Four titanic figures in the film community were honored at the Academy’s 8th Annual Governors Awards on November 12, 2016 at the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center. An international action movie groundbreaker, a dazzling master of film editing, a brilliant casting director, and an uncompromising documentarian all shared the spotlight for an elegant evening that represented Hollywood at its finest.
“What an amazing standard tonight’s honorees have already set,” Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in her opening toast. “One day they will hand the baton to other remarkable talents, some of whom have not yet even been born. At the Academy, we are committed to empowering that next generation of creative talent and ensuring it represents the real face of America and the world.” She also introduced a new Academy initiative to implement that idea for younger generations to create paths for students into our industry.
Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren appeared for a heartfelt salute to all four Honorary Award recipients and singled out their accomplishments, seguing to a special musical performance by Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Heather Headley of “The Trail We Blaze” written by Elton John for the film The Road to El Dorado.
David Rubin, an Academy Governor from the Casting Directors Branch, opened the first salute of the evening to Lynn Stalmaster, the first casting director to receive an Oscar, by discussing the unique demands of that career requiring “the ability to somehow imagine the chemical reactions possible when the personality of an actor rubs up against the personality of the character on the page.” He also revealed how Stalmaster hired him at a young age and brought him to Los Angeles, serving as a mentor for many years. “I don’t know if Oprah Winfrey’s in the house, but this is what we would call a ‘full circle moment.’” He was followed by Bruce Dern and Actors Branch Governor Laura Dern, with the latter talking about being hired from her first audition at the age of nine by Stalmaster, “a champion… for a girl who could grow into a woman finding her own voice.” Bruce Dern added that we have to remember, “Every movie that was ever made was made with a casting director… he dared us to go out on the edge and take parts no other people would take.” Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges provided the final intro by sharing a story about how Stalmaster got early key roles for both him and brother Beau over the years. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be standing here,” an emotional Stalmaster said upon taking the stage and holding his Oscar. He remembered getting his start with director Robert Wise (who brought him onto I Want to Live! and West Side Story), noting of his search for ideal actors, “You never known where or when you will find the answer… and I found the answer in some very strange places!” He also recalled casting The Great Escape for director John Sturges, which allowed him to bring authenticity to an international roster of characters, an early high point in a career that’s “never been boring or lacking in surprises!”
A Governor of the Academy’s Film Editors Branch, Michael Tronick offered a tribute to the next honoree, Anne V. Coates, recalling sitting with her at his first Academy meeting and sometimes giving her a ride home with many conversations about her work and her family along the way. Her “accomplishments are unparalleled and groundbreaking on so many levels,” he noted, citing her conversation freeze frame in Out of Sight as a particular high water mark. Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman took the stage next to express her joy at honoring a “great, great editor… she’s not a trailblazer for women; she’s a trailblazer for all of us” with films like Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, and The Elephant Man. Actor Richard Gere presented the Honorary Award to Coates by pointing how she can “feel” her craft and the way time and space impact a story, getting to experience her “special magic” on the film Unfaithful. Coates herself chatted about working at some of the world’s “most mesmerizing locations” and getting paid to “look into the eyes” of some of the world’s biggest and most magnetic stars. “Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing… but my greatest productions are my three wonderful and talented children,” she said of her family in attendance. “I like to think I can share this with all the editors, the unsung heroes out there working frantically as I speak. But we do so not entirely unnoticed!”
A Governor of the Academy’s Documentary Branch, Rory Kennedy honored the third honoree, Frederick Wiseman, for his skill honed building his stories in the editing room. “He has never blinked at the uncomfortable truths he has uncovered,” she said of a legacy unlike any other, which was echoed by an appearance by Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley. He explained how preparing for Schindler’s List sent him to documentaries for research, a process he repeated on Shutter Island by watching Wiseman’s controversial and long-banned examination of mental illness, Titicut Follies. Thanks to documentaries, Kingsley felt that every gesture as an actor would be “true” because he’d seen it in Wiseman’s films like Hospital, Law and Order, and High School (which influenced Rushmore). Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle spoke about how he found the “uncomfortable, challenging, but deeply compelling” body of work by Wiseman revealed a “deep empathy for his fellow man,” something still of vital importance. “What’s kept me going is that it’s fun and an adventure,” Wiseman said in front of the crowd. “I’m lucky I found work that I like and I continue to be obsessed with... I never start with a point of view about a subject or a thesis I want to prove. I don’t do any research in advance of shooting… The editing is an effort to impose order on the chaos of the rushes through the creation of a fiction form that provides meaning to the film,” resulting in a kind of “visual novel” honed out of the messiness of real life.
Academy Actors Branch Governor and two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks “kicked off” the final presentation of the evening to Jackie Chan, a peerless combination of actor, action star, stuntman, and filmmaker. He saluted Jackie’s “enormous creativity and gift for physical performance,” an example of how great acting can manifest in many different ways while delighting millions of worldwide viewers as the Chinese fusion of John Wayne and Buster Keaton – with the audacity to “put the bloopers on during the closing credits,” too, demonstrating the real-life injuries he endured for his craft. A star alongside Chan in Supercop, Michelle Yeoh offered a charming reminiscence about first meeting Chan and using their mutually competitive natures to come up with increasingly outlandish stunts. He’s “exactly the same as the day I met him – honest, funny, kind,” she added warmly, and “forever young.” Chan’s costar in the Rush Hour series, Chris Tucker, presented the Oscar to this “living legend” whom he couldn’t wait to see when he got to the set – even if “I was late most of the time!” An exhilarated Chan took to the stage and clutched his Oscar, exclaiming, “I can’t believe I’m standing here!” He jokingly recalled telling his dad he wouldn’t get an Oscar for doing comedy action films, but indeed, the dream came true. After more than 56 years in the film industry with over 200 films, friends in China and Hollywood, “and broken bones,” he said, “Finally, this is mine!”