DGA Awards: Brad Pitt, Jodie Foster, Christian Bale, and why a room full of directors gave Roger Ebert a standing ovation

Dannyboyle_l
Anyone reading between the lines at the 61st Annual Directors Guild of America awards could have intuited pretty early that it would be a good night for the eventual big winner, Slumdog Millionaire
director Danny Boyle (pictured). The second award of the evening, for
best direction of a daytime serial, went to Larry Carpenter for helming
the 10,281st episode (!) of ABC’s One Life to Live, which transformed the set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
into a dream sequence game show called "So You Think You Can Be Shane
Morasco’s Father?" The clear lesson: Every movie and TV show that’s
ever made from now on should reference Millionaire at least once. (Click here for a complete list of winners.)

The evening started off well, with an amiable Jon Cryer stepping in to emcee the event at the last minute after 21-time DGA Awards host Carl Reiner fell ill due to food poisoning. Cryer explained that he was proud to be a member of the DGA, since that guild’s health insurance covered therapy. "Can you imagine," he joked, "if SAG’s insurance covered therapy?" Well aware that he was playing to a room full of people who could cast him in their next project, Cryer also noted that "15 to 17 million people" watch him on CBS’ Two and a Half Men every week, and that "I’m not averse to small character roles, and now that Robert Downey Jr.’s broken the ice, I can play black too. Don Cheadle is expensive!"

After the jump, I’ll hit all the major highlights of the evening, including what part of David Fincher’s body Brad Pitt most admires, why Frost/Nixon star Michael Sheen felt Ron Howard should get down-and-dirty, which movie star and Oscar nominee was surprisingly pithy in a night full of studious verbosity, and how Roger Ebert brought a room full of filmmakers, many of whom had fallen victim to the the film critic’s poison pen, to their feet, twice.

addCredit(“Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images”)

With no television broadcast to
worry about, the presenters and winners
could be as long-winded as they wanted, and many, if not most,
took full advantage of the open-ended time frame. Adding to the length
was the DGA tradition of allowing all five nominees for best feature
film a chance to make an acceptance speech. It was enough to make one
almost understand what could have caused Sean Young’s infamous outburst
during director Julian Schnabel’s time at the fancy lucite lectern at
last year’s DGAs. Almost.

At times the ceremony felt like a gentle roast of the nominees. Presenter Jodie Foster said of her Panic Room director David Fincher, "I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with a crazier person in my life," and though she said it with a smile, it was clear she wasn’t really kidding. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button star Brad Pitt went another route, saying, via a taped message, "[David] has got a great ass." Frost/Nixon stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, meanwhile, enacted a lengthy skit in which they recreated the climatic "I’m saying when the president does it, it’s not illegal" scene from the film over and over and over, implying that their director Ron Howard demanded as many as 93 takes from them. Sheen  went on to say, "Working with Ron Howard is like working with an amateur," pointing out that Howard was far too wholesome and earnest to work in the cutthroat and cynical world of Hollywood. (This included suggesting Howard should indulge in some illicit behavior involving the Gilmore Girls and/or the Golden Girls, which I cannot reprint here.)

Fincher and Howard’s ensuing acceptance speeches were comparatively sincere, grateful and laugh free — in fact, all five nominees’ speeches had a surfeit of the standard thank yous and I-couldn’t-be-here-withouts. After Christian Bale’s seemingly unending (if sweet and genuine) introduction of his Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, and Nolan’s subsequent mini-disquisition on making the film, emcee Jon Cryer dryly sighed that "people just don’t take the time to thank anybody anymore." Enter Sean Penn, who was comparatively pithy even after thanking Sheen and Langella for breaking through the (apparently suggested) three minute time limit for presenters. Milk director Gus Van Sant was even briefer, looking, in his rumpled and ill-fitting tux, like the last thing he wants to do in the world is accept an award.

The highlight of the evening, meanwhile, came when DGA president Michael Apted bestowed Roger Ebert with an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the guild. The irony of filmmakers making a critic one of their own was not lost on anyone: The presentation opened with clips of Ebert’s positive TV review for Apted’s 1994 film Nell…and then his excoriating review for Apted’s 2002 film Enough. Then Apted cued up a film of directors Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Patty Jenkins (Ebert named her film Monster the best movie of 2003) talking about why Ebert’s criticism has meant so much to cinema. "When he reviews [my films] negatively," joked Eastwood, "I feel he’s slipping a little."

When Ebert took to the stage, the crowd immediately took to their feet. It was a bittersweet moment, to be sure; complications from cancer surgery in 2006 left Ebert with a damaged lower jaw and the inability to speak, so after a brief message using the computerized voice that’s been speaking for Ebert since, his wife Chaz read an eloquent prepared speech from her husband. "The movies come closer than any other art form in giving us the experience of walking in someone else’s shoes," it concluded. "They expand us, they improve us, and sometimes they ennoble us. They also thrill us and make us laugh and cry, and for that gift, and for this honor tonight, I am very grateful." The audience broke into another standing ovation. (You can read the full text of Ebert’s speech here.)

When it came time for 2007 DGA winners Joel and Ethan Coen to announce director Danny Boyle’s win, it seemed like Ebert’s words were still ringing in the ears of the man who had transported audiences into the shoes of a Mumbai slumdog. "For those of you who haven’t made a film," said Boyle, "dream kind, and dream hard."

