Robert De Niro on Saturday night became the latest recipient of the Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence In Film at a Black Tie gala at Bacara Resort. The award is presented annually by the legendary actor to benefit the Santa Barbara …
In what has to be a first for the normally sedate and reverential audiences at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, members of Monday night’s packed house for the 70MM presentation of 1960’s classic epic Spartacus stood and repeatedly chanted “I Am Spartacus” shortly after its 95-year-old star Kirk Douglas was introduced to a rousing standing ovation during the pre-screening Q&A (which I moderated). Cued by Academy President Hawk Koch after his opening remarks, Douglas was clearly taken aback by the crowd’s eruption and said he’d never seen that kind of response before. Koch’s predecessor Tom Sherak remarked to me later, “Did you see Douglas’ face when we did that? Priceless.” Sherak, an unabashed Spartacus fan (the original poster hung in his Academy office during his presidency and this was a special night for him) orchestrated it all telling me he came up with the idea during a morning yoga session, planned it with Koch and then prepped the audience before Douglas entered from backstage. It was quite a moment, almost surreal. It was also ironic since Douglas remembers that for some strange reason director Stanley Kubrick actually wanted to cut the now-iconic scene where Spartacus’ fellow slaves all uttered the famous phrase. It’s not the only time they butted heads. Kubrick also wanted to cut Douglas’ crucifixion closeup after the actor spent a full day on the cross. Suffice to say that idea didn’t play well with the producer/star and it remains in the film.
Tuesday night is a big one for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They hold their annual election for president (expect current prexy Tom Sherak to be easily re-elected for his third and final one-year term) and they will choose the 2011 recipients of the Governors Awards, which will be some combination of Honorary Oscars, The Irving G. Thalberg Award and/or the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. At that meeting, Sherak could also tell the board who is going to produce the 84th Annual Academy Awards among the other things that may come up, including proposals to further regulate Oscar-season campaigning and parties (a move inspired by and initiated in part because of my Jan. 7 Deadline article on the issue, I am told by an Academy insider involved with the new proposals).
Even though recipients of last year’s 2nd Annual Governors Awards, (Jean-Luc Godard, Eli Wallach, Kevin Brownlow and Thalberg winner Francis Ford Coppola) weren’t announced until the last week in August a year ago, Sherak told me he is determined to get this done at the early August meeting this year in order to give Governors Awards producer Phil Robinson more time to put all the logistics of the event together; the ceremony is set for Saturday Nov. 12 and is not televised.
This all leads to the annual game of who will and who should get these prized awards, which were created in 2009 as their own separate show so more of them could be handed out and there would be more time to celebrate the careers of the recipients than during the time-crunched Oscar show. In the recent past, before the creation of the event, the Academy’s board had been limiting presentation of the Honorary awards to one per show. The Jean Hersholt Award to Jerry Lewis was the last given, on the (81st) Oscar telecast. Since then, they have handed out the maximum of four of these honors at each Governors Awards dinner. Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, cinematographer Gordon Willis and Thalberg winner John Calley received the inaugural awards.
In terms of who will win them this year, it’s anybody’s guess as each of the 43 Governors of every branch has an opportunity to put a name in contention if they wish and a simple majority is generally all that’s required to make someone a winner. It’s clear the Academy likes diversity, repping all corners of the motion picture arts and sciences, and it seems like they have been favoring people who are still active. Wallach may have been 95 when he finally got his Honorary Oscar last year, but he is also still working.
For years, every time the board set about voting for these honors some subtle (and not-so-subtle) lobbying would take place. Veteran stars like Glenn Ford and Richard Widmark were often mentioned but never got the call despite annual letters and pleas on their behalf. Doris Day’s name always comes up in speculation about Honorary Oscars, but it’s never happened and the reclusive 87-year-old star hasn’t made a film since 1968. Director Jules Dassin had his supporters at one time on the board but went to his grave without getting the big honor. On the other hand, a large profile piece on producer Dino De Laurentiis that was (coincidentally?) placed in the L.A. Times on the morning of the selections in 2000 certainly couldn’t have hurt his chances when he was voted the Thalberg later that day.
Peter Douglas is going retro with his Montecito based indie Vincent Pictures and focusing only on remakes and sequels of such interesting 1960s film fare as director John Frankenheimer’s. Not surprisingly, most of the rights already secured are from films that his father Kirk Douglas produced or starred in, with Peter self-financing the acquisitions and intending to form partnerships with established filmmakers who have existing distribution, production, and financing deals. But many of these movies were iconic, so the pressure will be on to ensure these modern reinterpretations live up to their reputations.
The list includes Seven Days In May, the gripping 1964 political thriller from Frankenheimer who directed one of Kirk’s best performances, Seconds, the 1966 cult classic elevated because Frankenheimer coaxed Rock Hudson’s best dramatic work, and Grand Prix, which featured Frankenheimer’s fab racing footage, became one of the 10 highest grossing films of 1966, and won Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound.