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

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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.”

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