The movie industry academy's Governors Awards, typically one of the classier prizefests, teetered on the brink Saturday of becoming the Golden Globes, one of the gabbier - and grabbier - galas on Hollywood's annual pre-Oscar circuit.
At the back of the Ray Dolby ballroom here (and on the patio, and in the aisles between tables), a noisy scrum of stars, filmmakers, publicists, reporters, agents and studio executives worked each other - and smiled for the cameras - in the season's first scramble for status as an awards contender.
Was that Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones? Absolutely. The two Theory of Everything stars were parked near the entrance of the ballroom. Hoping for best actress attention for Wild, Reese Witherspoon seemed determined to be noticed, marching into the fray wearing hot pink.
Harvey Weinstein held court with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, the leads in his best prospect, The Imitation Game. Graham Moore, vying for consideration for his adapted screenplay for that film, schmoozed with reporters while the movie's Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum, hovered nearby.
The rumble of ambition was so loud that it almost turned into a sideshow for the event's raison d'etre: the bestowing of honorary Oscars on Hollywood legends. This year, statuettes were given to the actress Maureen O'Hara, the animator Hayao Miyazaki, the writer Jean-Claude Carriere and the actor, singer and humanitarian Harry Belafonte.
But Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, had a hard time breaking through the clamour. She stood on the dais, trying in vain to silence the crowd. A tuxedoed sergeant-at-arms had already begged for silence, to no avail. Isaacs, an even-tempered sort, finally just plowed into her speech even through half the room was still standing.
When dinner was served - filet mignon, crab cakes, butter lettuce with tiny apple balls - many attendees took the opportunity to rework the room, leaving plates of food untouched.
It took the still-fiery O'Hara, wearing a blue sparkling gown and using a wheelchair, to fully command the room's attention.
Introduced by Clint Eastwood and Liam Neeson with a montage of her famous roles (How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street), O'Hara arrived onstage softly singing Danny Boy.
The Dublin-born O'Hara, 94, delivered a very Irish lesson for the glory-seekers in the crowd. "There's only one person who has control over what you get and what it's made of," she said. "And that's the devil himself."
But when she was cut short, she objected ("Oh no, you have to give me a few more minutes"), spoke some more, then was cut short again, as her microphone was unclipped from her dress and the band started playing. Looking annoyed, she kicked off her left shoe, and Eastwood wheeled her offstage.
Carriere paid tribute to the great directors with whom he had worked, including Luis Bunuel and Philip Kaufman, who presented the award, noting that Carriere had writing credits on a stunning 139 films. "Too often the screenwriters are forgotten," Carriere said. "Their names do not appear in the reviews. Very sad."
John Lasseter, the Pixar co-founder, introduced Miyazaki, the Japanese animation superstar, in a presentation that emphasised his long-running campaign to make the Academy see animation as "not just for children." Miyazaki, known for films like Spirited Away and Ponyo, spoke briefly through a translator but said his real good luck was that he had finally met O'Hara.
Belafonte, the evening's final honoree, pointedly declined to make too much of the Academy's having, finally, earlier this year awarded its best picture Oscar to a film made by a black director, 12 Years a Slave. Belafonte mentioned it as one of three movies that promised a more socially conscious Hollywood, along with Brokeback Mountain, about gay cowboys, and Schindler's List, about the Holocaust.
Belafonte, known for his blunt-spoken ways, delivered a history lesson, name-checking films like The Birth of a Nation, Tarzan the Ape Man and Disney's Song of the South as racially offensive. But, mostly, he issued a challenge. "Maybe, just maybe," he suggested, Hollywood might make some films that actually improve civilisation between now and the end of the century.
With the honorary Academy Award, Belafonte joined an elite club that of honorees who have received the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards, aka the EGOT, show-business for a quadruple crown.