Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Selena Gomez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pedro Pascal, Margot Robbie, Christopher Nolan, Bradley Cooper, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Stone, Brian Cox, Quinta Brunson, Paul Giamatti, Ali Wong and Lily Gladstone Among Guests
Multi-Million Dollar Donation from AFI Vice Chair Richard Frank Announced to Support AFI Conservatory Scholarships Named in Honor of AFI AWARDS Recipients
Academy Award® Winner Ellen Burstyn Delivered Benediction
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Los Angeles, CA, January 12, 2024 – Today, the American Film Institute (AFI) celebrated the 2023 AFI AWARDS honorees at an exclusive invite-only luncheon. Celebrating film and television arts’ collaborative nature, AFI AWARDS is the only national program that honors creative teams as a whole, recognizing those in front of and behind the camera.
At the event, AFI revealed its official rationales (below) for all 20 honorees, providing the cultural and artistic context to mark these outstanding creative endeavors as the year’s notable milestones. All the honored works advance the art of the moving image, inspire audiences and artists alike and enhance the rich cultural heritage of America’s art form.
AFI also announced that Vice Chair Richard Frank has made a generous multi-million dollar scholarship pledge in the name of AFI AWARDS honorees over the next decade. The scholarships will be awarded to Fellows studying at the AFI Conservatory.
Academy Award® Winner and AFI DWW Alum Ellen Burstyn delivered the official benediction. Burstyn was in the first class of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women, which was launched in 1974 and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In her benediction, Burstyn praised the honorees for their dedication to the craft and willingness to give everything to make the honored motion pictures and television programs. Burstyn said, “I feel blessed to be part of this amazing tribe. Thank you all for celebrating the best without making it a competition, just a shared appreciation. We appreciate you all.”
The AFI AWARDS luncheon also featured the Institute’s signature March of Time montage – a unique cross-section of cinematic milestones from decades past, which places the motion picture and television program honorees into a historical context and provides a perspective on the evolution of the narrative arts.
Guests in attendance at the AFI AWARDS luncheon included Pam Abdy, Erika Alexander, Paulina Alexis, Jennifer Aniston, Jesse Armstrong, Ebon-Moss Bachrach, Bela Bajaria, Nicole Beharie, Alan Bergman, David Bernad, Emily Blunt, Benjamin Bratt, Sterling K. Brown, Quinta Brunson, Lionel Boyce, Joanna Calo, Tantoo Cardinal, Jason Cassidy, JaNae Collins, Tim Cook, Bradley Cooper, Brian Cox, Michael Cyrus Creighton, Kieran Culkin, Willem Dafoe, Bob Daly, Mike DeLuca, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jillian Dion, Joaquim Dos Santos, Robert Downey Jr., Neil Druckmann, Channing Dungey, Ayo Edebiri, Lee Eisenberg, Jamie Erlicht, Lane Factor, America Ferrera, Will Ferrell, Jean Picker Firstenberg, Greta Gerwig, Paul Giamatti, Lily Gladstone, Selena Gomez, David Greenbaum, Matthew Greenfield, Justin Halpern, Sterlin Harjo, Todd Haynes, Cody Heller, John Hoffman, Mike Hopkins, Bob Iger, Lisa Jackson, Devery Jacobs, Rian Johnson, Cord Jefferson, Kathleen Kennedy, Peter Kujawski, John Landgraf, Donna Langley, Yorgos Lanthimos, Mimi Leder, Phil Lord, Gabriel Luna, Natasha Lyonne, John Magaro, James Marsden, Steve Martin, Craig Mazin, Zach McClarnon, Charles Melton, Christopher Miller, Julianne Moore, Carey Mulligan, Cillian Murphy, Cara Jade Myers, Christopher Nolan, Nick Offerman, Pedro Pascal, Alexander Payne, Karen Pittman, Natalie Portman, Kemp Powers, Florence Pugh, Bella Ramsey, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Margot Robbie, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tom Rothman, Jennifer Salke, Ted Sarandos, Dominic Sessa, Patrick Schumacker, Martin Short, Sarah Snook, Celine Song, Steven Spielberg, George Stevens Jr., Emma Stone, Charlotte Stoudt, Meryl Streep, Scott Stuber, Lee Sung Jin, Justin K. Thompson, Zack Van Amburg, Dana Walden, Jeremy Allen White, Reese Witherspoon, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Ali Wong, Jeffrey Wright, Janet Yang, Steven Yeun, Teo Yoo, Ramy Youssef, David Zaslav, Lilla Zuckerman and Nora Zuckerman.
