“Hello American Cinematheque. Let’s grab this night by the pussy,” said host Russell Crowe as he opened the festivities honoring Sir Ridley Scott Friday night at the Beverly Hilton with the 30th American Cinematheque Award. “Before we begin I have been asked to make sure that each and every one of you are properly registered to vote. It’s a huge year so please don’t forget to vote for the Academy Awards when that time of year comes around.”
It was inevitable that we couldn’t get through one of these things without some sort of Trump and election reference, but for the most part this was an evening devoted to praising the work of the 78 year-old director of such iconic movies as Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down, Thelma And Louise, The Martian, and so many others. What’s really remarkable, as Crowe immediately pointed out, is that Scott has made over 40 films as a director, 160 as a producer, and hundreds and hundreds of hours of TV shows (The Good Wife, The Man In The High Castle etc), yet he didn’t even direct his first feature film, 1977’s The Duellists, until he was 40 years old. That’s a remarkable output of work (which also includes over 2000 commercials). “Not bad for a late bloomer from the northeast of England,” Crowe said before going on to list every movie he had made with him including, of course, Gladiator which won Crowe his Best Actor Oscar.
This particular award was originally designed by American Cinematheque to honor someone who was distinguished but also in mid-career, unlike AFI which honors Life Achievement with their annual award. Though Sir Ridley is turning 79 next month, it is entirely believable to think this organization looks at him in “mid-career”, since he is probably the most consistently active director in the business, going from project to project with nary a break, and so many of his films are hardly kitchen sink dramas. These movies have scale, at times epic scale. Currently he is producing the Denis Villeneuve-directed sequel to Blade Runner and is in production and post on Alien: Covenant, the follow up to his Prometheus. Next he starts Wraiths Of The Broken Land for Fox. What also became apparent in looking at the clips spread throughout the night is the varied nature of Scott’s filmography. “At this point it is very clear that Ridley Scott is a filmmaker with the talent to do whatever he wants, from film noir to fantasy, from comedy to crime, from period pieces to the distant future, this man can do it all, so stay tuned for Gladiator Part 2: The Musical,” Crowe joked (probably).
Participating in the onstage tribute in addition to Crowe were Sir Ben Kingsley (Exodus: Gods And Kings), Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down), Matt Damon (The Martian), and a quartet of female stars from Scott movies including Sigourney Weaver (Alien), Noomi Rapace (Prometheus), Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant), and a very funny Kristen Wiig (The Martian), who said she nicknamed the director “Giggly Scott”. Black Rain star Michael Douglas and Blade Runner star Harrison Ford appeared on tape, with Ford mentioning he couldn’t be there because he was in Budapest shooting the new Blade Runner.
Weaver was particularly sharp in her comments, especially about the fact that women have had such strong roles in his films including, of course, Alien. “I am asked all over the world whether we knew we were making a feminist film. Was this intentional? Well, yeah. But Ridley and I never talked about it. It was just a given for Ridley that women were supremely capable, smart, courageous, resourceful, monumental. We also never had one of those conversations about making my character more sympathetic. After blowing up the ship and kicking the alien’s ass, maybe I should go over in a corner and have a little breakdown. This is to remind the audience that after all I am still a vulnerable woman,” she laughed as the audience heartily applauded a scene that you would never see Scott direct, adding that she feels Scott did her the honor of never speaking to her in a filtered way. She also described a hilarious scene in which co-star Ian Holm was told to take a magazine and shove it up her “hooter”. She said she responded by asking, “‘up my hooter?‘ I felt like I was on the bus with Billy Bush!”
Before he came out to present Scott with his award, Matt Damon talked about his surprise in shooting The Martian that the director uses four cameras on all his scenes. The actor discovered he shoots it once and you’re done, no other angles. “I walked into the area where Ridley has that set-up with four monitors and looked at the shot and said, ‘my god Ridley, every one of these shots is perfect’ and he just turned and looked at me and he goes, ‘they’ve been fucking perfect for a long time!‘”, Damon recalled to much laughter. On accepting his award, Scott got nostalgic talking about his days growing up in England with late brother Tony Scott who actually starred at age 14 in Scott’s first short film, Boy On Bicycle. Footage from that 1962 short was also shown during the evening. ” We both didn’t realize it at the time that we had found a life-long profession. It was our passion, and if you have passion you can work 160 hours a week and not even feel it,” he said, underlining where all that energy and stamina must come from.
Proving the importance of Scott to Hollywood, attendees included Warners chairman Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Chair Stacey Snider, Disney’s Sean Bailey, and many others, including former Fox Chair Jim Gianopulos, who has made numerous films with Scott over the decades and told me at the pre-reception that there is no one like him. Gianopulos feels though that considering his contributions, there should be many other awards for Scott, who still has yet to win an Oscar even though his Gladiator won Best Picture (he wasn’t a producer on it though). How the Academy has not yet honored him with the Thalberg Award is beyond me. Gianopulos told me a story how, when he was shooting the challenging epic Exodus: Gods And Kings, Scott had two IV drips in him for a procedure he was having, then got up, took them out and went on the set to shoot a major scene without missing a beat. “That’s the legend at least. But it really sums up Ridley,” he said. Black Rain co-star Andy Garcia told me he showed up just to bow to Scott, and during the reception recounted the scene where his head got chopped off, a scene in which Scott allowed him to truly collaborate on how to make it work. Actors love the guy.
Just before the Scott presentation, Warner Bros President of Worldwide Marketing and Distribution Sue Kroll received the org’s second-ever Sid Grauman Award, named after the exhibition showman who opened the Chinese and Egyptian Theatres in Hollywood, the latter now restored and owned by American Cinematheque along with their Aero theatre in Santa Monica. Bradley Cooper and Christopher Nolan, in person along with a slew of top stars, directors and colleagues on tape, saluted Kroll for her career, with Nolan saying she had always been a steady rock at Warners and a champion for projects even if some others were shakier on the idea. “They would say, ‘we want to like it, and Sue wants it for international’,” he said of the constant support the supreme marketer gives her filmmakers. Cooper said, “when you are working with Sue, you feel like you are the only filmmaker she is working with.”
The 30th Annual event is a benefit for American Cinematheque’s ongoing efforts to keep their extraordinary year-round programming at the Egyptian and the Aero going strong. It’s a great organization dedicated to the preservation and presentation of film in all its forms.