Thrill of a lifetime?

For all its reputation for unpredictability, this much is true about the entertainment business: By the time you turn 50, you will have a minimum of one lifetime achievement award.

If you don't, you should have taken your family's advice and gone to law school.

Once a prestigious honor recognizing decades of pioneering work, the lifetime achievement award has become a cottage industry of gush.

These cliched, hyperbolic honors are now handed out at award shows like so much swag, treats dished out by an industry that loves to love itself.

Obscure film festivals present them to get stars to show up. Fundraisers promote them so people will buy tables. Third-rate events use them to lure stars and filmmakers who can't be called "an artistic genius" too many times.

Leonard DiCaprio got a Lifetime Achievement Award at age 30 from a film festival in Santa Barbara. Clint Eastwood, still at the top of his game, seems to get one every week, as if he's headed for a rest home, including one recently from the Directors Guild of America.

Michael Jackson has at least seven, and probably more. And I'm not counting the "Best Selling Pop Male Artist of the Millennium" tribute, which he received at the end of the last one, leaving in the dust every troubadour in 16th Century Europe.

Shirley MacLaine has a batch of them on her mantle — including the American Comedy Awards, the Denver International Film Festival and, last month, the Palm Springs International Film Festival. If anyone deserves multiple life achievement awards, it's her.

Then there are the Grammys, scheduled for Wednesday at Staples Center. This show gives out lifetime achievement awards by the truckload.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences will bestow seven lifetime honors to the living and dead at a special ceremony this year. But all told, the real tally is 13 or 14 people, if you take into account, for instance, that there were three members of the British rock group Cream.

There's something to be said for honoring people sooner than later when they work in a business where the average lifespan is constantly under siege from sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

But like most award shows, the Grammys started small, then suffered a bad case of swelling kudos.

It began by honoring a single artist, Bing Crosby, with a lifetime achievement award in 1962. For the next few years, the limit was one person. Who could argue with honoring Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald or Elvis Presley?

Then the awards multiplied like rabbits.

Neil Portnow, president of NARAS, defends the lifetime decision-making process as a serious evaluation in which only the best get through a "blue ribbon committee of experts" that filters out the undeserving for trustees.

He said the awards are given out in a poignant ceremony that means a lot to the musicians and their families. In November, Portnow said, Richard Pryor was genuinely moved when he learned trustees voted to give him one for his comedy albums. Pryor died Dec. 1, and his family plans to accept.

Portnow also argues that the Grammys remain one of the few life achievement love fests that still have some cache. In other words, a lifetime achievement award with the name "Grammy" on it is a lot better than the generic brand.

That's all well and good. But last year a record 10 were awarded, including two to entire musical families.

One can only wonder if the guys in Devo will wear those goofy red helmets when their turn inevitably comes up.

From the e-mail bag…
Needless to say, last week's Oscar nominations, and the related column in this space, brought a number of opinionated comments. Here's a sampling:

-- "Going to the movies used to be a magical experience. Not anymore. The five best picture nominees were a pretty gloomy bunch. I would not be thrilled to give any of them the award for best picture. Although I would vote for 'Crash' if I had a vote, to me 'King Kong' is what movies are all about. However, because it didn't pull in $200 million the first week out, it is declared to be out of the running for best picture, even with favorable reviews." (Rob Wills, suburban Toronto teacher)

-- "People don't go and see movies for the sake of the movie, they go and see their favorite star — Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, etc. I'm sure 'Capote' is a great film. However, who is Philip Seymour Hoffman? Until now, I'd never heard of him." (Nicole Wright, Memphis business consultant)

-- "For one audience member who saw the nominated movies and performances, they are cheered. There are almost two dozen additional performances that could have been nominated without anyone realistically suggesting that the quality of the nominations was in question. Regardless of the TV broadcast, the nominations are quality. And, for some people, quality films are what the Oscars are about." (Jude Bourque, Baton Rouge lawyer)

-- Finally, reader Rick Brewer in the University of North Carolina Sports Information Department suggested a way of cutting down on Oscar acceptance babble:

"How about allowing all winners to use 'Thank you' only twice. And they can't list 20 people — just one or two individuals or cover everyone with 'cast and crew' and/or 'family'… And, if there's any major deviation from the guidelines, simply start showing a clip from the film on one of the large screens."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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