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Spike Lee Steals the Show at AFI Awards

There was wall-to-wall star power at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills on Friday, with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, and actors ranging from Elsie Fisher (age 15) to Angela Lansbury (age 93), but Spike Lee stole the show at the AFI Awards.

In opening remarks, AFI president-CEO Bob Gazzale said everyone was a winner, so he wouldn’t single out any individual, but after praising the AFI Conservatory, he noted that Lee was wearing an NYU cap, prompting Lee to stand up and say, “I applied to AFI, but I didn’t get in!” which got the biggest laugh of the afternoon.

Before the start of the luncheon, there was 90 minutes of power-schmoozing, as Alfonso Cuaron hugged Donna Langley, Ted Sarandos chatted with Sam Elliott, the “Black Panther” team mingled with “This Is Us” reps, “Pose’s” Dominique Jackson spoke to Michael B. Jordan, and FX execs accepted congrats for having four shows represented in the honors, a remarkable feat considering there are only 10 slots.

The AFI Awards this year saluted 21 film and TV works. The mood is always relaxed, since there are no TV cameras, no acceptance speeches, no pressure, and no suspense — the honorees were announced on Dec. 4.

The setup has remained the same since the initial 2001 awards: Each honoree gets its own table (so the only competition may have been behind the scenes as studios and networks wrangled over who would rep each project).

A clip was shown from each, as a judge read the reasons for the panel recognition of a piece that was “culturally and artistically significant.” All the scenes were well-received, but perhaps the most positive reactions were for the clips from “Green Book” and “Pose.”

The saluted films were “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Eighth Grade,” “The Favourite,” “First Reformed,” “Green Book,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “A Quiet Place,” and “A Star Is Born,” with a special award to “Roma.”

The TV honorees were “The Americans,” “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” “Atlanta,” “Barry,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Kominsky Method,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Pose,” “Succession,” and “This Is Us.”

Other actors on hand: Yalitza Aparicio, Emily Blunt, Olivia Colman, Darren Criss, Marina de Tavira, Adam Driver, Michael B. Jordan, Bill Hader, John Krasinski, Regina King, Ricky Martin, Bob Odenkirk, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Milo Ventimiglia, John David Washington, and Henry Winkler.

Film directors included Bo Burnham, Ryan Coogler, Bradley Cooper, Alfonso Cuaron, Peter Farrelly, Barry Jenkins, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Rob Marshall.

As always, there was an impressive array of creatives and execs, including Sarah Barnett, Jason Blum, George Cheeks, Bob Daly, Jonathan Davis, John DeLuca, Toby Emmerich, Dan Fogelman, Rich Frank, Suzanne Fritz, Jeff Frost, Jim Gianopulos, Steve Gilula, Wyck Godfrey, Michelle Hooper, Mike Hopkins, Alan Horn, Bob Iger, Mark Johnson, Lisa Katz, Jeremy Kleiner, David Linde, Chuck Lorre, Ron Meyer, Ryan Murphy, Marc Platt, Richard Plepler, Peter Rice, Eric Schrier, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Tsujihara, Nancy Utley, and Robert Walak.

Gazzale also bragged that there were 30 grads of the AFI Conservatory repped this year, including “First Reformed” filmmaker Paul Schrader, who got the first of the afternoon’s two standing ovations.

Lansbury, who earned the second standing O, ended the afternoon with a “benediction,” saluting the people involved in this year’s film and “television, or whatever we call it these days.”

She said it’s about collaboration, and “That is what makes this art form so unique.” And while the awards season will have many events with “winners and losers” (and she laughed, “I’ve been there”), she concluded “Remember this moment when we are all together as one.”

For the record, aside from the FX quartet, there were two apiece for A24, HBO, and Netflix.

AFI Awards are chosen by special committees of industry workers, journalists, and educators. They don’t have strict rules about eligibility for TV series: The committee judges on if the show had a notable year, whether it’s new or not. Repeats this year were “The Americans,” “Better Call Saul,” and “This Is Us.” But it’s not a stacked deck: The juries change each year.

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