FIJI Water returned as the Official Water Sponsor for the event. The No. 1 premium imported water bottle brand in the U.S. kept luncheon honorees and attendees hydrated with Earth’s Finest, iconic 500mL bottles made from 100% recycled material (rPET). This, along with the 330mL, is part of the brand’s effort to shift the entire portfolio to recycled plastic bottles. FIJI Water is honored to have helped AFI celebrate entertainment’s past year of performance and production milestones.
AFI AWARDS 2023 OFFICIAL RATIONALES:
AFI MOTION PICTURES OF THE YEAR
AMERICAN FICTION announces the arrival of a powerful voice in American film – Cord Jefferson – who pens a new chapter in our understanding of how stories are told – and by whom. Jeffrey Wright delivers a triumphant performance with a lightning bolt of righteous rage and a thunderclap of humor – exploring the complexities of identity, hypocrisy and heartbreak. The film is further elevated by a peerless ensemble that demands we embrace a world beyond stereotype.
BARBIE smashes the glass ceiling of cinema with the imaginative power of a child at play. Greta Gerwig and her talented creative ensemble bring a plastic icon to life in this tour de force – and tour de fun. Standing tall is Margot Robbie, who embodies an American “ideal” while releasing it from the shadows of heels and history – and, ultimately, asking us all to consider what we were made for. And then there’s Ken. Nice work, Ryan.
THE HOLDOVERS flips back the pages of a calendar to present a timeless portrait of humanity. Driven by the deepest of emotions and iced with a wicked wit, Alexander Payne achieves the extraordinary – creating a world we have all lived in – with feelings we have all experienced. Paul Giamatti’s hilariously humbug performance further etches his place in the pantheon and stellar turns from Da’Vine Joy Randolph and newcomer Dominic Sessa become family to our own in this seasonal treat as cozy as it is curmudgeonly.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON finds unexplored territory for a modern master – and it’s a narrative Martin Scorsese claims with the Osage Nation. As this poisonous picture of America’s past unfolds, audiences will be left in awe at the evolution of the art form as they experience the performances of Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio – and the illumination of Lily Gladstone, who breathes new spirits to life.
MAESTRO commands the rapturous applause of a global audience – and then pauses in profound silence to consider the role of “performance” in both art and life. It is time for Bradley Cooper to take his well-earned bow – both for his insightful, incisive direction and for his transformative performance as Leonard Bernstein. And a billion bravas to Carey Mulligan, who raises the film to high art by embodying the complexities of marriage – and love – and life.
MAY DECEMBER proves the power of Todd Haynes as an American provocateur – with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore facing off in a mesmerizing mirror dance that reflects Hollywood’s thirst to embody the complex humanity behind the most tawdry of tabloid tales. Charles Melton is exquisitely understated as the victim to both, who quietly brings them together as one, in a world masked by perfection and marked by “what grown-ups do.”
OPPENHEIMER detonates a moral quandary – rare in the days when superheroes have all the answers. Christopher Nolan’s blinding look at this flashpoint in American history aches with the consequences of achievement and explodes beyond the screen to register a new standard in film biographies. At its core stands Cillian Murphy, who embodies an enigma with rich complexity – while orbited by powerhouse performances from a peerless all-star cast.
PAST LIVES celebrates cosmic connections – both found and lost. Bruising and brilliant, this masterful debut by director Celine Song explores the Korean concept of In-Yun – are two meant to be one? It’s a story that will not leave you – in this life or into the next.
POOR THINGS expands the mind with the richest of imaginations – all the while pushing the boundaries of emotion with phantasmagoric flair. Emma Stone redefines the modern movie star in a fearless performance that demands audiences heed the power of women in a world of man-made monsters. And because Yorgos Lanthimos is at the helm – the horror is hilarious.
SPIDER-MAN: ACROSS THE SPIDER-VERSE adds infinite dimension to the superhero genre with soaring ambition and artistry. Directors Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson deliver a humanist spin on heroism – combining unprecedented visual invention with rich emotional nuance to elevate the art form through animation.
AFI TELEVISION PROGRAMS OF THE YEAR
ABBOTT ELEMENTARY teaches us how it’s done. Quinta Brunson revitalizes the beloved sitcom format with undeniable optimism as it tackles the topics of our day. At the series’ heart is an ensemble of teachers – both heroic and hilarious – who, like their real-life counterparts in public education, struggle selflessly against a system stacked against them to find promise for our future.
