Famous as they are, the Oscars are just one of many awards ceremonies hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The Academy is renowned for its love of self-congratulation, speech-making and back-slapping, and many are pleased that the Honorary Award – which, unlike most special achievement awards, has not one recipient but several – is now handed out at a completely separate event.
The Governors Awards, so named for its emphasis on prizes that are conferred directly by the Academy’s Board of Governors, took place on November 13th. Here’s a breakdown of the nights’ four winners:
IRVING G. THALBERG MEMORIAL AWARD: Francis Ford Coppola
“For a consistently high quality of motion picture production.”
Coppola’s name is synonymous with two of the most iconic American films of the 20th century: Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. But the Thalberg trophy, which returned after an eight-year absence for the inauguration of the Governors Awards in 2009, isn’t merely a tribute to great directors who are seen as having made their best work long ago. It recognizes figures who constantly promote quality filmmaking, and Coppola’s work as a movie financier has contributed highly to the tribute he’s now received. He has producer credits on films as diverse as George Lucas’ American Graffiti, horror flicks like Jeepers Creepers and Sleepy Hollow, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha and his daughter Sofia’s award-winners Lost in Translation and Somewhere.
ACADEMY HONORARY AWARD: Eli Wallach
“For a lifetime’s worth of indelible screen characters.”
After complimentary introductions by Robert De Niro and Clint Eastwood, Hollywood veteran Eli Wallach suggested in his thank you speech that he’s been somewhat typecast over the years: “I’ve played more bandits, thieves, killers, warlords, molesters and mafiosi than you could shake a stick at.” The character actor is most identifiable from his parts in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, in a CV of 162 film and TV appearances. Wallach is still going strong at the age of 95, having appeared this year in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
ACADEMY HONORARY AWARD: Kevin Brownlow
“For the wise and devoted chronicling of the cinematic parade.”
The film industry’s not just about glamorous stars and big studios, and Oscar knows it. Kevin Brownlow’s career has taken him from documentary and feature filmmaking to journalism and historical writing. Above all, the honorary award was handed to Brownlow for his promotion of silent cinema. He’s written some of the most definitive works David Lean and Charlie Chaplin, and during his obsessive archival research has fought to restore lost classics for public exhibition. The statuette was handed to him by Kevin Spacey, who described Brownlow as a “detective” who “has changed film history.”
ACADEMY HONORARY AWARD: Jean-Luc Godard
“For passion. For confrontation. For a new kind of cinema.”
Last but not least was Jean-Luc Godard, the man regarded as one of the most influential directors in film history. In the late 1950s, Godard emerged as a part of the French “New Wave,” a group of filmmakers who were undoubtedly the greatest influence on the changes Hollywood would undergo a decade later. He was a pioneer of unconventional editing and cinematography, combining arresting shots with incongruous dialogue, using cheap production methods in the streets of Paris and making movies about film fans who love nothing more than to look suddenly into the camera during an important scene. In the first eight years of his career, he managed to direct 15 masterpieces, and then promptly disowned them all for being too bourgeois. Whilst his films have gotten more and more challenging, Godard has been a fierce critic of the American film industry. He recently asked “Do they actually know my films? The award is called the Governor’s award. Does this mean that Schwarzenegger gives me the award?” As if the choice of Godard wasn’t already controversial enough, the director has also been accused of racism and anti-Semitism in recent years. Speaking about Godard at the ceremony, Lynne Littman called him an “irreverent provocateur” – and looking at his most recent interview it’d be difficult to disagree – but noted that he “he never used his art to promote bigotry.” She also joked that he “has been getting intellectuals laid since 1959.”