Who doesn’t enjoy meeting movie stars and famous filmmakers? Every year there is a window of opportunity to do this here in L.A. called awards season. You don’t just meet these awards contenders once: after a succession of luncheons, dinners, and ceremonies, you greet each other with a smile of recognition and begin to feel as if you know each other. The truth is that you probably won’t see them again for another year, at least. They go back to their careers and you go back to screening films in darkened theaters. Only in Hollywood.

One of the highlights of my year is hosting an evening-long tribute at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. This year there was some doubt as to whether the event would take place at all. My family and I watched in horror as the town and its neighboring community of Montecito were ravaged by fire and punishing mudslides. We’ve come to love this beautiful place and feared for our friends’ safety and sanity.

I’m happy to report that the Festival opened last Thursday night and is continuing this week, a tribute to resilience and sheer determination. Turquoise ribbons are reminding visitors to “buy local” and support the businesses that suffered so badly from the fires during holiday season.

I’ve hosted tributes to prominent actors and directors for decades at the SBIFF, with locals packing the huge, historic Arlington Theater on State Street. The festival’s executive director Roger Durling surprised me four years ago by naming an award after me—the most flattering thank-you I’ve ever had. This year’s Maltin Modern Master was Gary Oldman and he proved to be a wonderful guest on Friday night. His easy manner and good humor held the audience in rapt attention.

We screened excerpts from Sid and Nancy, Immortal Beloved, True Romance, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Dark Knight, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy—a mere fraction of the busy actor’s work. Oldman said he hadn’t seen most of these films in years; he watched each clip intently and spoke with great feeling about his experiences. He credits the music of Beethoven for inspiration in playing the great composer. He still marvels at the Harry Potter phenomenon and the “chops” of his young costars, especially Daniel Radcliffe. He admits that he was as hesitant to take on the challenge of playing punk rocker Sid Vicious as he was to impersonate Winston Churchill. Thank goodness he said yes on both occasions! In presenting the award, Oldman’s Darkest Hour costar Ben Mendelsohn compared him to Fred Astaire: he makes what he does seem effortless.

Gary Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn

Just three days later the very same Gary Oldman and his wife greeted me warmly at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on their way into the annual Oscar Nominees Luncheon. They made a point of saying how much they both enjoyed the Santa Barbara evening, which pleased me greatly.

They were just two of the notables I got to say hello to at this mind-boggling event where scores of this year’s best and brightest gather, from 21-time nominee Meryl Streep to newcomer Jordan Peele. Everyone is relaxed, happy to shake hands or pose for a picture. It’s especially gratifying to say hello to people I’ve actually come to know a bit, like Coco director Lee Unkrich, a proud USC grad who brought his film to my class last fall, or Icarus’ Bryan Fogel, who was my guest just last week. Imagine having composer Alexandre Desplat to your left, Dunkirk cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema on your right, best supporting actress nominee Allison Janney in front of you, all while you’re celebrating with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It’s an overwhelming embarrassment of riches, to say the least. Below are some of my favorite shots. Hope you enjoy:

Lee Unkrich already has an Oscar for Toy Story 3, and is back in the running for Pixar’s beautiful Coco. Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon are first-timers as the writers of the heartfelt comedy-drama The Big Sick


Fellow nominees Saoirse Ronan and Sally Hawkins clearly have a mutual admiration society—and were kind enough to pose for a snapshot


I love Allison Janney in everything she does. The Oscar nomination for I, Tonya is her first.


Faces Places is one of my favorite documentaries this year. What does JR do when Agnès Varda can’t attend the ceremony? Bring three full size standees of course! Jessie and I were so happy to see them both.


Willem Dafoe and Danny Glover share a sweet laugh and embrace.


Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024