“It’s weird to be here, man, because I can’t help but think of my school cotillion, which was held in this very room,” said Hollywood native Jeff Bridges, looking around the main ballroom Monday at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles.
While Bridges reflected on old memories of the historic ballroom, new ones were being made by winners of the 16th annual Movies for Grownups Awards.
Collecting his best supporting actor award for Hell or High Water, the 67-year-old star was among more than 350 guests who celebrated the 2016 movies that most appealed to a grownup audience.
Even current Oscar nominee Justin Timberlake, 36, on hand to honor Eight Days a Week, a documentary about the Beatles’ touring years, seemed overwhelmed by the assemblage of Hollywood royalty.
“I look around this room and I see a ton of my idols,” said the singer-actor,who was nominated for an Academy Award in the best original song category. “And I also think to myself: You’re probably saying, ‘What Justin is that?’ It’s Timberlake. Justin Timberlake!”
Another current Oscar nominee, Ruth Negga, accepted the best movie for grownups award on behalf of Loving, based on the true story of the Virginia couple whose interracial marriage landed them before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“They were pioneers," Negga said. “They fought for love.”
Hot in Cleveland star Wendie Malick, who presented the best grownup love story award to The Hollars, starring Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins, reflected on the perspective that comes with years of experience.
“Actors not only get better with age, but they also become more humble,” she observed. “You acknowledge, ‘OK, I’m in my third act now,’ and that helps you realize this is go time: I’d better spend my time doing things I love with the people I love.”
Martindale, who also hosted the evening, agreed.
“I think as you get older you know more than all the tots,” she said. “Instead of putting us out to pasture we should embrace age and show that people in their 50s — who are just children — and their 60s and 70s and 80s are people of power.”
Fences costar Stephen McKinley Henderson was excited to be presenting the best actor award to Denzel Washington — but he told us he’s also really excited to attend his 50th high school reunion soon.
“That’s gonna be fun — I went to a great high school in Kansas City, Kansas,” he said. “They’re gonna look at me and say, ‘You always tried to do that, man!’ In high school I got to play Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman. Can you imagine a bunch of high school kids doing Death of a Salesman? As if we knew what that was about!”
The two actors embraced onstage, and Washington reflected on what he’s learned in the two years since he turned 60.
“When I turned 60 I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘Denzel this is not a dress rehearsal. This is life,’” Washington said. "It’s not a matter of how much you have, the question is what you’re gonna do with your talents, with your gifts. I knew in my heart at 60 that I wanted to serve God, to serve my family and to see others do well.”
Like the Hollywood royalty they are, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening swept through the red carpet area and headed for their seats near the front of the room. Beatty sat there beaming as his wife accepted the best actress award for her film 20th Century Women.
“When I was younger,” she said, “I thought there was a point in life where you sort of stopped growing and you had figured everything out. Of course now I’m beginning to really understand life just evolves and you continue to learn and grow.”
She beamed at Beatty, who at 79 remained a magnet for admiring women in the room.
“I also want to thank my husband,” she said. “Many people have mentioned him tonight, but I get to mention him because he’s my husband. And we’re about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.”
The evening’s longest standing ovation went to Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, accepting the readers’ choice award on behalf of Sully, the Clint Eastwood-directed film in which Sully was played by Tom Hanks.
Sullenberger, who became a national hero when he successfully landed his crippled airliner in the Hudson River in January 2009, said, “I recently learned that the ‘RP’ in AARP stands for Real Possibilities.
“That’s appropriate, because on that frigid day, when I was looking through the cockpit windows at the Hudson River, I was thinking: ‘Now there’s a real possibility!’ I was glad to have it.”
Among the evening’s most poignant moments was the speech by best supporting actress winner Viola Davis.
“My biggest wish as an actress of color,” the Fences Oscar nominee said, “is that people will just see me — not me as a magical Negro, not me as a social statement, not me as magnificent all the time — just me: messy, sexual, sometimes not . . . tragic, and joyful. I’ve got a story, and I think it deserves to be told.”
Helen Mirren, smashing in a form-fitting dress, presented the career achievement award to her friend Morgan Freeman.
“He’s flirtatious, yet reserved; world famous, yet mysterious,” Mirren said. “He’s a man of huge achievement who still lives in Mississippi, where he grew up.”
Mirren greeted Freeman to the stage with a big kiss, then stepped back as his booming voice filled the room.
“I want the world to know,” he said, “that I’m in love with Helen Mirren.
“I don’t always see myself as a grownup — well, I do when I wake up and look in the mirror,” he said. “Now, I know it seems I’ve always been around, but my movie career didn’t begin in earnest until I was 50 years old.
“These last 30 years have been the best of my life, and I’ve learned a lot on this journey. I’ve learned that with all the advantages of being a grownup come responsibility: responsibility to be true to yourself, to honor those who came before you, to leave the world a better place when you go.”
He concluded with one of the evening’s few allusions to the turbulent political climate sweeping the United States.
“That is a challenge because these are troubling times. But I’m confident that we can get through whatever the next few years will bring, because as grownups we know: This too shall pass.”