LOS ANGELES – About halfway through the first televised Hollywood Film Awards, Chris Rock took the stage to accept a trophy for his film Top Five. ”Wow, do you feel the excitement in the room?” he asked facetiously, eliciting the first real laughter of the night from an otherwise restrained audience.
The show that has dubbed itself the “official launch of the awards season” was, even at a brisk two hours, a subdued celebration of celebrities and their films, many of which have only played at festivals and some that have yet to be seen by anyone.
Now in its 18th year, The Hollywood Film Awards hopes to become one of the major stops on the annual movie awards trail, now that it’s being broadcast on TV, along with a pre-show from the red carpet and a post-show recap. This year’s host was Queen Latifah.
For years, the non-televised show has raised eyebrows for awarding honours to unreleased films. Yet the stars have always seemed to show up, eager to boost industry buzz for their films. This year was no exception.
Attendees included such A-Listers as Angelina Jolie, presenting an award to Jack O’Connell who stars in her unreleased film Unbroken, and Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, both of whom picked up acting honours for The Imitation Game, not in theatres until Nov. 28,
Eddie Redmayne was honoured for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Reese Witherspoon presented an award to her Wild director, Quebec’s Jean-Marc Vallée.
Despite that most presenters and honorees had pre-scripted speeches scrolling on a teleprompter at the back of the room, there were several gaffes, such as Jennifer Lopez’s repeated How to ‘Drain’ Your Dragon mistake and censored moments when stars, like Redmayne, would go off-script.
It was Johnny Depp, though, who provided one of the strangest moments of the evening when he took the stage to present the documentary award for Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. He slurred and swayed his way through a mostly inaudible speech, using the F-word twice before a clip reel cut him off.
Behind the scenes, The Hollywood Film Awards was fairly standard fair, with much mingling and schmoozing among the tables set up for guests at the Hollywood Palladium, a venerable LA music venue. Redmayne made the rounds during commercial breaks to chat with Toronto’s Mike Myers, Steve Carell and Cumberbatch. Ben Affleck, who accepted the main award on behalf of Gone Girl, arrived over halfway through the show, taking a seat next to co-star Emily Ratajkowski at a table that included much of the cast.
Chris Pratt, also a late arrival, held court at his centrally located table, letting out an enthusiastic yelp when one of the servers popped another bottle of champagne for his group, which included his Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.
But even though the tables were stocked with large bottles of bubbly and tequila, the industry audience, including such players as Harvey Weinstein, was not treating the event as the free-for-all we’ve grown to expect from boozy table shows such as the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Still, despite the murky criteria for “winning” and the heavily scripted nature of the evening, a few of the honorees did exhibit true gratitude, making the event feel at times like a rehearsal for what’s to come in the next few months of awards campaigning.
O’Connell, for instance, has never fully participated in the awards race. “I’m very sentimental about the whole thing,” he said before the show. And indeed, in a largely unemotional evening, he provided one of the few poignant moments by dedicating his award to the late Louis Zamperini, who he portrays in Unbroken.
Here is the list of winners from Friday’s telecast, which aired in Canada on Global:
Film: Gone Girl
Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting actor: Robert Duvall, The Judge
Supporting actress: Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Breakout performance actress: Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
Breakout performance actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Director: Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Breakthrough director: Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild
Screenwriter: Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Song: “What is Love,” by Janelle Monae, from Rio 2
Animation: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Blockbuster: Guardians of the Galaxy
Documentary: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Comedy film: Top Five
New Hollywood: Jack O’Connell, Unbroken
Career achievement: Michael Keaton