SAN FRANCISCO (AP/CBS) – Almost every business has its awards banquets. But when the business is movie making, and the banquet is put on by the folks behind the Oscars, the room glows with serious star power and cinematic history.
Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, George Lucas, Kevin Spacey, Kathryn Bigelow, Josh Brolin and Tony Bennett helped honor winners Saturday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ second annual Governors Awards. Guests at the private dinner ceremony included Natalie Portman, Hilary Swank, Robert Duvall, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Marisa Tomei, Patricia Clarkson and James Caan.
All were on hand to celebrate the work of three honorary Oscar winners and writer-director-producer Francis Ford Coppola, who received the Irving G. Thalberg award for producing a string of hits such as “American Graffiti,” “The Black Stallion,” “Sleepy Hollow” and his own “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather II.”
De Niro and Lucas lauded Coppola, who sat at a long table in the center of Hollywood & Highland’s Grand Ballroom, surrounded by his family and friends.
“I love you,” De Niro said. “You’re an inspiration and one of my biggest influences. You can see it in my acting, in my directing, in my producing, and perhaps most of all in my De Niro 2010 estate-bottled Pinot Noir.”
Lucas called the 71-year-old filmmaker (and wine maker) “my big brother and my mentor.”
“He taught me how to write. He taught me how to direct,” Lucas said. “He actually personified a whole era of the American film industry… He was our leader. He was our inspiration.”
Gallery: Francis Ford Coppola
As Coppola accepted the Thalberg bust, which has only been presented 38 times since the award was established in 1937, he imitated his former bosses Jack Warner and Samuel Goldwyn and told stories about his family and love of filmmaking.
“I have a great love of the original Hollywood tradition,” he said, and “admiration for the tradition of Irving Thalberg and, of course, for the fantastic producers who have won it. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
De Niro also helped recognize 94-year-old actor Eli Wallach, who was presented with an Oscar statuette for his 60-year acting career that continues today.
“Eli, now that we’re going for the same parts, I hope we can remain friends,” De Niro joked.
Bennett, who was introduced as Wallach’s longtime friend, sang two songs in the actor’s honor.
Eastwood, who worked with Wallach on “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” called him “a great performer and a great friend” and thanked the Academy for its “good taste and good sense” in presenting him with an honorary Oscar.
Wallach said he was deeply moved by the award.
“I don’t act to live, I live to act,” he said, kissing his Oscar before stepping off stage.
Spacey presented filmmaker, historian and author Kevin Brownlow with an Academy Award for his work preserving and protecting silent films.
Brownlow, author of “The Parade’s Gone By” and other books about the silent-film era, celebrated the artistry of movies from the early 1900s as he accepted his Oscar.
Gallery: Oscars Honor Godard, Brownlow
Several governors of various academy branches spoke about the groundbreaking work of controversial filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, who did not attend Saturday’s ceremony.
The French-born director has been the subject of media reports in recent weeks that suggest he is anti-Semitic, and the Academy received some complaints about selecting him to receive an honorary Oscar, though many filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese cite him as an inspiration.
“Godard dared us to misbehave, both as grown-ups and as artists,” said Lynne Littman, governor of the Academy’s documentary branch. “He is still misbehaving, and I like to think this is the first time we’ve given an Oscar for it.”
The Academy established its Governors Awards last year to pay tribute to winners of honorary Oscars and the Thalberg bust – prizes previously presented during the Academy Awards telecast. Governors from its 15 branches chose Saturday’s winners.
Highlights from the untelevised event will be available online at Oscars.org and included in the Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 27, 2011.