On Friday, Jan. 28, the second day of the 26th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Annette Bening was honored with the American Rivera Award at the Arlington Theatre.
The American Rivera Award is to acknowledge actors who have impacted American cinema through memorable and versatile performances. Past recipients of the prestigious award include Sandra Bullock, Mickey Rourke, Tommy Lee Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane.
“We are honored to be a part of a tribute to a wonderful artist,” Ted Donar, one of the ceremony’s sponsors from Chopin Vodka, said as he opened the tribute ceremony.
Bening is currently up for her fourth Academy Award nomination for her performance in “The Kids Are All Right” alongside Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, in which she takes on the role of Nic, a mother in a lesbian relationship trying to keep her family intact. Earlier this year, Bening played Karen, a mother regretful of giving up her child in “Mother and Child.” In both films Bening plays the role of a modern, though atypical, American mother in two strikingly different scenarios, displaying her multifaceted abilities as an actor.
Roger Durling, SBIFF executive director and the tribute’s moderator, introduced the tribute movie with an anecdote of how Bening’s Broadway debut in “Coastal Disturbances” left a lasting impression on him. Throughout his opening speech he spoke laudatory words about Bening, explaining the importance of this specific tribute.
“I have never been so closely invested in creating a reel. This is my valentine to Annette,” he said before the reel started.
The movie began with a scene from “American Beauty,” followed by one from “The Kids Are All Right” during which Nic discovers that her wife (Julianne Moore) has been cheating with their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). Both scenes are explosive and poignant with the propelling sense of emotion Annette Bening conveys through all her characters.
The tribute movie selected scenes from Bening’s filmography, such as the aforementioned “American Beauty” and “The Kids Are All Right,” as well as “Being Julia,” “Open Range” and “The American President.” Once the reel ended the entire theater stood in ovation of Bening’s accomplishments.
Roger Durling began the interview asking Bening how it felt to be nominated for an Oscar again. “Fantastic!” she said. “The first time I went through the awards process was 20 years ago. I know how fleeting it all is. Some movies work out and others don’t, so when something comes together like [“The Kids Are All Right”] has, it’s very exciting.”
During the discourse Bening spoke about her experiences as both a stage actor as well as a film actor — how each dramatic form differs but also how both are about the challenge and craft of acting. Furthermore, Durling brought up how many of Bening’s characters are not necessarily likable but rather very human characters trying to keep it together. “Women on the verge of a breakdown” was the specific phrase used to describe them.
“I like it more when female characters are not idealized,” Bening said in response to the observation.
Once the interview was over, Kevin Costner, Bening’s co-star and director in “Open Range,” came onstage to present Bening the award. Costner praised his former co-star, describing his experience with her during “Open Range.”
“She is a director’s best friend,” Costner said before calling her up for a hug and her award.
Bening gave her thank you speech and ended by recognizing her husband, Warren Beatty, closing the ceremony with a nice, warm feeling.