Michael J. Fox, Diane Warren, Peter Weir and Euzhan Palcy honored at Governors Awards

The motion picture academy’s Governors Awards returned to its November calendar date for the first time since 2019 on Saturday night, with Martinique-born filmmaker Euzhan Palcy, Australian director Peter Weir and songwriter Diane Warren receiving honorary Oscars, and actor Michael J. Fox delivering an emotional, 12-minute speech while accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

In pre-pandemic times, the untelevised event served as something of an unofficial first campaign stop for contenders trying to capture academy voters’ attention. And that was again the case this year, as actors and filmmakers from just about every movie with Oscar aspirations showed up at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Century City to make the rounds. Cate Blanchett, Viola Davis, Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Williams and Jennifer Lawrence were there, just to focus on the lead actress contenders. This year’s horror queen Mia Goth, too, wearing a billowy red dress with a 6-foot train and an expression that could be read as either sheer delight or abject terror.

But, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to be in his room? Even Cher was there, presenting the Oscar to her longtime pal Warren. And, as Warren notes, Cher never goes east of the 405 for anybody.

Warren is the most nominated woman in Oscar history, with 13 nods for songs like “Because You Loved Me” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” She has never won, though, a fact that she acknowledged immediately upon receiving the honor, raising the Oscar and looking skyward, saying, “Mom, I finally found a man.” And then, “I waited 34 years to say this: ‘I’d like to thank the Academy.’ ”

Davis, presenting the award to Palcy, gave the evening’s most powerful introduction, noting that “as a Black woman, artist, I feel like I’m always defending my womanhood and Blackness. I am always going out in the world searching for that work that’s going to catapult me, blow up in the world and have it mean something to somebody. You said, ‘I am going to do that. I’m going to wait for the work that is worthy of me.’ You did not defend your Blackness. You did not defend your womanhood. You used them as warrior fuel.”

Palcy was the first Black female filmmaker to direct a movie for a major Hollywood studio, “A Dry White Season,” the ferocious 1989 drama about the brutality of South African apartheid that lured Marlon Brando out of a self-imposed nine-year retirement. The evening’s celebration of her work was also tinged with sadness and anger at the lack of opportunities she had within the studio system.

“I had lost my willingness to hear those words, ‘Black is not bankable, female is not bankable, Black and female is not bankable.’ Come on guys!” Palcy said, motioning toward Davis. “Look at my sister standing by me. Black is bankable! Female is bankable! Black and female is bankable!”

The 78-year-old Weir, nominated four times as a director (“Witness,” “Dead Poets Society,” “The Truman Show,” “Master and Commander”), has been in a self-imposed retirement since making “The Way Back” in 2010, though several stars — Harrison Ford, Ethan Hawke, Colin Farrell — urged him to reconsider in a video tribute. Jeff Bridges described working with Weir on the thought-provoking 1993 drama “Fearless” as a process that went on for a “psychedelically long time” — much like his speech introducing the filmmaker.

Weir thanked the casts and crews he worked with over the years, adding he believed it should just be the “crew,” as “we’re all on the same team,” a remark that earned a rousing ovation from the several hundred attendees in the ballroom.

But the evening’s biggest ovation may have been reserved for Fox, who was presented by longtime friend Woody Harrelson in a funny, discursive speech that can best be summarized by Harrelson’s early observation: “I think of myself as pretty funny … and very funny when I’m high.”

But by the end, Harrelson had turned serious, saying, “Michael J. Fox never asked for the role of Parkinson’s patient, disease advocate. But make no mistake, it is his greatest performance. Vulnerable? Yes. Victim? Never. An inspiration? Always.”

Fox was funny too, riffing about being “’80s famous” and quoting the 1984 Bruce Springsteen song “No Surrender,” noting it was a personal anthem. But he choked up when first mentioning the support he received from his wife Tracy Pollan after his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

“My optimism is fueled by my gratitude,” Fox said, “and with gratitude, optimism is sustainable.”

Earlier in the evening, gratitude was also in evidence, particularly in the number of people approaching Austin Butler, thanking him for his electrifying work bringing The King to life in “Elvis.” At a recent screening of the movie, a woman told Butler she had seen the movie 17 times and showed him a picture of her 8-year-old son dressed as Presley, circa 1973. “He had the cape, the belt buckle, everything,” Butler said, smiling.

The kid’s only possible competition for best dressed honors would be the gang at the “Everything Everywhere All at Once” table, with Jamie Lee Curtis showing off a bagel clutch purse in honor of the hit movie’s yeast-leavened symbol and co-director Daniel Scheinert rocking a blue flannel shirt, accented by a pin that read: “Museum of Modern Farts.” He procured both items from a Highland Park neighbor.

“I just wanted a little color for the night,” Scheinert said of his choice of attire for the formal event. “Plus, it’s just surreal to be here. Good, but surreal.”

Goth, seated at his table, looked over and smiled. Terror or delight? We’re still not sure.

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