With no television broadcast toworry about, the presenters and winnerscould be as long-winded as they wanted, and many, if not most,took full advantage of the open-ended time frame. Adding to the lengthwas the DGA tradition of allowing all five nominees for best featurefilm a chance to make an acceptance speech. It was enough to make onealmost understand what could have caused Sean Young’s infamous outburstduring director Julian Schnabel’s time at the fancy lucite lectern atlast year’s DGAs. Almost.

At times the ceremony felt like a gentle roast of the nominees. Presenter Jodie Foster said of her Panic Room director David Fincher, "I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with a crazier person in my life," and though she said it with a smile, it was clear she wasn’t really kidding. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button star Brad Pitt went another route, saying, via a taped message, "[David] has got a great ass." Frost/Nixon stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, meanwhile, enacted a lengthy skit in which they recreated the climatic "I’m saying when the president does it, it’s not illegal" scene from the film over and over and over, implying that their director Ron Howard demanded as many as 93 takes from them. Sheen  went on to say, "Working with Ron Howard is like working with an amateur," pointing out that Howard was far too wholesome and earnest to work in the cutthroat and cynical world of Hollywood. (This included suggesting Howard should indulge in some illicit behavior involving the Gilmore Girls and/or the Golden Girls, which I cannot reprint here.)

Fincher and Howard’s ensuing acceptance speeches were comparatively sincere, grateful and laugh free — in fact, all five nominees’ speeches had a surfeit of the standard thank yous and I-couldn’t-be-here-withouts. After Christian Bale’s seemingly unending (if sweet and genuine) introduction of his Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, and Nolan’s subsequent mini-disquisition on making the film, emcee Jon Cryer dryly sighed that "people just don’t take the time to thank anybody anymore." Enter Sean Penn, who was comparatively pithy even after thanking Sheen and Langella for breaking through the (apparently suggested) three minute time limit for presenters. Milk director Gus Van Sant was even briefer, looking, in his rumpled and ill-fitting tux, like the last thing he wants to do in the world is accept an award.

The highlight of the evening, meanwhile, came when DGA president Michael Apted bestowed Roger Ebert with an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the guild. The irony of filmmakers making a critic one of their own was not lost on anyone: The presentation opened with clips of Ebert’s positive TV review for Apted’s 1994 film Nell…and then his excoriating review for Apted’s 2002 film Enough. Then Apted cued up a film of directors Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Patty Jenkins (Ebert named her film Monster the best movie of 2003) talking about why Ebert’s criticism has meant so much to cinema. "When he reviews [my films] negatively," joked Eastwood, "I feel he’s slipping a little."

When Ebert took to the stage, the crowd immediately took to their feet. It was a bittersweet moment, to be sure; complications from cancer surgery in 2006 left Ebert with a damaged lower jaw and the inability to speak, so after a brief message using the computerized voice that’s been speaking for Ebert since, his wife Chaz read an eloquent prepared speech from her husband. "The movies come closer than any other art form in giving us the experience of walking in someone else’s shoes," it concluded. "They expand us, they improve us, and sometimes they ennoble us. They also thrill us and make us laugh and cry, and for that gift, and for this honor tonight, I am very grateful." The audience broke into another standing ovation. (You can read the full text of Ebert’s speech here.)

When it came time for 2007 DGA winners Joel and Ethan Coen to announce director Danny Boyle’s win, it seemed like Ebert’s words were still ringing in the ears of the man who had transported audiences into the shoes of a Mumbai slumdog. "For those of you who haven’t made a film," said Boyle, "dream kind, and dream hard."

Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • Becky

    Thank you for the great recap! I almost felt like I was there. I’m glad that Jon Cryer got to pimp himself out a bit in a room full of directors-he is the best thing about Two and a Half Men, in my opinion!

  • To Adam B. Vary

    “Long in the tooth” means elderly; not long-winded.

  • ks

    Thanks for the re-cap, I knew I didn’t want to watch.

  • Phil

    Thanks for the recap! I wish I could’ve seen Mr. Ebert’s acceptance speech. I’ve truly enjoyed reading his reviews and essays over the years, and his posts since he began his journal. He is to cinema what Harold Bloom is to literature.

  • Manny

    Ebert’s a great critic and unlike most critics, he watches films because he loves them. He never talks down to his audience and expects a film to earn his respect and attention in the same way he gives each film respect and his undivided attention. I don’t always agree with his reviews but I always understand where he’s coming from and have understood films a lot better from reading them. Ebert and his late partner, Gene Siskel were true professionals, true class acts who did and are doing a fine service to movie lovers everywhere.

  • reese

    I rather watch the Superbowl or AMC classics.

  • fila

    Ebert is still a professional and really loves movies unlike other critics they sound like the tabloids and some affect their views based on the actor’s personal lives.

  • Kim

    Boyle winning that award falls with a resounding thud directly under “You’ve got to be [bleep]ing kidding.” I can hardly wait until this year when that spastic clown has released another of his short-attention-span “masterpieces” like “Sunshine” and people are scratching their heads and saying, “What the hell just happened…?” What a pathetic joke.

  • Kim

    “[T]his TIME next year.” You know the rest. I’m so mad about the hype over Danny-boy’s “feel-good” trainwreck that I can hardly type. Sorry.

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