LOS ANGELES — Hollywood paid respect Saturday to leading lights of film, bestowing honorary Oscars on directing legends Francis Ford Coppola and Jean-Luc Godard, among other industry luminaries.
At a private banquet in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented the biggest lifetime accolade, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for producing, to the 71-year-old Coppola.
"It's wonderful. I have all my family here, and all my friends and colleagues. I couldn't be happier," said Coppola, who won his first Academy Award for co-writing the script of "Patton" way back in 1970.
"Star Wars" director George Lucas hailed Coppola's cinematic legacy, saying: "He's been my brother, he's been my mentor."
"Francis was never afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure that his artistic vision was completed the way he wanted," Lucas said.
Coppola sealed his legendary status by writing and directing the multiple Oscar-winning mafia movies "The Godfather" and "The Godfather, Part II" in 1972 and 1974 respectively.
Over a career spanning six decades, Coppola was also nominated for Academy Awards for "The Conversation" (1974), "Apocalypse Now" (1979), and "The Godfather, Part III" (1990).
Coppola, who was born in Detroit, Michigan to an Italian-American family and grew up in New York, produced several other iconic, critically-acclaimed films such as "The Black Stallion" and "American Graffiti."
"New Wave" director Godard, who turns 80 next month, was not present to receive his lifetime achievement award, which rekindled charges of anti-Semitism against the avowed anti-Zionist and defender of Palestinian rights.
Over the years, Godard has given numerous interviews critical of the Israeli government and the influence of Jews in Hollywood.
The controversy has raged throughout Jewish media in recent weeks and was picked up by the mainstream press, with The New York Times publishing an article titled "An Honorary Oscar Revives a Controversy," while the Los Angeles Times asked: "Jean-Luc Godard and his honorary Oscar: does it matter if he's an anti-Semite?"
The Academy attempted to brush aside the controversy, issuing a statement in the weeks leading up to the ceremony saying it was not convinced of the veracity of the allegations against Godard.
"Anti-Semitism is of course deplorable, but the Academy has not found the accusations against Mr Godard persuasive," the statement said.
The French-Swiss filmmaker, whose body of work includes "Breathless" (1960), "Contempt" (1963), "Band of Outsiders" (1964), "Masculine-Feminine" (1966) and "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" (1967), was praised for his passion in creating "a new kind of cinema."
"Jean-Luc Godard could not be here with us tonight. That is unfortunate," said Academy president Tom Sherak.
"But his absence in no way diminishes our respect and appreciation for his work as a filmmaker. And I want you to know that this award is meaningful to him."
Also honored were British film historian and preservationist Kevin Brownlow, 72, and veteran American actor Eli Wallach, 95, whose credits include "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
The gala dinner, which gathered stars from Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty to Robert De Niro and Oliver Stone, marked the start of the Hollywood awards season which culminates on February 27 with the Oscars.
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