Al Pacino lights up a bittersweet 2022 AFI Awards luncheon

The 2022 AFI Awards Luncheon began with a minute’s silence for Lisa Marie Presley and ended with a lively Pacino enthralled by all the winners.

Surprise speaker Al Pacino began his closing remarks on why many attendees see the event as the highlight of awards season: “I’m so glad AFI didn’t have an envelope to say, ‘The winner is…'” The Oscar winner took a swipe to make sure he got that right and confirmed to the audience that all the talent in the room were recipients of the 2022 AFI Awards, saying impressed, “So now I’m talking to winners, OK!”

The AFI Awards 2022 Luncheon, held annually at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, invited the creative teams from the American Film Institute’s top 10 films and top 10 TV shows (plus one special recipient) of 2022 to all come together and celebrate the work of the applaud others. The emphasis on mutual support was introduced early in the program when AFI President Bob Gazzale alluded to the death of Lisa Marie Presley (“Elvis” was one of the film’s honorees that year).

“Before we begin, allow me a moment to acknowledge an awardee among us today, an ensemble of artists who are participating with a heavy heart,” said Gazzale. “And since this event is founded on community, not competition, never competition, I ask that we offer a quiet moment of reflection to reflect on the loss, not for others, but for all of us. All who create from inspiration. And in that stillness they will feel that we are there for them and you will feel that they are there for you.”

There was a sense that the venue was a safe space for actors, directors, executives and other creatives to network without the pressure of one winning one award over the other. Filmmakers from other award-winners like TÁR and Top Gun: Maverick offered their condolences to the Elvis production team. Miles Teller, star of the latter film and widely regarded as one of the finalists for the lead role in “Elvis,” was one of the attendees able to meet with director Baz Luhrmann. The spirit of sympathy also blossomed with Avatar: The Way of the Water director James Cameron, who chatted with Top Gun: Maverick filmmaker Joseph Kosinski: the director, of whom many price predictions took the place, for which they reserved was the former winner in the feature film category of this year’s DGA Awards nominations.

Debra L Lee, David Zaslav, Quinta Brunson, Channing Dungey

Debra L. Lee, David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, Quinta Brunson, and Channing Dungey, Chairman of Warner Bros. Television, attend the 2022 AFI Awards luncheon.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

With plenty of executives in the room, from newly installed Disney boss Bob Iger to divisive Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, it was interesting to see what talent they were seeking from other studios. For example, “Mo” was the only Netflix project to win awards this year, but co-CEO Ted Sarandos still made the rounds at the AFI Awards, speaking to the likes of “Top Gun: Maverick” producer Jerry Bruckheimer and ” The White Lotus”. Creator Mike White. Meanwhile, colleague Bela Bajaria, Global Head of Television at Netflix, spoke to other award winners such as “Hacks” producer Mike Schur and “Nope” star Keke Palmer. At one point during lunch, Abbott Elementary creator/star Quinta Brunson was escorted through the crowd by Zaslav and Warner Bros. TV Chairman Channing Dungey (the ABC sitcom is a WBTV production). Zaslav was also full of praise for actress Bridget Everett when Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and HBO Max Content, brought the executive over to greet the “Somebody Somewhere” table.

As the crowd turned to watch the AFI Awards 2022 March of Time reel and then clips of the honorees, the room gave an indication of which films resonated the most. While most of the applause was quashed after reading the rationale and showing the chosen scene, “Everything Everywhere at Once” received cheers at the mere mention of its name. “The Woman King” proved to be a crowd pleaser, featuring the clip of the Sony film’s opening action sequence, and a “Women Talking” clip highlighting Claire Foy’s performance left viewers speechless and in awe.

When it came time to release Pacino, the icon and former AFI Life Achievement awardee seemed speechless at the amazing art he’d just seen from all the winners in the room. “I can’t speak after seeing all this power… What I have to say is so strange. I don’t want to spoil the tone in this room,” the actor said. “But I have such silly stories I carry around and I thought one would be interesting here.”

Al Pacino

AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Al Pacino delivers the blessing speech at the AFI Awards.

AFI/Randall Michelson

Pacino then shared the story of his first attendance at the Oscars, when he was nominated for Best Actor for his role in Sidney Lumet’s 1973 film Serpico. He had never been interested in attending the landmark Hollywood event before, and actually skipped it when he was first nominated for playing Michael Corleone in The Godfather, but wanted to support the film. “There’s all sorts of reactions when we lose the Oscars, I can give them right away,” Pacino said, making viewers like Carey Mulligan (“She Said”) and Adam Scott (“Severance”) laugh. “I was young and crazy. Drugs and alcohol were my fodder. You’ve helped me through many things that I have to admit,” he continued. “I don’t endorse it. I’m just talking here.”

Pacino was almost too drunk to function, believing the awards were only an hour long and thought he was free from announcing the winner of his category, but was informed by Jeff Bridges that the show had two hours to go would last. Worse than feeling the bouts of grief, he suddenly thought, “Hey, what if I win? You know I can’t make it on the friggin’ stage.” This year’s Best Actor winner? Save the Tiger star Jack Lemmon. Pacino’s reaction? “You couldn’t keep me in the seat.”

After the audience finished laughing, the actor wrapped up blessing the 2022 AFI Awards with another moment of poignancy. “We have to do what we do, whatever it is, because it keeps us alive,” Pacino said. “I don’t think any of us could live if we couldn’t. And that’s something I have to say, it’s a truth.” For his closing words to the attendees, most of whom are looking forward to fears of more competitive awards shows this season, Pacino used a quote from tightrope walker Karl Wallenda, the to remind everyone that making their art really matters: “Life is on the wire. The rest is just waiting.”

Check out the full list of winners below.

AFI Films of the Year

“Avatar: The Way of Water”
“Everything everywhere at once”
“The Fable Men”
“She said”
“Top Gun: Maverick”
“The Woman King”
“Women in Conversation”

AFI Television Programs of the Year

“Abbott Elementary School”
“The bear”
“Better call Saul”
“Reservation Dogs”
“Severance pay”
“Someone Somewhere”
“The White Lotus”

AFI special price

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

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Lindsay Lowe

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