire group for a yes or no vote; should the majority of those votes prove to be yes, then that person is confirmed as a winner. Then the process repeats itself, until a second and then a third honoree is chosen. For a fourth and final award to be given, the threshold increases to a two-thirds majority. In other words, the Academy would like to see at least three honorees, but no more than four, and has a system that guarantees that a potential fourth honoree is at least as widely regarded as the initial three choices.

The honorees' names will be released to the press once all of them have been contacted; if they cannot be reached on Tuesday night -- the verdict tends to come very late, especially for those who live on the East Coast -- then the news release will almost certainly come on Wednesday morning.

Based on who currently sits on the Academy's board, who has not received proper Academy recognition in the past, the lack of women among the Academy's past nominees and the fields that have not been represented by a recent honoree, it is possible to formulate educated guesses about who might hear from newly elected Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Tuesday.

Following is a list of possible candidates.

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Directors: 91-year-old Alain Resnais (never nominated, despite making many French New Wave classics including Hiroshima, mon amour; Last Year at Marienbad; and Muriel); 75-year-old Ridley Scott (zero-for-three nominations: Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down); and 85-year-old James Ivory (the surviving half of the Merchant-Ivory team that became synonymous with period costume dramas such as the three that were nominated for best picture -- A Room With a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day).

Actors: 85-year-old James Garner (the once-nominated -- for Murphy's Romance -- star of the classics The Great Escape, The Americanization of Emily, The Children's Hour and Victor Victoria); 88-year-old Hal Holbrook (beloved character actor -- best known for All the President's Men -- who scored his one and only nom for Into the Wild); 73-year-old Martin Sheen (the never-nominated star of classics including Badlands and Apocalypse Now); 77-year-old Albert Finney (zero-for-five nominations -- including a nom for his starring role in the best picture Oscar winner Tom Jones -- though he has declined to attend the Oscars every time he has been nominated); 80-year-old Gene Wilder (beloved comedy actor who went zero-for-two on nominations, losing for both his supporting work in The Producers and for writing Young Frankenstein with Mel Brooks); 81-year-old Omar Sharif (nominated and lost for Lawrence of Arabia but not nominated for Doctor Zhivago or Funny Girl); and 84-year-old Max von Sydow (a two-time acting nominee, for Pelle the Conqueror and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close).

Actresses: 83-year-old Gena Rowlands (the twice-nominated actress who gave many landmark performances in films that helped to redefine indie cinema); 89-year-old Doris Day (one of the biggest box-office stars of her era -- only once nominated for an Oscar -- and a longtime philanthropist, but also a recluse who has declined to accept similar awards in-person in the past); 79-year-old Cicely Tyson (a trailblazing and influential black actress who scored an Oscar nom for Sounder); 81-year-old Debbie Reynolds (the once-nominated actress best known for the classic Singin' in the Rain and for being one of the great champions of Hollywood's Golden Age); 82-year-old Leslie Caron (the twice-nominated dancing star of best picture Oscar winners An American in Paris and Gigi); 80-year-old Kim Novak (one of the all-time-great beauties and the star of the film that was recently voted the greatest ever, Vertigo); 93-year-old Maureen O'Hara (the never-nominated star of many classics, including The Quiet Man); 87-year-old Angela Lansbury (the thrice-nominated character actress known for classics from Gaslight to The Manchurian Candidate to Beauty and the Beast); 69-year-old Catherine Deneuve (the once-nominated star of numerous foreign classics and an all-time-great beauty); 85-year-old Jeanne Moreau (the never-nominated star of numerous foreign classics and another all-time-great beauty); and 86-year-old Gina Lollobrigidia (ditto).

Producers: 83-year-old Robert Evans (the former Paramount executive produced a number of classic films but has only one best picture nomination, for Chinatown, to his name); 75-year-old Alan Ladd Jr. (he won one best picture Oscar for Braveheart, but that doesn't begin to represent the breadth of his career); and 61-year-old Harvey Weinstein and 55-year-old Scott Rudin -- both are among the most prolific producers of their generation, but it might be too soon for them to graduate to legendary status.

Screenwriters: 70-year-old Mike Leigh (the British director has earned five screenwriting noms and two more for directing), 64-year-old Lawrence Kasdan (three screenwriting noms, beginning with The Big Chill, but no win) and 76-year-old Philip Kaufman (one screenwriter nom for 1988's The Unbearable Lightness of Being). 

Documentary filmmakers: 71-year-old Werner Herzog; 86-year-old Albert Maysles; and 83-year-old Frederick Wiseman.

Composer: 76-year-old Philip Glass (zero-for-three nominations).

Costume designers: 86-year-old Piero Tosi (zero-for-five nominations, including ones for The Leopard and La Cage Aux Folles); 82-year-old Patricia Norris (zero-for-five nominations, including ones for Days of Heaven and The Elephant Man).

Visual effects artists: 71-year-old Douglas Trumbull (zero-for-three in competitive categories but has two tech awards under his belt thanks to work on films including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and The Tree of Life).

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Just for the heck of it, I will spitball that this year's honorees will be: director Ivory, actress O'Hara and composer Glass, with the Hersholt Award going to actress-turned-animal rights advocate Day (whether or not she agrees to attend the event). We shall see!