Leigh, Hershey, Norton on hand for kudos; Corman crowned

The 22nd Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards were presented Wednesday, and despite the downpour outside, the 200 industry attendees enjoyed the good spirits extended to such films as “Secrets & Lies,” “Shine” and “Fargo.”

“People love independent films,” said association president Leonard Maltin. “This year we realized that there are just as many lousy ones as come from the studios. We honored the good ones.”

Long and loud

It proved to be a long luncheon, extending to almost four hours. Supporting actress winner Barbara Hershey, commenting on the clatter of cutlery, recommended chopsticks as an alternative in the future. Despite its proximity to the Golden Globes, several winners – including actor Geoffrey Rush of “Shine” and “Fargo” screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen – had conflicts that prevented their presence.

Supporting actor winner Edward Norton – cited for “Primal Fear,” “Everyone Says I Love You” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” – regaled the crowd with near-perfect impersonations of directors Woody Allen and Milos Forman. He recalled Forman calling him at his parents’ home one year ago with an invitation to fly with him on Flynt’s private jet to the Bahamas. His sister summed his fortunes up aptly: “Your life has taken a surreal turn.”

Indie heavyweight

The afternoon’s highlight was the organization’s career achievement presentation to Roger Corman. A handful of people including directors Joe Dante and Monte Hellman saluted him for his artistic and business acumen and for providing so many young filmmakers with their Hollywood education. “I cannot imagine what the film business would be without him,” said director Peter Bogdanovich. Producer Gale Anne Hurd noted that Corman “treated women as equals … boy, was I in for a shock when I started working for the studios.”

Corman received the event’s only standing ovation when he took the dais. He joked about how he was recently quizzed about how many times he’d made “Independence Day”; he guessed about four times. “Hollywood has embraced what we used to call exploitation films and they make them with more polish. This award is really for the entire independent community in all its forms and energies.”

The afternoon also turned out to be a valentine to L.A. critics, with several winners giving high marks to local reviewers. “I’ve always had good experiences with critics in L.A.,” said “Secrets & Lies” director and picture winner Mike Leigh. “I wish I could say the same about London.”

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