Sunday, November 13, 2011

2011 AMPAS Governors Awards for Smith, Jones, Winfrey

On Saturday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held their Governors Awards ceremony to celebrate this year's honourary Oscar recipients. Actor James Earl Jones and Make-Up Artist Dick Smith were chosen to receive honourary statuettes, while Oprah Winfrey was named to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. There was no Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award given this year.

The ceremony got off to a humourous start with Darth Vader taking the stage, in a nod to James Earl Jones' famous voice role. "Vader" then removed his helmet to reveal Academy President Tom Sherak. He greeted the crowd with "How was your week?" which got a laugh from the audience. This had been a roller-coaster week for the Academy with Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy dropping out of their Oscar duties due to Ratner's controversial remarks. Sherak named the honourees, and then paid tribute to the late Oscar ceremony producers Laura Ziskin and Gil Cates, who both passed recently. Sherak said “to us, they were family” as he toasted them.

The first of the evening's three tributes began with Mary J. Blige performing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" from The Lion King, which featured another voice performance by Jones. Then Alec Baldwin and Glenn Close gave testimonials. Jones himself was unable to attend because he is currently doing a London production of Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave at Wyndhams Theatre. He accepted the award by video after an afternoon matinee of the show. Redgrave asked the audience to stay in their seats for the honorary Oscar presentation. Former Academy president Sid Ganis, who was in the theatre audience, brought the statuette which was presented to Jones by Sir Ben Kingsley.

Jones was moved and said, “If an actor’s nightmare is being on stage naked and not knowing your lines, what the heck do you call this? I have my clothes on, I know my words, and then out from the wings steps Sir Ben Kingsley and he hands me an Oscar! Frankly, what the heck else to call it but an actor’s wet dream.”

(Vanessa Redgrave was herself the honouree at a special tribute by AMPAS at Curzon Soho cinema later the next day. It was the first Academy tribute of this kind in Europe. In addition to James Earl Jones, guests included Meryl Streep, Ralph Fiennes, Joely Richardson, Liam Neeson and Dame Eileen Atkins and the evening was hosted by playwright Sir David Hare.)

Actress Linda Blair began the tributes to Dick Smith, who worked on films such as The Exorcist, The Godfather and Amadeus. She joked “For me, it was not as much fun as I think it was for Dick. It was not a little girl’s dream.” Writer/director/producer J. J. Abams the spoke of how he wrote a fan letter to Smith and was sent an "old but clean" tongue from The Exorcist, leading to a lasting friendship between them. Make-up artist colleague and seven-time Oscar-winner Rick Baker told the crowd about how Smith invented new techniques on most of his films and shared his discoveries with his peers. Baker described Smith as "without a doubt the greatest makeup artist that ever lived." Smith received a rousing ovation and said, “I will never forget tonight from the bottom of my heart.”

The final tribute of the evening was to Oprah Winfrey. She was praised by producer Larry Gordon, actor John Travolta, Sidney Poitier and Maria Shriver before a student recipient of an Oprah Winfrey scholarship, Ayanna Hall, presented Winfrey with the statuette. Hall said, "On behalf of the more than 65,000 others she's sent to school, I get to say the words, 'Thank you,'" before giving Winfrey the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Winfrey credited Quincy Jones for casting her in The Color Purple after seeing her on television. “I never imagined myself receiving an Oscar, certainly not for doing what I believe is a part of my calling, a part of my being," she said. "To receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award means more to me than any film, any acclaim, even an Oscar. It means you get it. Every single person who incarnates on the planet matters. That's what I've been trying to say through all of my work."

Some had expressed concern and cynicism about the choice of Jones and Winfrey because their film careers are not distinguished, and Winfrey especially is more of a television personality. It is a valid complaint but the Academy's choice is also an acknowledgment that Award recipients have previously been overwhelmingly white and that change must start somewhere.

Attendees at the ceremony included Julie Taymor, Viola Davis, Woody Harrelson, Ellen Barkin, Dustin Lance Black, Gary Oldman, Diablo Cody, Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicius, Nick Nolte, Peter Fonda, Tilda Swinton, Seth Rogen, Gore Verbinski, Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Begley Jr., Norman Jewison, Malcolm McDowell, Kelly Preston, Sharon Stone, Michael Fassbender, and Diane Warren.

This is the third time that the Academy has held a separate ceremony for the honourary awards at the Grand Ballroom of the Hollywood and Highland Center. Previously, they were given during the main Oscars ceremony. The recipients will make a brief appearance during the Oscar ceremony on February 26, 2012.

Video highlights can be watched at the AMPAS website.

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