The celebrities came out to tell an enthusiastic audience why Morgan Freeman richly deserved the 43rd Chaplin Award presented at this year’s gala (April 25, 2016) by the Film Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall. While the stars added to the enjoyment, all one had to do was look at the program’s list of films in which he appeared to see how wise it was to honor him. There are 83 in which he acted, and for good measure, one that he directed. Film clips during the evening time after time revealed the force of his screen presence.
Helen Mirren was the one who had the honor of presenting Freeman with the statue, and he vigorously rushed across the stage to accept. Hugs, of course. Mirren was effusive in her praise of his stature as an actor and on a personal note reveled at the experience of having worked with him.
Freeman accepted with humility, enjoying the opportunity to “take a few moments to look back at my career” and he saluted “all the wonderful actors” with whom he had the chance to work. He made it clear that what he was most proud of was his opportunity to portray Nelson Mandela, whom he described as “the greatest man of the past century,” in the film “Invictus.”
He also said: “Knowing my name is now on a list with so many cinema legends that I admire and venerate is something that I promise you that I will cherish forever.”
There was much humor in the festivities, which provided fun for the audience. One of the speakers, Robert De Niro, feigned jealousy, pointing out that while Freeman in his career got to portray Mandela, the lesser lights De Niro got to play was “Bernie f---ing Madoff.”
Producer/director Jerry Schatzberg recalled interviewing Freeman for a role early in the actor’s career, and said that Freeman started by pulling out a banana, peeling it and eating it during the conversation. Schatzberg was impressed. After all that followed in Freeman’s career, Schatzberg told the audience he gave “thanks for that banana.”
Matthew Broderick in his turn at praise quipped: "Morgan Freeman doesn’t sound like God. God sounds like Morgan Freeman.” (Freeman played God in “Bruce Almighty.”) Tim Robbins delivered his warm remarks via recorded film, an appropriate contribution as the two worked together in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
An especially moving appearance was that of Danny Glover, who, after getting a loud audience welcome, recalled earlier days when the two did a reading together at a theater in Harlem. Glover was directed by Freeman in “Bopha!”
Among the vast number of films in which Freeman appeared are the memorable “The Pawnbroker,” “Brubaker,” “Lean on Me,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Bruce Almighty,” “Glory,” “Unforgiven,” “Amistad,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Bucket List.” He is due to be seen this year in a remake of “Ben-Hur.”
Freeman takes his place among such past Film Society honorees as Fred Astaire, Laurence Olivier, Federico Fellini, Bette Davis, Sean Conenry, Mike Nichols, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola, Dustin Hoffman, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Streisand, Robert redford, and many more. The first was presented to Charlie Chaplin, on the occasion of his return to the United States in 1972 after remaining in exile for 20 years following the attacks on him during the McCarthy era.
This year’s gala began with an array of film clips showing past honorees and their pithy remarks, a vivid reminder of all of those whose careers have been celebrated over the years.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center programs films all year around at its Walter Reade Theater and new Elinor Bunin Munroe Center complex. It also presents the prestigious annual New York Film Festival. Reviewed April 27, 2016.