Paparazzi party

As the H'wood Awards turns 10, kudos season now starts at starry event

Let the parties begin.

The four seasons of the year have only three months apiece. But the awards season operates by another calendar, which runs a long four months and starts tonight. On this October evening, movie celebs will fill the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton to capacity, just as they did last year and the year before that.

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Hollywood Awards arguably boasts more A-list actors, directors and producers than just about any other film fete, despite the fact that there’s no suspense as to who will win and the honors are “based mainly on one’s body of work,” says the org’s founder, Carlos de Abreu.

Actually, it’s probably because of these awards’ overall lack of mystery and specificity that so many famous faces, belonging to both winners and presenters, take advantage of the Hollywood Awards to kick off their Oscar campaigns.

“In the last three years alone, there have been 42 Oscar nominations and nine Oscar wins (for) people we honored,” de Abreu points out. “Last year, for example, we honored Joaquin Phoenix and Charlize Theron, Jake Gyllenhaal won the breakthrough award, and they were all nominated. The year prior we honored Jamie Foxx, and he went on to win the Oscar.”

But the major harbinger remains the Hollywood Awards’ citing of “Crash” in autumn 2005. According to veteran publicist Murray Weissman, who was a consultant on the film’s journey to a surprise Oscar win, that early nod of approval made all the difference. “We launched the ‘Crash’ actors last year with their winning of the ensemble award, which helped the campaign enormously,” he recalls. “It was a road map to the film being nominated by the Screen Actors Guild in the same category, and the rest is history.”

Will lightening strike twice? This year, Weissman consults for the Weinstein Co. on its “Bobby,” which is the Hollywood Awards’ 2006 designee for ensemble. “We have about 15 actors who will be attending for “Bobby,” and with them come their managers and agents and producers. It’s turned into a big event,” he says.

Celeb thesps like the Hollywood Awards for others reasons, too. Because its winners are chosen by a panel of Hollywood honchos (led by producer Paula Wagner, co-chair of the Hollywood Film Festival for the past four years), there’s no need for anyone to sweat through her Vera Wang the night of the event.

“The awards are not really voted on,” Wagner explains. “We get opinions from various people in the industry; they are listened to and respected. It’s more of a conversation than a voting process.” Not surprisingly, studios both large and small enter into those conversations.

Each award is a lock, and every honoree gets to bring along an equally high-profile friend to do the presenting, all of which helps to bump up the night’s star wattage. Last year, Jennifer Aniston handed Jake Gyllenhaal his breakthrough award, and Goldie Hawn raucously presented the lifetime achievement award to Diane Keaton, who two years earlier bestowed the same honor on Hawn and called the blond comedian “fucking funny.”

As for her own career, Hawn took the opportunity when she introduced Keaton to reveal, “I made a few movies, then I got married. I made another movie, then I got divorced, I made another movie and I got married again. I made a movie, then I had Ollie. I made another movie, then I had Katy. Then I got divorced. I made another movie, then I met Kurt Russell.”

At the Oscars or the Golden Globes, Hawn would have been gonged somewhere between her first divorce and her second wedding. The Hollywood Awards, on the other hand, welcomes long-winded candor, especially if it’s sassy and fun.

Unsurprisingly, the Hollywood Awards’ party has lost some of its rough edges over the years. Back in 2002, presenter Matthew McConaughey became so undone by tech mishaps that one bigwig exec was heard to quip, “It’s like watching ‘Waiting for Guffman’!”

That year, Variety scribe Bill Higgins opined: “This must have been what a mid-1950s Golden Globes was like.”

In other words, like the Globes’ erstwhile down-home nonchalance or Oscar’s tacky gowns of yore, the Hollywood Awards party continues to work fabulously well due to the fact that it’s so loose and uncensored.

Over the years, there have been more than a few memorable off-the-tuxedo-cuff remarks and one liners:

Ron Howard brought the house down in 2003, when he shared one of the biggest concerns he’s ever had as a director: “Is Daryl Hannah’s hair covering her nipples?”

Winning an award for “Minority Report,” Steven Spielberg announced from the podium, “A lot of unusual things happened this year. ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ outgrossed my big fat Tom Cruise movie.”

Regarding her breakthrough award, Naomi Watts wondered aloud, “Do I ever get to arrive?”

People just don’t say those things on award shows that have the exposure of network TV.

Nor does Tom Hanks get pulled from his table at the last moment to present an award to Carole Bayer Sager in place of a no-show Elizabeth Taylor, and then whip out his cell phone to ad lib, “Yes, you have a sore throat and a head cold and a vicious bloody nose. (Pause) OK, yes, thank you, Mrs. Burton.”

Which is not to say winners don’t take the honor seriously. Last year, George Lucas practically cried in the spotlight when he accepted the Hollywood Movie of the Year Award for “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” It’s the one award the HFF gives that’s actually voted on, by the public via the Internet. “Believe it or not, this is the first award that ‘Star Wars’ has ever won,” Lucas sniffed, overlooking a slew of tech and sci-fi awards.

And Keaton no doubt meant it when she said of her lifetime achievement kudo: “This is very exciting — right here in our town. Hollywood. It’s kind of dreamy.”

The Hollywood Awards’ no-holds-barred party is sponsored by Starz this year, but the cabler won’t televise it, and has no plans to do so in the future.

It’s just as well. The party invariably begins with cocktails and rolls on through a complete wine-filled meal, resulting in the well-lubricated introductions and acceptance speeches that have become the fete’s trademark.

As Wagner opines, the party does exactly what it’s supposed to do. “It is really one of the most fun events in Hollywood, and people use it as an opportunity to get the buzz going on their movies — and why shouldn’t they?”

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