It’s an honor to be nominated for an Oscar, and Diane Warren would know: The veteran songwriter has been recognized by the academy 13 times, setting a record as the woman who has received the most nominations without a win.
But at the Governors Awards on Saturday night in Los Angeles, Warren finally got the gold she has long sought, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out honorary Oscars that went to her, the actor Michael J. Fox and the directors Euzhan Palcy and Peter Weir.
“I’ve waited 34 years to say this,” Warren cried in her speech, hoisting her Oscar aloft. “I’d like to thank the academy!”
The Governors Awards are always moving and raucous, but they remain untelevised: In a bid to shorten the Oscar broadcast, the honors were cleaved from the show in 2009. Meant to honor artists who have made an essential contribution to cinema without necessarily having won an Oscar, the night also provides another essential purpose: It allows this year’s award contenders to schmooze like their lives depended on it.
Even before dinner was served at the ceremony held at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel, A-list guests like Cate Blanchett, Eddie Redmayne, Jennifer Lawrence and Florence Pugh could be spotted chatting with well-wishers in a ballroom chock-full of Oscar voters. Since it’s early in the season and any awards bid can still be considered viable, the ceremony was packed with even more stars than are seen at a typical Oscar broadcast: A brief walk through the room produced run-ins with “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actors Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis, “Elvis” star Austin Butler, and Brendan Fraser, mounting an industry comeback with his transformative role in “The Whale.”
But eventually the hand shakes and back pats were put on pause and the acceptance speeches began. Fox was first up: 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 frequent co-star Christopher Lloyd. Fox recalled receiving a Parkinson’s diagnosis at age 29 and how it motivated him to start a foundation that would raise money to research the disease.
“It struck me that everything I’ve been given — success, my life with Tracy, my family — had 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 amiably from the stage about his early days as a member of the Australian new wave and his close relationship with stars like Robin Williams. Now 78, he has not made a movie in 12 years and considers himself retired. But Palcy, the other director to receive an honorary award on Saturday, is itching to get back on set.
The first Black woman to direct a major studio film (1989’s “A Dry White Season,” starring Marlon Brando), Palcy stepped away from Hollywood fare after too many executives told her that Black stories simply weren’t bankable. But the 64-year-old director noted that she has several scripts she is ready to shoot, and the time is now right to make them.
“Come on, guys, look at my sister standing by me,” Palcy said, gesturing to the presenter Viola Davis, whose film “The Woman King,” directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, topped the box office in September. As Davis smiled and flexed a bicep, Palcy delivered a rousing speech: “Black is bankable! Female is bankable! Black and female is bankable!”
The tribute to Warren offered the night’s funniest moments: After a clip reel that included her hits like “How Do I Live” from the Nicolas Cage action flick “Con Air” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from “Armageddon,” the presenter Cher took the stage to praise her friend’s indefatigable drive.
“One of my fondest memories is when she followed me into an Al-Anon meeting to play me a song,” Cher said.
Warren was surprised that Cher had shown up to the ceremony at all. “Cher doesn’t go east of the 405,” Warren cracked, referring to the freeway that adjoins tony Brentwood neighborhood.
Unlike perennial contenders who demur when asked about the Oscars or pretend they had no idea when the nominations would be announced, Warren has always been refreshingly plain-spoken in interviews: She wants to be nominated, has researched her competition and is continually gunning for a win. And when I caught up with Warren at the end of the night, she grinned like the cat who had caught the canary.
“I can’t believe I have an Academy Award,” she said. “I am now Oscar winner Diane Warren! Who knew?” Rest assured, the statuette will receive pride of place at her house: “I’m not the cool person who goes, ‘Oh, I don’t know where it is,’” she said. “No, this is my buddy.”
After desiring the Oscar for so long, did anything about the honor surprise her?
“It’s heavy,” she said, admiring her new trophy. “I can use it as a weapon!”