It’s an honor to be nominated for an Oscar, and Diane Warren would know it: the veteran songwriter has won 13 Academy Awards, setting a record as the woman who has received the most nominations without a win.
But at the Governors Awards Saturday night in Los Angeles, Warren finally got the long-awaited gold when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented honorary Oscars that went to her, actor Michael J. Fox and directors Euzhan Palcy and Peter weir
“I’ve waited 34 years to say this,” Warren exclaimed in her speech, holding up her Oscar. “I want to thank the Academy!”
The Governors Awards are always moving and raucous, but they don’t stay televised: To shorten Oscar broadcasting, the honors were removed from the show in 2009. Designed to honor artists who have made a significant contribution to cinema without necessarily having won an Oscar, the night also serves another essential purpose: it allows this year’s award nominees to chat as if their lives depended on it.
Even before dinner was served at the ceremony at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel, A-list guests including Cate Blanchett, Eddie Redmayne, Jennifer Lawrence and Florence Pugh could be seen chatting to well-wishers in a ballroom full of Oscar nominees . As it’s still early in the season and any awards ceremony is still considered viable, the ceremony was even more star-packed than a typical Oscar telecast: A Quick Walk Around the Room produced run-ins featuring “Everything Everywhere All at Once actors Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, Elvis star Austin Butler and Brendan Fraser are making an industry comeback with his transformative role in The Whale.
But eventually the handshakes and back pats stopped and the acceptance speeches began. Fox was first: The 61-year-old Back to the Future star was honored with the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which he accepted in front of a crowd that included his wife Tracy Pollan, longtime friend Woody Harrelson and his longtime friend Woody Harrelson were frequent co-stars Christopher Lloyd. Fox recalled being diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 29 and how that motivated him to start a foundation that would raise money for research into the disease.
“I realized that everything that was given to me – success, my life with Tracy, my family – prepared me for this profound opportunity and responsibility. It was a gift,” Fox said, adding wryly that he sometimes calls Parkinson’s “the gift that keeps on taking.”
Weir, the director of films like Dead Poets Society, Witness and The Truman Show, spoke graciously on stage about his beginnings as a member of Australia’s New Wave and his close association with stars like Robin Williams. The 78-year-old hasn’t made a film in 12 years and considers himself a pensioner. But Palcy, the other director who received an honorary award on Saturday, is dying to get back on set.
As the first black woman to direct a major studio film (1989’s A Dry White Season, starring Marlon Brando), Palcy resigned from Hollywood after too many executives told her black stories just weren’t financially viable. But the 64-year-old director noted that she has several scripts ready to shoot and now is the right time to do them.
“Come on guys, look at my sister standing next to me,” Palcy said, gesturing to host Viola Davis, whose film The Woman King, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, topped the box office in September was standing. As Davis smiled and flexed a bicep, Palcy delivered a rousing speech: “Black is bankable! woman is bankable! Black and female is bankable!”
The Warren tribute provided the night’s funniest moment: Following a roll of clips featuring her hits like “How Do I Live” from the Nicolas Cage action film “Con Air” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from “Armageddon,” presenter Cher took to the stage to praise her friend’s tireless drive.
“One of my fondest memories is when she followed me to an Al-Anon meeting to play me a song,” Cher said.
Warren was surprised Cher even showed up for the ceremony. “Cher doesn’t go east of the 405,” Warren snapped, referring to the freeway that borders the tony Brentwood neighborhood.
Unlike permanent contenders who object when asked about the Oscars or act like they have no idea when the nominations will be announced, Warren has always been refreshingly clear in interviews: She wants to be nominated, has researched her competition, and is aiming constantly after a win. And when I caught up with Warren at the end of the night, she was grinning like the cat that caught the canary.
“I can’t believe I have an Oscar,” she said. “I’m now Oscar winner Diane Warren! Who knew?” Rest assured the statuette will be given pride of place in her home: “I’m not the cool person to say, ‘Oh, I don’t know where she is,'” she said. “No, that is my buddy.”
After yearning for the Oscar for so long, did anything surprise you about the honor?
“It’s heavy,” she said, admiring her new trophy. “I can use it as a weapon!”