Al Pacino steals the show at AFI Awards with off-the-cuff speech


While most kudos events are competitive, the annual AFI Awards, honoring 21 works of film and TV, proved common. Sarah Polley chatted with Michelle Williams, Jerry Bruckheimer had a deep talk with James Cameron, the “Better Call Saul” talent huddled with “Reservation Dogs” and Steven Spielberg raved about “The Bear” to the show’s team and FX Networks chairman John Landgraf.

The Jan. 13 luncheon at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills was filled with 250 industry heavyweights, but the scene-stealer was someone unattached to any of the honored works: Al Pacino, who closed the event with a 10-minute speech that seemed disjointed and hilarious, but turned out to be pointed and ended with a bang.

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Before the event began, Universal Pictures president Donna Langley praised the annual gathering Varietysaying, “It reminds us of the dignity and elegance of the industry as we gather here to celebrate artistry.”

In December, AFI announced its awards for “outstanding achievements” in 2022. Movies cited were “Avatar: The Way of Water”, “Elvis”, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, “The Fabelmans”, “Nope”, “She Said,” “Tar,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “The Woman King,” and “Women Talking.” For TV: ‘Abbott Elementary’, ‘The Bear’, ‘Better Call Saul’, ‘Hacks’, ‘Mo’, ‘Pachinko’, ‘Reservation Dogs’, ‘Severance’, ‘Somebody Somewhere’ and ‘The White Lotus. ” “The Banshees of Inisherin” received an AFI Special Award, as the traditional awards – chosen by two juries, for film and for TV – go only to American works.

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After the salmon was served, the program began as AFI prez CEO Bob Gazzale asked for a moment of silence for some of the honorees who suffered a recent loss. He wasn’t talking about “Elvis” or Lisa Marie Presley’s January 12 death; he didn’t have to. He said, “This event was founded in community, not competition” and wanted the team to “feel we’re there for them.”

The format has been the same since 2003. One of the judges reads out the “motivation” for each honoree (i.e. why it was selected), followed by a one-minute snippet. Rationales on Friday were read by TV judge Rich Frank and film judge Ann Hornaday. At times, audience reactions offer surprising insight into industry favorites in the Oscar race, but the applause seemed evenly split.

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The event traditionally ends with a blessing – a solemn toast – but Pacino rewrote the rulebook. He was there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather”. He said he prepared comments, but after watching all the clips and thinking about the great work, he threw those comments out. “What I have to say is so weird… I’m shaking, look at my hands!” What followed were observations and anecdotes about being nominated and going through “the stages of grief” when he was nominated for an Oscar for “Serpico.” His speech seemed ad-libed and formless, though consistently hilarious and entertaining, and he concluded with the idea that performers are not determined to compete.

So said Nick Meyer of Sierra/Infinity Variety“This is my favorite event of the year,” as Warner Bros. CEO Michael De Luca said. seen in a while.”

Notables in attendance included former AFI executive director-CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg, Robert Iger, Gail Berman, Todd Field (one of 30 AFI alumni there), Vince Gilligan, Jon Landau, Martin McDonagh, Jordan Peele, Ben Stiller, and Mike White. Among the execs were Pam Abdy, Bela Bajaria, Eddy Cue, Channing Dungey, Jamie Erlicht, Dan McDermott, Ted Sarandos, Zack Van Amburg, Dana Walden and David Zaslav.

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Other guests included Paulina Alexis, Mohammad Amer, Patricia Arquette, Hannah Bos, Lionel Boyce, Quinta Brunson, Jessie Buckley, Patricia Clarkson, Kerry Condon, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Paul W. Downs, Ayo Edebiri, Dan Erickson, Bridget Everett, Lane Factor, Meghann Fahy, Claire Foy, Peter Gould, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Jin Ha, Sterlin Harjo, Stephanie Hsu, Theo James, Daniel Kaluuya, Theresa Kang, Zoe Kazan, Barry Keoghan, Minha Kim, Joseph Kosinski, Tony Kushner, Daniel Kwan , Gabriel LaBelle, Stephen Lang, David Linde, Britt Lower, Baz Luhrmann, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Leonard Maltin, Thuso Mbedu, Martin McDonagh, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Solvan “Slick” Naim, Bob Odenkirk, Keke Palmer, Jordan Peele, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ke Huy Quan, Seth Rogen, Daniel Scheinert, Maria Schrader, Adam Scott, Rhea Seehorn, Chris Silbermann, Christopher Storer, Miles Teller, Sigourney Weaver, Jeremy Allen White, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Michelle Yeoh , Steven Yeun, Yuh-jung Youn and Ramy Youssef.

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