From the opening-night gala for “Walk the Line” to the closing-night premiere of “Casanova,” the AFI Film Festival in Hollywood proved one thing: If you show it during awards season, they will come.
The A-list attended in droves, vying for the attention of Academy voters. Among those who showed to support possible contenders included George Clooney, Anthony Hopkins, Reese Witherspoon, Neil Jordan, Lasse Hallstrom, Sean Penn, Felicity Huffman and Guillermo Arriaga. Even Tommy Lee Jones came to flash his infrequently-seen smile.
At the fest’s Centerpiece Gala for his feature-film directorial debut, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” the normally taciturn Oscar winner melted into a grinning schoolboy. “Now this is just wonderful for me,” Jones said, with his actors — Barry Pepper, Dwight Yoakam and January Jones — surrounding him. As for the film, Sony Classics honcho Michael Barker likened it to “the work of Akira Kurosawa.”
Another rare moment during the 10-day event was seeing the usually self-effacing Johnny Depp in praise of himself. At an AFI tribute to his career, the actor visibly shuddered every time a clip played. “This is some form of torture,” he laughed, as pals Richard Zanuck, AFI director Jean Picker Firstenberg and Harvey Weinstein watched him squirm. Depp was there to help promote his latest film, “The Libertine,” which he describes as “down and dirty.” “I’m really proud of it,” he smiled.