By LINDSEY BAHR
AP Film Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mel Brooks received his second Oscar Tuesday night at a private dinner in the heart of Hollywood. The event, the 14th Governors Awards, was untelevised but the crowd was as starry as they come with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Penélope Cruz, Natalie Portman, Bradley Cooper and Jon Batiste in the audience.
“I promise not to sell this one,” Brooks said.
Hollywood’s awards season can start to feel a little gratuitously self-congratulatory, but the Governors Awards is a bit of a respite from the horse race and a chance to celebrate some of the industry’s living legends, including Brooks, Angela Bassett and film editor Carol Littleton, who all collected honorary Oscars at the Ray Dolby Ballroom, just steps from where the Academy Awards will be broadcast in March. Michelle Satter, a founding director of the Sundance Institute, also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
The evening produced both laughs and tears, with heartfelt tributes to the honorees and acknowledgement of recent, tragic losses. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane serenaded Brooks with a medley, urging the crowd to join in for “Springtime for Hitler.” Regina King toasted her “Boyz N the Hood” co-star for being “excellence in human form.” Glenn Close thanked Littleton for making her look like a “really good dancer” in her second film, “The Big Chill.” And Ryan Coogler and Chloé Zhao told Satter how much her guidance meant to them when they were just starting out.
John Mulaney hosted the proceedings and got things off to a lively start.
“It’s such an honor for me to be hosting this,” Mulaney said. “Growing up, as a boy, I would always watch the non-televised Governors Awards even though they only started 14 years ago. We would all gather in front of the turned off TV. It was the only time I ever saw my dad smile.”
The annual event is put on by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize contributions to the industry and a life’s achievement. It used to be part of the Oscars telecast but shifted to a separate occasion in 2009, where there would be no time constraints on the speeches.
Mulaney offered gentle ribs about Rami Malek’s screentime in “Oppenheimer” and Bradley Cooper’s preparation for “Maestro” as well as his own status in the industry, reading a real email from his agents about auditioning for the role of “young cop” in an untitled Maggie Gyllenhaal project, which had the audience in stitches.
Speaking about Bassett, he said “she got an Oscar nomination for a Marvel movie…that’s like getting a Pulitzer Prize for a Reddit comment.”
The event, which was delayed from its original November date because of the actors strike, is also a de facto campaign stop for the current season’s awards hopefuls. Voting for the 96th Oscars begins on Thursday and nominations will be announced on Jan. 23 for the March 10 ceremony.
Before the tributes started, actors and filmmakers from the top movies of the year, including “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Maestro,” “Poor Things” and “The Color Purple,” mingled.
“May December” breakout Charles Melton introduced his screenwriter Samy Burch to “The Holdovers” star Da’Vine Joy Randolph and went on to exchange numbers with another fresh face: Dominic Sessa. A few steps away Paul Giamatti chatted with Julianne Moore, while Carey Mulligan caught up with Robert Downey Jr. Mulligan was soon pulled away by her “Promising Young Woman” and “Saltburn” director Emerald Fennell and both took a moment to gush over Barry Keoghan’s ruffled shirt.
Across the room Nicholas Cage and Zac Efron were deep in conversation, while Ayo Edebiri and Greta Lee held hands and posed for a photo. Fantasia Barrino and Margot Robbie also spoke at length, sitting on opposite sides of the table, while Greta Gerwig chatted with Diane Warren. But all dutifully took their seats when asked, knowing that this night was for the honorees.
Brooks was up first and kept it light and brief, joking about having to sell his first Oscar for writing “The Producers” because times were tough. At the ceremony, in 1969, he said he wanted to “thank the academy of arts sciences and money for this wonderful award.”
The 97-year-old, who began his career writing for Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” and over the next 70 years would write, direct, act, produce for film, television and Broadway and write books, including a recent memoir, is among the rare breed of EGOT-winners. (Those are entertainers who have won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards.) Lane joked that with this honorary award he’s now an “EGOOT” winner. He also received two other Oscar nominations, for writing the lyrics to John Morris’ “Blazing Saddles” song and another screenwriting nod for “Young Frankenstein,” which he shared with Gene Wilder.
Littleton worked frequently with both Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Demme, editing films like “Body Heat,” “The Big Chill,” “Swimming to Cambodia” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” She received her first and only Oscar nomination for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” the only film she’s edited for Steven Spielberg. She was also married to cinematographer and former Academy president John Bailey, who died in November at age 81.
Bassett gave an impassioned speech, talking about acting as not just a career but a calling. She said the honorary Oscar is not just another award but “a testament to my legacy.” In the audience, Barrino stood while Bassett spoke, cheering her on at key moments. After the event, “The Color Purple” director Blitz Bazawule said it was “like church.”
The 65-year-old received her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and her second last year for playing the grieving queen in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” She noted that she’s only the second Black actress to receive the honorary Oscar, following in the footsteps of the late Cicely Tyson who she considered a mentor.
“The stakes are extremely high because history depends on us,” Bassett said. “My prayer is that we leave this industry more enriched.”
Coogler took the stage next, saying that he didn’t want to follow Bassett. Standing beside Zhao, they had perhaps the most difficult assignment of the night in paying tribute to Satter, having to praise a mentor and acknowledge a terrible tragedy in the same breath.
Her son, Michael Latt, was killed in December in Los Angeles. Latt, 33, was making a name for himself in the industry on projects with filmmakers including Coogler and Ava DuVernay.
“Michelle you’ve changed our lives, but I do believe Michael was your greatest gift to the world,” Coogler said.
Zhao added: “You’re a mother to me and you’re a mother to Ryan and to so many people in this room. We know you’re hurting, we’re so sorry and we know there’s nothing we can say to take away the pain.”
Satter said that she wished to share the honorary award with her late son who “led with love.”
This story corrects the name of the venue to Ray Dolby Ballroom, not auditorium.