You’d think the big stars are unimpressed with each other. But at Friday’s swanky American Film Institute lunch at the Four Seasons in West Hollywood, it was something else altogether. At the end of a two and a half hour session in a ballroom filled just the A list I found the legendary Shirley MacLaine cornered, literally, by the cast of “Mad Men.”
Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, and Matt Weiner surrounded MacLaine just before she exited the room and were taking pictures with her on cell phones as if they were on safari. MacLaine was loving it. Hendricks said, “I’m not proud. This is once in a lifetime!” It was very funny.
MacLaine had just helped close out the lunch by giving a dynamite toast to the ten movies and ten TV series cited by the AFI as the best of 2013. In one not-so-large dining room we sat with everyone from (movies) 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Wolf of Wall Street– and (TV) The Americans, Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones, The Good Wife,, House of Cards, Mad Men, Masters of Sex, Orange is the New Black, Scandal, and Veep.
Yep: so imagine a fancy cafeteria with 30 round tables containing Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Sandra Bullock, Martin Scorsese, Emma Thompson, Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams. Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Kevin Spacey, Michael Seen, Julia Louis Dreyfus. And that’s just a sampling.
AFI president Bob Gazzale opened the lunch by reminding this group that “no one had to pay for a table.” Verizon underwrites the lunch. All connections were very clear.
So yes, you had all kinds of people who didn’t know each other– like the Mad Men and MacLaine– meeting, greeting, hugging and air kissing for the first time. It was a reunion with far flung correspondents– like former Sony chief Sir Howard Stringer, who came in from London (he’s on the AFI board), and Barkhad Abdi, the amazing Somali actor from Minnesota who almost steals “Captain Phillips” away from Tom Hanks. “Phillips” screenwriter Billy Ray was introduced to “Man Men”‘s Moss, and this reporter suggested Peggy Olson for Ray’s HBO adaptation of “The Last Tycoon.” We’ll see how that works out!
This is how the lunch works: first TV jury member Rich Frank reads what are called the “rationales”– or why each show was chosen. Then movie jury leader Thom Mount reads his “rationales.” These are accompanied by clips from all 20 winners. The clips are short and punchy, although the one for “Breaking Bad” seemed extremely long. That’s because whoever cut it obviously loved Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” and used most of the song.
When that’s over, Gazzale introduces the legacy Hollywood star who’s been chosen for the toast– this year, MacLaine, who spoke off the cuff and was poetic and funny: “I remember what it was like to live in chaos that you turn into order,” she said of her stunning career. She joked about her past life experiences: “This is the nicest reception I’ve had in the last 500,000 years.”