Unusual choices for Oscar’s honorary awards

Selections point up advantages of separate ceremony

With their choices for this year’s Governors Awards, the AMPAS board came up with a roster that is decidedly unusual, un-Hollywood and undriven by TV ratings.

The eclectic quartet — Francis Ford Coppola for the Thalberg Award, and Kevin Brownlow, Jean-Luc Godard and Eli Wallach to receive Honorary Oscars — were presumably chosen for merit and merit alone. But the choices also serve as a reminder that there are advantages to having a separate, untelevised ceremony.

For one thing, there’s the number. Until last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences board was wary of too many special awards in one year for fear of lengthening the Oscarcast; its running time is always a concern.

Secondly, the quartet stands as an unspoken rebuke to criticisms that the Academy is Hollywood-centric (a charge leveled by pundits every time Martin Scorsese, for example, did not end up in the winner’s circle.)

Coppola has worked at many of the major studios and even began his own studio in Hollywood, but he’s always been a maverick based in the Bay Area. Godard has made the bulk of his 70 films in his native France, while historian and documentarian Brownlow is based in England and Wallach remains a New York actor.

When the Acad last year announced the Governors Awards as Oscar’s first separate offshoot rites, some within and outside the org expressed skepticism. However, after the Nov. 14 event, the few hundred attendees generally conceded that it was a great success.

By having a separate evening, the org board decided they could salute as many people as they wanted and could give sufficient time to each honoree, with tributes from multiple co-workers and friends for each person, as well as plentiful film clips. By keeping the number of attendees down and making a private ceremony of the dinner and presentations, AMPAS said at the time that it wanted to invoke the early days of the Academy Awards.

The success of that event — John Calley received the Thalberg Award, and Honorary Oscars went to Roger Corman, Gordon Willis and Lauren Bacall — may have encouraged board voters to think outside the box. This year’s group is wide-ranging and global, with no Hollywood old-timers and no familiar, beloved icon who might encourage TV viewers to turn in just to see how well (or badly) the person is aging.

“Each of these honorees has touched movie audiences worldwide and influenced the motion picture industry through their work,” said Academy president Tom Sherak in a Wednesday statement. “It will be an honor to celebrate their extraordinary achievements and contributions at the Governors Awards.”

The Governors Awards presentations, Nov. 13 at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, will be produced by Sid Ganis with Don Mischer Prods., as previously announced (Daily Variety, March 25).

The kudos were voted Tuesday night by the board of governors, though an announcement was held off until Wednesday morning so the Academy could notify all the recipients.

Coppola, 71, is the only Oscar veteran, with 14 nominations and five wins (including the three as writer-producer-director of “The Godfather Part II”). Godard, 79, whose films range from his 1960 feature debut “Breathless” through this year’s Cannes pic “Socialism,” has never received Academy recognition. That’s surprising, given his prolific output, but not surprising considering his challenging, political films, many of which never received U.S. distribution.

Wallach, 94, made his film debut in the 1956 then-shocking “Baby Doll” and will be seen in Fox’s “Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.” In the decades between those two pics, he appeared in multiple favorites (“The Misfits,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “The Godfather Part III”) as well as making regular stage appearances.

The 72-year-old Brownlow’s credits include multiple books and documentaries on film. He also has been key in restoring such silent films as Abel Gance’s “Napoleon,” Rex Ingram’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” and “The Thief of Bagdad.”

The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is given to producers whose work “reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production,” according to AMPAS.

The Honorary Award is given to an individual for “extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”

Related: AMPAS chooses Governors’ Awards winners

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