The art of picking the right presenter for any given award is a tricky one; the more personal the connection between the two parties, and the more genuine the appreciation the presenter has for the presentee, the better. So it’s very hard to fault the organizers of last night’s Governors Awards, the honorary arm of the annual Academy Awards, who really knocked it out of the park this year—most notably by tapping Denzel Washington to present a lifetime achievement award to his old friend Samuel L. Jackson.
(If you want to see more very excellent moments from the not-broadcast-on-TV event, the above thread from The New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan is a real treat.)
Seriously: Just watch the relish with which Washington rattles off both Jackson’s charitable work and his career stats, highlighting, among other things, that Jackson probably has the largest box office take of any single Hollywood actor, ever. “$27 billion in box office,” he notes, before repeating, “$27 billion.” When it’s time to hand off the statue—Jackson’s first, which remains just bizarre—Washington’s enthusiasm is undeniable. (So is Jackson’s, who, clearly emotional, took time to thank “QT,” his wigmaker, and his wife during his acceptance speech.)
Not that the other presenters at the award ceremony—normally held in November or December, but bumped back to Oscars weekend this year due to COVID concerns—were slouches. Bill Murray was effusive in his praise for comedy legend Elaine May (who cracked Ukraine jokes), while John Lithgow paid hearty tribute to frequent Ingmar Bergman collaborator Liv Ullman. All three were receiving honorary Oscars for lifetime achievements, while Danny Glover was also recognized with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Glover didn’t shy away from the political topics of the day, either, referencing both The 1619 Project and the trumped-up controversy surrounding “critical race theory” in his acceptance speech.
The Governors Awards date back to 2009, when they were created to… hmm. What’s a nice way to put this? “Elevate” (?) all those honorary awards the Academy was no longer necessarily interested in spending TV time on broadcasting as part of the ceremony proper. (See also the controversial decision to “elevate” eight of the show’s technical categories out of the broadcast outright this year.) Always a smaller affair, it was even smaller than usual this year, with strict COVID protocols and vaccination requirements in place for attendees.