On Thursday, the motion picture academy announced this year’s recipients of the Governors Awards: director Charles Burnett, cinematographer Owen Roizman, actor Donald Sutherland, and documentarian Agnes Varda. Of this quartet, only Roizman ever contended at the Oscars, losing his five bids for Best Cinematography (“The French Connection,” 1971; “The Exorcist,” 1973; “Network,” 1976; “Tootsie,” 1982; and “Wyatt Earp,” 1994)
All four will receive honorary Oscars at a non-televised event on Nov. 11 in the Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland. The timing is such that many of this year’s hottest Oscar prospects will attend to glad-hand voters.
The selection process is fairly straightforward. The 54 branch governors and three at-large members put forth suggestions, with each of the top choices then voted on individually. Honorees must receive support from at least half of those on the board. The usual limit is three honorees. For a fourth to be named, he or she needs to garner two-thirds of the votes.
There are 18 branches of the academy and all but two — Public Relations and Visual Effects — are represented by at least one honorary Oscar winner among the 125 previous recipients. Until now, the Documentary branch had just four (Pete Smith, 1953; William L. Hendricks, 1961; D.A. Pennebaker, 2012; Frederick Wiseman, 2016). Compare that to Actors (48), Directors (22) and Producers (10).
Since the academy shifted these honorary kudos from the telecast to a separate non-televised ceremony eight years ago, they have celebrated 30 people.
In 2009, honorary Oscars went to actress Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis and producer Roger Corman while studio executive John Calley received the Irving Thalberg Award.
In 2010, honorary Oscars were bestowed on actor Eli Wallach, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard and film historian Kevin Brownlow while Francis Ford Coppola was given the Thalberg.
In 2011, honorary Oscars were awarded to actor James Earl Jones and makeup pioneer Dick Smith while TV personaility Oprah Winfrey was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
In 2012, the academy snubbed on-screen talent entirely with honorary Oscars going to stuntman turned director Hal Needham, documentarian D.A. Pennebaker and director/producer George Stevens, Jr. while studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg received the Hersholt.
In 2013, honorary Oscars went to actors Steve Martin and Angela Lansbury as well as costume designer Piero Tosi while actress/director Angelina Jolie was feted with the Hersholt.
In 2014, actress Maureen O’Hara, animator Hayao Miyazaki and writer Jean-Claude Carrière got honorary Oscars while actor/singer Harry Belafonte got the Hersholt.
In 2015, actress Gena Rowlands and director Spike Lee received honorary Oscars while Debbie Reynolds was feted with the Hersholt.
In 2016, action star Jackie Chan, film editor Anne V. Coates, casting director Lynn Stalmaster and documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman all received honorary Oscars.
Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums.