By Glenn Whipp
11:11 AM EST, November 17, 2013
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards — or as Martin Short called them, the "highest honor an actor can receive ... in mid-November" — were presented Saturday evening in Hollywood.
And Short's joking comment aside, the evening made for a heartfelt tribute to three movie legends — Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury and Italian costume designer Piero Tosi — picking up honorary awards for their body of work, as well as Angelina Jolie, winner of the academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
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.
Judd Apatow expressed his appreciation for Ben Stiller and his latest movie, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." Diane Keaton came out for her old pal Steve Martin. Brad Pitt was there, of course, for Jolie. And Harrison Ford made heads turn when he found "Star Wars" creator George Lucas during dinner and gave him a hug and engaged him in an extended conversation.
"I'm trying to be jaded but it's impossible," "Gravity" co-screenwriter Jonas Cuaron said, looking around the banquet hall. "It's like all my childhood heroes in the same room."
Lucas and Gena Rowlands were among those presenting Jolie the humanitarian award for the work she has done during more than 40 field missions with the United Nations Refugee Agency, as well as her efforts in countless other social justice efforts.
Jolie initially thanked Pitt and her late mother, making good on her promise to her son, Maddox, not to cry, though she came close. She then spoke eloquently about the impact the work she has done with the United Nations and other agencies has had on her life.
"I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had to have this path in life," Jolie said, "and why, across the world, there's a woman just like me, the same abilities, the same desires, the same work ethic and love for her family who would most likely make better films than me — better speeches. Only she sits in a refugee camp. She has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe and if they'll ever be allowed to return home. I don't know why this is my life and that's hers. But I will do as my mother asked and I will do the best I can with this life to be of use."
Unlike Jolie, Martin did in fact break down a couple of times, overcome with appreciation for the ways that working in movies has affected his life. And this was after an introduction by Short that resembled a Friars roast and had the audience roaring with approval. ("Of all the people I have a fake showbiz friendship with," Short said of his "Three Amigos" costar, "Steve is the person I'm fake closest to.")
Tom Hanks compared Martin to H.L. Mencken, Voltaire, Satchel Paige and Yogi Berra, among others, and Martin, holding his Oscar while Hanks stood to the side, initially joked that he couldn't possibly express how excited he was because "the Botox is fresh."
But Martin soon turned thoughtful — and emotional.
"To get an award for something that you realize has seeped into your bones and to understand tonight that the work over the decades has at least meant something to someone is especially satisfying," he said. "But working in movies has also brought an amazing gift that has accumulated through these decades of filmmaking that cannot be matched, something wonderful and magical and its impact on my life is profound — friends."
Oscar-winners Emma Thompson and Geoffrey Rush paid tribute to Lansbury, with Rush calling her the "living definition of range" and Thompson remembering throwing a pie at the legend while making the 2005 movie "Nanny McPhee."
"What an 11 o'clock number," said the 88-year-old Lansbury, embracing her Oscar in nothing short of a bear hug.
Tosi did not attend the event. Actress Claudia Cardinale, who worked with the famed Italian designer on 10 films including "The Leopard" and "Rocco and His Brothers," accepted in his honor. She saluted the other designers attending the event before disclosing why Tosi had asked her to collect the award.
"He wanted an actress to collect this prize because he believes that the work of a costume designer is dedicated to us, the actors," Cardinale said. "I suspect that he chose me because he thinks he made me suffer — a lot!"
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