The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went global with its honorary Governors Awards on Saturday evening in Hollywood, paying tribute to three movie legends — Irish-born actress Maureen O’Hara, Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere — along with Harry Belafonte, winner of the academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs (“a black president America still likes,” comedian Chris Rock noted) stressed the evening’s universality, calling the event “truly an international celebration.”
Academy members filled the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center, schmoozing during a relaxed cocktail reception that was well-stocked with many of the actors and filmmakers looking to win voters’ favor this year. The untelevised event, which the academy established in 2009 to split off its honorary awards, has become a required stop along the awards-season campaign trail.
High-profile pairs were everywhere: Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley from “The Imitation Game,” Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones from “The Theory of Everything,” Michael Keaton and Edward Norton from “Birdman,” Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall from “The Judge.”
“I got a free pass,” said Downey, whose daughter, Avri, was born Tuesday. While Downey was sharing some of the expletives his wife, Susan, screamed at him during her delivery, Emily Blunt, fresh off her musical turn in “Into the Woods,” was singing along to a couple of the classic movie themes that played during the cocktail hour.
“I won’t do Shirley Bassey, though,” Blunt said, zipping her lips when “Goldfinger” came on. “No one can do her justice.”
That kind of reverence extended to the evening’s honorees. John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, called Miyazaki the “most original filmmaker to ever work in our medium.” Lasseter also noted a personal connection, saying he wooed his wife, Nancy, by showing her scenes from Miyazaki’s first film, “The Castle of Cagliostro,” a day after they first met.
Miyazaki didn’t make the trip from Japan on the three occasions the academy nominated his movies, including the 2003 animated feature winner “Spirited Away.” Accepting the honorary Oscar, Miyazaki, through a translator, spoke at length of good fortune, finishing by saying that his “greatest luck was being able to meet Maureen O’Hara tonight.”
O’Hara, 94, worked with director John Ford on such movies as “The Quiet Man” and “How Green Was My Valley” and starred in five movies with John Wayne. Liam Neeson and Clint Eastwood introduced her and before she said anything, O’Hara sang a few lines from “Danny Boy.”
Carriere, best known for the six movies he made with cinematic surrealist Luis Bunuel, including 1967’s “Belle de Jour,” proudly noted that his Oscar was going to a screenwriter because “very often the screenwriters are forgotten. They are like shadows.”
The 87-year-old Belafonte brought actor Sidney Poitier on stage near the end of a typically outspoken speech that took Hollywood to task for past sins (“Birth of a Nation,” “Tarzan,” “Song of the South”), called on filmmakers to “see a better side of what we are as a species” and thanked the academy for recognition that “powerfully mutes the enemy’s thunder.”
“Evenings like this are powerful,” Eastwood told The Times. “I came here tonight because I made a movie (“Lady Godiva of Coventry”) with Maureen O’Hara 60 years ago. I didn’t know I had been acting that long. You don’t think about those things. You don’t want to think about those things. And then a night like this reminds you. It’s a powerful thing.”