by Geoff Berkshire
Maturity seems to be in short supply in many areas of the world today, but there’s one awards show that celebrates that virtue above all others: the AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards.
Now in its 16th year, the annual kudos, held Feb. 6 at the Beverly Wilshire this year, recognizes achievements of those in the entertainment industry age 50 and over, and the films that speak to that vast audience.
AARP The Magazine presents the awards and West Coast editor and celebrity liaison Meg Grant says this year’s honorees share a common interest in the “interconnections between human beings,” beginning with best picture winner “Loving.” It’s the moving true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who became unwitting civil-rights heroes at the center of a landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriages nationwide.
“So many of our members remember that time and may have even experienced it,” Grant says of the film’s ’60s setting. “We love how restrained Jeff [Nichols, the writer-director] was in his filmmaking. And we believe that there’s a right time for certain movies.”
Indeed, while “Loving” bowed to strong reviews at May’s Cannes Film Festival, its release during the height of a contentious and divisive American election season was a reminder how much progress has been made on issues of equality in recent years, and how much work there still is to do.
“Of course the movie was made before we knew where we’d be at this moment in time,” Grant says. “But the timing was perfect for this movie and the message it sends.”
And “Loving” also proves the AARP is happy to reward films no matter the age of those behind and in front of the camera. Nichols and stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are all under 50.
“It goes to show grownup movies are a state of mind rather than a matter of chronology,” says Bill Newcott, film critic for AARP The Magazine.
In the performance categories, however, actors are required to be 50-plus, and the four acclaimed honorees this year make the most of their richly layered grownup roles. “Fences” duo Denzel Washington and Viola Davis claim lead actor and supporting actress, respectively, while “20th Century Women” star Annette Bening is lead actress, and “Hell or High Water” scene-stealer Jeff Bridges is supporting actor winner.
For the first time ever the org is giving directing and screenplay honors to the same individual: “Manchester by the Sea” auteur Kenneth Lonergan.
“This is such a personal project, you can’t separate the script from the direction — it’s one piece,” says Newcott. “It’s about a younger guy, but who in their life, the older you get, has not had terrible things happen to them that they have to get over, and maybe they can’t get over? It’s maybe one of the most grownup lessons life can ever teach us — sometimes things happen that are not going to pass and yet life goes on.”
Fellow awards season darling “La La Land” was named top comedy/musical. The film, with its focus on young dreamers in Los Angeles and wunderkind creator Damien Chazelle, is emblematic of the season’s generational skew.
“There’s a lot of young people in the awards mix this year,” Grant notes. “For films that are quite young in terms of talent, I’m appreciative they still speak to a grownup audience, but I wish filmmakers would find more of a balance [of younger and older characters]. I would wish for films that don’t just go one way or the other.”
Looking beyond Hollywood and the indie scene, the org will also honor Paul Verhoeven’s French sensation “Elle,” with its tour de force performance from Isabelle Huppert, for foreign film, and Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” for documentary.
When it comes to the show itself, all eyes will be on the first-time host: Emmy-winning character actress Margo Martindale.
Also an honoree in one of the awards’ quirkier categories, best grownup love story for her work opposite Richard Jenkins in “The Hollars,” the gig marks Martindale’s kudos hosting debut.
“That’s part of the reason she’s taken on the challenge,” Grant says. “One of the reasons we love her is when she won her first Emmy [for ‘Justified’] her speech was about how it took a long time but sometimes that’s what it takes, and experience matters. It’s never too late. She’s taken on this challenge, she’s delighted to do it, and I think her message is going to be perfect for us.”
Grant notes Martindale has attended the ceremony in the past, and makes an ideal fit with the collegial vibe.
“I think she’ll be funny but not poking fun, if you know what I mean. We’re an easy target [for jokes], and I think she’ll poke gentle fun, but she’s one of us.”
The Movies for Grownups Awards also benefit a good cause: the AARP Foundation. All the proceeds support the org dedicated to help ease the struggles of people aged 50 and older nationwide.
Foundation president Lisa Marsh Ryerson says, “We’re especially excited about our collaboration with the Motion Picture & Television Fund to fight social isolation among older members of the entertainment industry, many of whom can no longer get around easily or have lost loved ones and friends who once formed their social support.”
While this year’s kudos promise to be as star-studded as ever, the ultimate goal is to honor the AARP’s mission statement that life only gets better with age, and that results in one of the most laid-back and welcoming events of the awards season.
“I think [the honorees] feel like they’re with their people. They let their hair down and really have a good time,” Grant says. “It’s a very relaxed setting and we try to get a mix of generations within the presenters and honorees themselves. The younger talent are awed by these legends.”