Appearances by such stars as Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson and Whoopi Goldberg, a clip from Tim Burton’s upcoming stop-action animated film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and a rousing performance by the “Sister Act” singing group highlighted NATO/ShoWest’s closing awards banquet Thursday night.

Walt Disney Animation Studios received the initial outstanding achievement award. In accepting, studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg paid tribute to Roy Disney, credited with the resurgence of the studio’s animation division.

“He’s a visionary,” he told the audience at Bally’s Hotel & Casino. “Nine years ago, most people in Hollywood said animated films were just for children and everyone believed animation was gone — except for Roy Disney.”

Katzenberg also seized the opportunity to plug Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which will be released in November. “It will go to new lengths in animation,” he said. “It will be unique and original … like Tim Burton’s hair.”

The Disney topper introduced a crowd-pleasing, five-minute clip from the film , which featured an onstage performance by Danny Elfman. The composer, who has composed the scores for all of Burton’s movies, is writing the music and songs for “Nightmare” and lending his voice to the main character.

One of the evening’s most eagerly awaited moments was the appearance by Clint Eastwood, who was honored as the NATO/ShoWest director of the year.

After a slick trailer that featured clips from the 16 films directed by Eastwood, including the Oscar-nominated “Unforgiven,” Eastwood told the exhibitors: “I’m going to give a rather lengthy acceptance speech. If you believe that, I’ve got some swamp land to sell you.”

Eastwood also praised the exhibitors. “You recognized me long before it was fashionable,” he said.

The evening switched into a high-octane comedy mode as comedian Barry Humphries — dressed as his alter ego, Dame Edna — appeared onstage to introduce NATO/ShoWest’s male star of the year, Mel Gibson, whom he referred to as “Melvin.”

In accepting his award, Gibson got laughs when he told the crowd, “I’m glad to be getting an award from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

Whoopi Goldberg, honored as female star of the year, told the exhibitors, “Thanks for still running my movies.” She was soon joined onstage by the “Sister Act” singing group, who belted out a spirited rendition of “Shout.”

The producer of the year award went to the high-flying duo of Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme, who have scored with such box office hits as “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games.” After a reel that included some of Neufeld-Rehme’s biggest films, Neufeld reminded the exhibitors that they also produced the bomb “Transylvania 6000.”

“Mercifully, that film was left out of the reel,” he said.

Richard Friedenberg, screenwriter of the year for his adaptation of “A River Runs Through It,” told the audience: “We flew in the face of Hollywood conventional wisdom. We had no sex and we didn’t have the five obligatory scenes that wrap everything up, but the film still did well.”

Others honored were Juliette Lewis and Brad Pitt as female and male stars of tomorrow.

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