The Hollywood Film Awards happened Friday night. No one knows who votes for these prizes. Maybe it's an unnamed 12-person committee, as Dick Clark Productions programming executive Mark Bracco maintains. Maybe it's solely the province of the event's founder, Carlos de Abreu, with a little help from his wife, former "Price Is Right" model, Janice Pennington, as others believe. Maybe it's the Freemasons. We kept looking at the way winners and presenters shook hands at the ceremony for clues, but came up empty. And the guy who plays Sherlock wasn't talking.
This evening of self-congratulation had, up until this year, been a private affair, long on film clips, tributes and rambling, occasionally unguarded speeches. Last year, Sean Penn, introducing Julia Roberts for "August: Osage County," pretty much set the tone for the night: "Is 'Sorry, I've been rambling too much,' a bad way to start a speech?"
But that was before CBS decided to devote its entire prime-time programming block to the event, putting the Hollywood Film Awards, in its 18th year, on television for the first time. Host Queen Latifah took pains to explain to unsuspecting viewers the nature of the show, which in case it wasn't clear the first 158 times CBS' minions mentioned it during the red carpet pre-show, is THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF THE AWARDS SEASON.
"These are the highly anticipated movies you are going to want to see because everyone is going to be talking about them this awards season," Latifah breathlessly said. "Consider tonight's show a celebration of the greatest movies and a guide to films that will be coming to theaters in the next few weeks!"
Translation: "You haven't heard of most of these movies ("Wild," "The Imitation Game," "Unbroken" "Foxcatcher," "Still Alice," etc.), much less seen them. I'm not sure anyone connected with the Hollywood Film Awards has seen them, either. But we just know they're going to be GREAT as the following two-hour infomercial will hopefully make clear!"
The presence of television cameras cut the profanity -- and trimmed the length -- from the night's many, many speeches. But it also stripped the show of the few spontaneous moments it once possessed. For an event that touts the "personal connection" between presenters and awardees, it often felt like the parties had just met for the first time behind the curtain (or at the urinal, as "Gone Girl's" Ben Affleck described finding Ron Howard) before going on stage.
Robert Duvall received a standing ovation. So did Julianne Moore and Michael Keaton. Affleck talked about his "junk." Harvey Weinstein was thanked, repeatedly, as his company's movie, fall festival favorite "The Imitation Game," won three awards during the telecast. (Nobody twists arms behind the scenes at bogus awards shows better than Weinstein.) And Chris Rock provided the rare moment of self-awareness when, cradling his Comedy Film Award trophy, he shouted with mock-excitement: "All my life I've dreamt of getting one of these, like everyone else in the room! I can't believe this day has come!"
We also learned many things: Duvall likes brisket. Eddie Redmayne fancies a good club sandwich. There apparently was a sequel to the animated movie "Rio," though we bet it's not as interesting as the film Jennifer Lopez announced as "How to Drain Your Dragon." And Steve Carell clarified that "Foxcatcher" was not, as Jonah Hill proclaimed, "the best film in history." Pause. "The last 50 years perhaps."
See what Carell did there? He punctured pomposity. That's the only appropriate response to a faux awards show. Unless you go the Johnny Depp performance art route (that's what that was, right?), mumbling and fumbling before surrendering the stage, saying it's "one of those nights."
That works, too.