Nancy O’Dell, host for the 17th annual Hollywood Film Awards on Monday night at the Beverly Hilton, looked across the impressive star-studded room and said, “This is just like the Oscars”. Uh, not exactly. It’s not just like the Golden Globes or The Critics Choice Awards either, but it’s become a pretty good warm-up act for all of them. ”We used to make fun of this show, but not so much anymore,” said one industry observer. In fact the cover of the slick program says it all: “First mandatory stop in the awards season”. And this brainchild of Carlos de Abreu, who is the arbiter and chief negotiator of who gets what, has really been growing. The studios seem to love it because they essentially get to dictate the winners and plant a flag for one film or another early in the season. No one takes the actual award too seriously, but getting the opportunity to be seen holding that award is another thing altogether.
In its early days, stars would come in the back of the Hilton, make an appearance onstage to accept an award and get a photo op, and then make a hasty retreat. Now, most of them stayed all night for the nearly three-and-a-half hour show, schmoozing, seeing old friends and subtly campaigning. One person at the Disney table where I was sitting (director Dan Scanlon won the Hollywood Animation Award for Pixar’s smash sequel Monsters University) put it succinctly, saying about the appeal of this show: “If they show up, it’s worth it. If they don’t show up, it’s not worth it”. They showed up.
And there was lots of high star-wattage in the room including various winners like Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford and Jared Leto, plus presenters like Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr, Kanye West, Geoffrey Rush, Bruce Willis, Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jane Fonda, Forest Whitaker and others. Hollywood Song Award winner Chris Martin of Coldplay even performed his tune Atlas from the upcoming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the first song the group has written for a film.
Studio heads like 20th Century Fox’s Jim Gianopulos, Warner Bros’ Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley, Sony Pictures Classics’ Tom Bernard and Harvey Weinstein were also in the room for the show which has never been televised — but will be next year according to an announcement by O’Dell. Dick Clark Productions, which also produces the Globes, has now got a stake in the event and plans to start exploiting it in 2014. Just how it will all play on TV is anybody’s guess when there are no nominees only winners, and most of the viewers will not have seen any of the movies rewarded on this very early mid-October Hollywood lovefest (hell, not many of the industry audience or even the presenters had seen most of the films yet).