Gazing out at the packed Beverly Hilton Hotel banquet room, veteran producer Jerry Weintraub shook his head from the stage as he accepted the Hollywood Legend Award at Monday night's Hollywood Film Awards.
"This has gotta be bigger than the Academy's," Weintraub said, comparing the show to the Oscars. "There are more stars here."
Weintraub's math might be open to question but there's no debating that plenty of A-list talent came out in force for a dubious event that has trademarked the phrase "the first stop of the awards season."
Kanye West flew in from San Francisco to present an award to "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen -- and then flew back to the Bay Area, rented AT&T Park and proposed to girlfriend Kim Kardashian. Robert Downey Jr., Sean Penn, Jane Fonda and Forest Whitaker presented awards. Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club") and Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") accepted them. Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin sang a song from the upcoming "Hunger Games" sequel. Budding L.A. Dodgers superstar Yasiel Puig was even in the house, for crying out loud, probably negotiating a movie deal for the rights to his life story.
By virtue of its mid-October date, the Hollywood Film Awards, run by Carlos de Abreu (or the "mysterious Carlos," as Roberts referred to him), has become an obligatory initial stop on the awards-season circuit. The ceremony's early date does complicate things in that many of the movies and performances being honored have not actually been seen by anyone in the room, including de Abreu, who selects the winners along with an unnamed "advisory team," that, according to the show's website, is "comprised of a cross section of Hollywood professionals." ("It's just Carlos ... and maybe his wife," said a top-level publicist, referring to de Abreu's spouse, former "The Price Is Right" model Janice Pennington.)
Veteran director Garry Marshall, introducing the winning ensemble from the upcoming dark family drama "August: Osage County," admitted: "I didn't see it. It didn't come out yet. They're giving [awards] earlier and earlier."
This year, Dick Clark Productions, which produces NBC's Golden Globes and ABC's American Music Awards, invested an unspecified amount into the Hollywood Film Awards with an eye on obtaining a television deal for next year.
If that happens, the show will be forced to rein in its keister-numbing ceremony, which includes drawn-out introductions and even lengthier acceptance speeches, with long clips culled from trailers and publicity materials sandwiched in between.
"When my clients call and ask, 'What are these Hollywood Film Awards,' I have to do this tricky balancing act," one veteran publicist said. "On the one hand, it's an award, so you don't want to hurt your client's ego and say it's ... . On the other hand, it is ... . But it's ... given at a good time, October, when you're trying to plant your flag and get some publicity. That's why everyone plays ball with him."
Introducing Roberts, a supporting actress award winner for "August," Sean Penn's rhetorical question pretty much summed up the night: "Is 'Sorry, I've been rambling too much?' a bad way to start a speech?"
The answer, of course, depends on how much free-association you can stomach. Last year, the more self-aware honorees worked in a humorous reference to their benefactor, de Abreu, who began handing out awards in 1997 as a component of his fledgling Hollywood Film Festival. (“Who voted for these things?” Seth Rogen asked. “I was told some guy named Carlos. I picture Carlos the Jackal, because that’s all I know.”) Judd Apatow followed suit, which is probably why de Abreu didn't hand out any comedy awards this year, though Coldplay's Martin tried to pick up the slack, talking about the Method songwriting he used to write a tune for "Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
"I went to live in the woods for six months with nothing but a bow and arrow ... and a piano," Martin said.
Those in attendance Monday night focused mostly on an appreciation of their craft and their peers -- newcomer Lupita Nyong'o teared up while accepting her New Hollywood award for her work in "12 Years a Slave," and presenter Downey had to stop the band from playing off Jared Leto during his heartfelt acceptance.
In all, it was a tone of sincerity, one best achieved by Bullock, who gave a speech appreciative of the industry using the running line "the Hollywood I know."
The 49-year-old actress concluded by thanking all involved for landing her the part in the eye-popping outer space survival story "Gravity."
Then she lightened it back up a little. "The Hollywood I know," she finished, "didn't put me out to pasture. I don't want to go out to pasture. It's cold. I'm allergic to grass. And the cows are mean."
Moments later, she started hustling for her next job, fixing her gaze at a seated Weinstein, asking, "Why don't you hire me?"
"I guarantee you, there will be a script sent over to her tomorrow morning," a Weinstein Co.-connected publicist said after the show.
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