Dear American Film Institute,
Congratulations on your choice of Morgan Freeman as the 2011 recipient of your prestigious AFI Life Achievement Award. He is a great actor and a worthy choice. And I watched your show honoring him last week on TV. However, I am writing to warn the AFI that you are on the verge of becoming an obsolete honor if you don’t get your act together pronto and recognize more worthy recipients. Let me explain.
It’s not that Freeman doesn’t deserve the recognition. He does. But he should have been honored a few years from now. The AFI Life Achievement Award is supposed to honor a single individual for his or her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and work that has stood the test of time. The interesting thing about the Freeman choice is that he’s only been making films since the mid-eighties. A mere three decades. Has INVICTUS or BRUCE ALMIGHTY stood that test of time yet? No, they have not. Even more embarrassing to you, AFI, I can come up with at least six people who deserve the honor who have had film careers starting two decades before Freeman’s. And you’ve ignored them.
Your oversights have been egregious. And for an organization like yours to hand out a career capper to Freeman so prematurely is disingenuous. So because you clearly need a little guidance and clarity on what constitutes a lifetime, let me offer the following six for you to honor. And they are in the order you should follow.
So far the only recipients of your award have been actors or directors. How narrow-minded of you especially when you consider that film composer John Williams is a household name. Here’s why in case you need reminding: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, JAWS, the STAR WARS trilogy, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, SUPERMAN, the INDIANA JONES trilogy, E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, HOME ALONE, JFK, JURASSIC PARK, SCHINDLER’S LIST, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and the first three HARRY POTTER films. He’s won 5 Oscars and been nominated another 39 times. And I’ll bet most of us can hum at least six or seven of his brilliant movie themes, can’t we? His might be the most remarkable body of work in film history. So show the film community that below-the-line artists matter too. Honor this man in 2012. He is quite simply the greatest film composer of all time.
The Sundance Kid has been a leading man in six decades. Six decades. In addition to BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID he has starred in these cinematic essentials: THE CANDIDATE, DOWNHILL RACER, JEREMIAH JOHNSON, THE WAY WE WERE, THE STING, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THE NATURAL, OUT OF AFRICA and INDECENT PROPOSAL. He’s also a wonderful director who won an Oscar for the Best Picture winner ORDINARY PEOPLE. He’s been nominated for Oscars for acting in THE STING and producing and directing QUIZ SHOW too. And he’s received an honorary Oscar for founding the Sundance Film Festival, because yes, as you know, he is the father of the modern independent film movement. The Kennedy Center has already honored him with their lifetime achievement award. What’s holding you up?
SIR MICHAEL CAINE
He’s had a far more varied career than Sir Sean Connery who received your award in 2005. He’s had far more hits too. And like Redford, he’s been a leading man for six decades. Who can forget ALFIE, THE IPCRESS FILE, THE ITALIAN JOB, GET CARTER, SLEUTH, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, DRESSED TO KILL, EDUCATING RITA, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, THE QUIET AMERICAN, BATMAN BEGINS, CHILDREN OF MEN, THE DARK KNIGHT or INCEPTION? He’s also got two Oscars and four other nominations. What else must Sir Michael do to impress you, become a Lord of the British Empire?
He’ll likely never sit for the dinner that you require of your recipients, and we all know that’s why Katherine Hepburn and Paul Newman were never honored, but don’t let Woody Allen’s shyness divert you from the necessary task of giving him your award. He’s made 40 films in just as many years and given us classics like BANANAS, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, SLEEPER, ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, ANOTHER WOMAN, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, MATCH POINT, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA and the new delight MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. He’s a great movie star, writer and director, and is quite simply our greatest living filmmaker. Whatever it takes, get him to sit for the dinner.
He’s retired from the movies now but he has done more significant work than Morgan Freeman and is one of two American character actors who redefined the term. (More on the second one in the next paragraph.) Hackman has been both leading man and supporting performer throughout the five decades of his varied film career. Look at what he’s done and tell me he doesn’t deserve a lifetime achievement award: BONNIE AND CLYDE, DOWNHILL RACER, both FRENCH CONNECTION films, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE CONVERSATION, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN II, HOOSIERS, NO WAY OUT, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, CRIMSON TIDE, UNFORGIVEN, GET SHORTY, THE BIRDCAGE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. He's got two Oscars and there are few actors who can do drama and comedy as well as him and he needs to be heralded.
The other great who redefined the term character actor is Hackman’s old chum Duvall. Look at his list of amazing titles starting in 1962: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (He was Boo Radley!), BULLITT, TRUE GRIT, M*A*S*H, THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER PART II, THE CONVERSATION, NETWORK, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE GREAT SANTINI, TENDER MERCIES, THE NATURAL, LONESOME DOVE (on TV), THE APOSTLE, A CIVIL ACTION and GET LOW. He's an Oscar winner too and perhaps more significantly when actors tell you whom they most admire in the business one of them is always Duvall. What more does the AFI need?
I have been an AFI member for over a decade and wish that I had a vote. But only your committee can determine the winners. So they better start making more thoughtful choices. I implore the AFI to honor these six gentlemen. They have had longer and greater careers than many of those you have already bestowed with your award. Tom Hanks is a wonderful talent, but you awarded him when he was only 45 years old and that's way too young for anyone to receive a life achievement award. So resist giving the award to such contemporary types that would generate greater publicity for you like a Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise. Their time will come. Now you must be smarter and less expedient. You must do the right thing and honor these six without any further delay. If you don’t, you dishonor them as well as the history of film. And your relevancy and credibility will be lost.