THE BEAR turns up the heat in its second year. The dysfunction of family continues to flavor Christopher Storer’s spectacular series, and this season ventures beyond the tension of its high-pressure kitchen for a scalding examination of the ties that bind. Jeremy Allen White leads a brilliant ensemble that expanded this year to include some of the very best guest appearances on television.
BEEF sizzles with vindictive indignation – a razor-sharp satire first catalyzed by rage, which then widens its focus to reveal a frenzied world where all battle to embrace intellect over emotion – and often fail. The endlessly entertaining motivations for retaliation are powder kegs lit by creator Lee Sung Jin – and the chemistry of Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, whether in conflict or in concert, is explosive.
JURY DUTY makes the case for bold experimentation in episodic television. Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky’s high-concept comedy offers a fresh approach to the mock-doc genre, achieving its unique charm through inventive writing and a cast of lovable eccentrics. Headlined by James Marsden in a comic bow to narcissism, the show’s heart is the oblivious everyman Ronald Gladden – whose do-good good-nature makes the premise soar.
THE LAST OF US is first-rate television. With a narrative born from an infectious video game, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann expertly expand the boundaries of each character, organically triggering deeply human fears that still run rampant in our post-pandemic world. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s found family provide the beating heart to this post-apocalyptic adventure that finds hope – and connection – as our only means of survival.
THE MORNING SHOW rises like the sun in the world of top-tier television. Jay Carson’s sophisticated series was born in the world of #MeToo and continues to grow and flourish with a finger on the pulse of today’s world news. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon anchor a stellar ensemble fighting for relevance – and to maintain integrity – in a for-profit world.
ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING elevates the hilarity of whodunits to new heights. Steve Martin and John Hoffman’s third season builds on the undeniable charm of its central trio – Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez – with the toe-tapping addition of original musical numbers and an A-list ensemble including the incomparable Meryl Streep.
POKER FACE plays an unbeatable hand – with Natasha Lyonne as its ace-in-the-hole. In this irresistible homage to classic mystery television, Rian Johnson’s killer series features a murderers’ row of guest stars, but it’s Lyonne’s ragged, raspy and frequently funky human lie-detector that gives the show its edge, humor and – “uh, just one more thing…” – its heart.
RESERVATION DOGS rides off into the sunset having left an indelible mark on today’s television. Soaring above stereotypes, Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi infuse this distinctive dramedy with a wry tone that illuminates the struggles of modern Indigenous peoples – and their undying spirit to restore community and journey beyond the boundaries of a painful American past.
SUCCESSION ends its reign at Shakespearean heights – and enters American history as a king in the television kingdom. Bold and blistering up to its scorched-earth finale, Jesse Armstrong’s dynastic conflict continued to battle large, even in the physical absence of its omnipresent patriarch. With acting, writing and direction at their finest, the knife-twist ending leaves no real winners – except for the audience.
The 2023 recipients join a distinguished group of previous AFI AWARDS honorees whose works define the art form and contribute to our rich cultural legacy. View past AFI AWARDS honorees.
Learn more about AFI AWARDS at AFI.com.
About the American Film Institute (AFI)
The American Film Institute (AFI) is a nonprofit organization with a mandate to champion the moving image as an art form. Established in 1967, AFI launched the first comprehensive history of American film and sparked the movement for film preservation in the United States. In 1969, AFI opened the doors of the AFI Conservatory, a graduate-level program to train narrative filmmakers. The Conservatory, which counts Deniese Davis, Affonso Gonçalves, Susannah Grant, Matthew Libatique, David Lynch, Melina Matsoukas and Rachel Morrison as Alumni, is ranked the #1 film school in America. AFI’s enduring traditions include the AFI Life Achievement Award, which honors the masters for work that has stood the test of time; AFI AWARDS, which celebrates the creative ensembles of the most outstanding screen stories of the year; and scholarly efforts such as the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and the AFI Archive that preserve film history for future generations. AFI exhibition programs include AFI FEST and year-round exhibition at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Maryland. AFI Movie Club is a destination for movie lovers from around the world to celebrate and engage with the art form every day. Other pioneering programs include workshops aimed at increasing diversity in the storytelling community, including AFI DWW+ and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women. Read about all of these programs and more at AFI.com and follow us on social media at Facebook.com/AmericanFilmInstitute, YouTube.com/AFI, Twitter.com/AmericanFilm and Instagram.com/AmericanFilmInstitute.
American Film Institute
Shari Mesulam, [email protected]