Talk of the writers strike buzzed around a Four Seasons ballroom Friday as George Clooney, Javier Bardem and other stars gathered for a no-pressure awards lunch hosted by the American Film Institute.
The AFI Awards honored 10 films and 10 television programs of 2007, as selected by juries that include critics, academics and others in the industry. There were no winners or losers, and no acceptance speeches, just a lunch of Lake Superior whitefish, truffle herb mashed potatoes and chocolate cake.
The awards are among several traditionally low-key Hollywood gatherings that are getting a bump in attention this year because glitzier events like the Golden Globes have been toned down.
Attire was business casual (though "There Will Be Blood" writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson wore a collarless shirt, scruffy beard and funky red hat), there were only a handful of photographers and the only TV cameras there were shooting for AFI.
Producers, directors and actors from each honored film and show sat at tables together to watch clips and listen to AFI's "rationale" for each pick. Critic Leonard Maltin read out the reasoning for each movie, and AFI trustee Rich Frank did the honors for TV shows.
"It's relaxing," said Hal Holbrook, whose supporting performance in "Into the Wild" has won wide acclaim. "This was nice. You don't have to sit around waiting for somebody to call your name. That was tough the other night at the Critic's Choice."
Tilda Swinton, wearing a loose linen dress, said she was grateful for the no-competition atmosphere.
"This is great. This is the way it should be," said Swinton, who plays a corporate lawyer in "Michael Clayton." "Maybe it'll start a trend."
The writers' strike topped AFI's list of moments of significance from 2007.
"AFI looks forward to the day when a new business model will form, and an artist's work will rise above the numbers," said Bob Gazzale, the organization's president and CEO.
Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Frank Pierson said it had been "a very difficult year" and praised the honored films for showing that "the artists and the businessmen have done it again together."
Clooney, in a sleek black suit, said he hoped to use his connections to bring together "people who know each other" on both sides of the strike.
"The secret is to get these people in a room together ... so they don't poop in each other's hats," Clooney said.
He said he'd spoken on Thursday with Harvey Weinstein and to Steven Spielberg on Friday morning. The Weinstein Company announced plans Thursday to sign an interim deal with the Writers Guild of America.
Talk of Sunday's Golden Globes, which the WGA had threatened to picket, attracted mostly shrugs from honorees. Writer-director-producer Judd Apatow shrugged at mention of the current plan for a press conference announcing winners.
Apatow, whose "Knocked Up" was honored, called the lunch "the most fun of all the events."
"I just try to have a drink and meet a bunch of people that I would never have the courage to talk to otherwise," he said. "I was talking to Jason Bateman, who was talking to Javier Bardem. I don't know if I'm on Javier's radar."
The films honored at the lunch were "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," "Into the Wild," "Juno," "Knocked Up," "Michael Clayton," "No Country For Old Men," "Ratatouille," "The Savages" and "There Will Be Blood."
The honored TV programs were "Dexter," "Everybody Hates Chris," "Friday Night Lights," "Longford," "Mad Men," "Pushing Daisies," "The Sopranos," "Tell Me You Love Me," "30 Rock" and "Ugly Betty."