News and Notes

Oscar Race: The Charm Offensive

The Governors Awards are the first stop for stars hoping to woo Academy voters

Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Tom Hanks and Steve Martin at the Governors Awards

This is where Oscar season will end. The ballroom atop the Hollywood & Highland complex is nothing fancy, but it's the site of Hollywood's swankiest post — Academy Awards soiree, just a few escalator rides up from the Dolby Theatre. If you want to be clutching a golden statuette here on Oscar night in March, however, you might want to get here in November. This room is also where Oscar season begins, with the Governors Awards.

On Nov. 16, honorary Oscars were awarded to Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, costume designer Piero Tosi, and Angelina Jolie (for her humanitarian work). The honorees had known for months they were winning, so the real competition was happening on the ballroom floor. Scores of this year's Oscar hopefuls worked the room, and the stage, charming Academy voters. It may be an honor just to be nominated, but before that it's a battle for ballots. ''This is a place where you shake hands and kiss babies — except no babies are allowed,'' jokes one veteran publicist. ''Being here tells [Academy members] that you are serious and want their support.''

Nebraska's Bruce Dern, a lead-actor contender, seemed to have no shortage of old friends, and he introduced many of them to his feisty costar June Squibb, who has her first chance at an Oscar nod at age 84. Meanwhile, newcomers Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) joined fellow potential nominees Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club), Amy Adams (American Hustle), Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) in chatting up Academy members. The event is a new tradition: It began just four years ago after the Academy pulled honorary awards from the Oscar-night telecast. At first, says one longtime Academy governor, ''there wasn't a huge demand for tickets.'' And now? ''They fight for them.''

Thank Jeff Bridges for that. The actor's performance in Crazy Heart wasn't on voters' minds in fall 2009 when he made a funny, heartfelt speech here to honor cinematographer Gordon Willis (the Godfather films). But then not only did Bridges get nominated, he won. This year, top-charmer honors went to Tom Hanks — a contender for both Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks — who playfully mocked Steve Martin before presenting him with his trophy, and to Hanks' costar in Banks Emma Thompson, who helped introduce Angela Lansbury by recalling the time she hit Lansbury with a pie. But the actor who got the biggest boost may prove to be Harrison Ford. One Academy voter wondered why Ford was there, until reminded that the actor costarred in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42. ''Oh, right,'' said the voter. ''That was a great performance.'' Consider yourself considered, Mr. Ford.

Originally posted Nov 21, 2013 Published in issue #1287 Nov 29, 2013 Order article reprints