Dear American Film Institute,
I recently wrote an open letter making my case for who the next six recipients of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award should be. After it was completed I realized that there were still more that needed desperately to be honored, particularly some egregiously overlooked female candidates. Thus, here is a second letter and list of a few more that the AFI needs to honor promptly.
There have only been six women honored in the almost 40 year history of the award, and how Shirley MacLaine has been overlooked is beyond me. This amazing actress has now starred in movies in seven decades. Seven decades. There is no actor alive today who has had as long a career playing leads. Not one actor. Not one actress. And few have been as distinguished. From her auspicious debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY in 1955, she went on to star in such Hollywood films as AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, CAN-CAN, SOME CAME RUNNING, THE APARTMENT, THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, TWO FOR THE SEESAW, IRMA LA DOUCE, SWEET CHARITY, TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARAH, THE TURNING POINT, BEING THERE, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, STEEL MAGNOLIAS, POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and IN HER SHOES. She has won the Oscar and been nominated five other times. She has starred in TV shows and specials, headlined on Broadway, and is an international bestselling author. MacLaine is a true artist who needs to be recognized by the AFI. She is now 77 and still going strong with no fewer than four releases due in the next year. The AFI awarded her brother Warren Beatty in 2008 and now the same must be done for her.
Who gets the final shot in THE GODFATHER, the greatest film of all time? Diane Keaton does, that’s who. She plays Michael Corleone’s innocent wife watching the door to his corrupt world literally being slammed in her face. Keaton remains in the audience’s empathy until that very last shot, as she is the only one whose humanity is still in focus. And she continues to this day to bring that same humanity to role after role, and holds the audience with her. Keaton’s other highlights include SLEEPER, THE GODFATHER PART II, ANNIE HALL, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, MANHATTAN, REDS, CRIMES OF THE HEART, FATHER OF THE BRIDE, THE FIRST WIVE’S CLUB, MARVIN’S ROOM and SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. She has won the Oscar and been nominated three other times. She has been a brilliant dramatic actress and an unparalleled comedic one through five sterling decades of work and the AFI needs to acknowledge her.
The man who holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations without a win, at eight, is Peter O’Toole. He is an actor of the most impeccable standards. A man whose vast and varied career has lasted six decades and seen him thrive in everything from drama to comedy to satire to musicals. Look at this list of credits and tell me why Morgan Freeman was honored before him: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, BECKET, LORD JIM, THE LION IN WINTER, GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, THE RULING CLASS, THE STUNT MAN, MASADA, MY FAVORITE YEAR, THE LAST EMPEROR, VENUS and RATATOUILLE. There have only been four non-Americans to receive the AFI Life Achievement Award – Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, David Lean and Sean Connery. Michael Caine needs to be honored. And so does Peter O’Toole.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA
I know the argument against Coppola is that he hasn’t made a great film in 20 years. And that likely has kept him off the AFI’s shortlist. Well, that is wrong because here is what he has done in his six decades in the industry. He wrote the screenplay to PATTON. He co-wrote the screenplay, directed and produced THE GODFATHER and THE GODFATHER, PART II. He produced AMERICAN GRAFFITI. He wrote, produced and directed THE CONVERSATION. He wrote, produced and directed APOCALYPSE NOW. He gave us THE OUTSIDERS and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED and the wonderful young filmmaker Sofia Coppola. And he’s produced over 23 films in his career. If the AFI is going to honor George Lucas, mostly on the credits of STAR WARS, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and the technical divisions he created with THX sound and Industrial Light and Magic, then they must honor this equally revolutionary filmmaker whose resume is the envy of any filmmaker alive.
Perhaps by semi-retiring she became forgotten by a large contingency of Hollywood, including the AFI, but the simple truth is that there were two actresses who defined the 70’s. One was Barbra Streisand and she's been honored. The other is Jane Fonda and her amazing contributions to film need to be recognized as well. In case it’s been forgotten, and it shouldn’t be, here is what is on her resume: CAT BALLOU, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY, KLUTE, JULIA, COMING HOME, CALIFORNIA SUITE, THE CHINA SYNDROME, NINE TO FIVE, ON GOLDEN POND, THE DOLL MAKER, AGNES OF GOD and THE MORNING AFTER. She’s also produced a number of her movies, like previous winners Warren Beatty and Michael Douglas, and won two Oscars while being nominated five other times. Just because she’s courted controversy all her life should not keep the AFI from honoring this seminal actress.
The real tragedy is that so many deserving honorees have been ignored or overlooked for the expedience of picking more contemporary stars. The likes of Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, Robert DeNiro, Harrison Ford, Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep have been honored already and they were lauded while they were only in their fifties. Their fifties! Those choices couldn’t have waited a decade or two more? The answer is a deafening yes, but the AFI opted to compromise the meaning of their awards for TV ratings and bigger names to ensure fundraising. That needs to stop now. These must be the next on the AFI's honor roll:
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA
It is up to the American Film Institute to determine the order, but however they're ranked, none should be crossed off the list. And no others should be heralded before these legends are given their due. It’s high time the AFI got the Life Achievement Award back to being what it should be - the highest honor given to an artist at the end of a career. Not in the middle of it.