LOS ANGELES - About halfway through the first televised Hollywood Film Awards, Chris Rock took the stage to accept a trophy for his film "Top Five." ''Wow, do you feel the excitement in the room?" he asked facetiously. The remark elicited the first real laughter of the night from an otherwise restrained audience.
The show that has dubbed itself the "official launch of the awards season" was, even at a brisk two hours, a subdued, often strained celebration of celebrities and their films, many of which have only played at festivals and some that have yet to be seen by anyone.
The Friday night affair was a strange amalgam of sincere and bizarre moments, including Johnny Depp slurring and cursing through a pre-written speech. The stars might have come out to party, but they didn't seem to be having any fun.
Now in its 18th year, The Hollywood Film Awards hopes to become one of the major stops on the annual movie awards trail, now that it's being broadcast on CBS, along with a pre-show from the red carpet and a post-show recap. Queen Latifah was this year's host.
Ratings for the inaugural show were dismal, however, with CBS reporting Saturday a peak of only 4 million viewers, far less than for its usual Friday night lineup, "Hawaii 5-0" and "Blue Bloods," which drew 11.5 million viewers last week. Last year's Golden Globes show attracted nearly 21 million viewers.
For years, the non-televised show has raised eyebrows for awarding honors to unreleased films. Yet the stars have always seemed to show up, eager to boost industry buzz for their films. This year was no exception.
Attendees included such A-listers as Angelina Jolie, presenting an award to Jack O'Connell who stars in her unreleased film "Unbroken," and Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, both of whom picked up acting honors for "The Imitation Game," not in theaters until Nov. 28.
Eddie Redmayne was honored for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything" and Reese Witherspoon presented an award to her "Wild" director Jean-Marc Vallée.
Most presenters and honorees read pre-scripted speeches scrolling on a teleprompter at the back of the room. Yet that didn't prevent some embarrassing gaffes, such as Jennifer Lopez's repeated "How to 'Drain' Your Dragon" mistake and censored moments when stars, like Redmayne, would go off-script.
It was Depp, though, who provided one of the strangest moments of the evening when he took to the stage to present the documentary award for "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon." He slurred and swayed his way through a mostly inaudible speech, using the F-word twice before a clip reel cut him off.
Behind the scenes, The Hollywood Film Awards was pretty standard fare, with much mingling and schmoozing among the tables set up for guests at the Hollywood Palladium, a venerable Los Angeles music venue. Redmayne made the rounds during commercial breaks to chat with Mike Myers, Steve Carell and Cumberbatch. Ben Affleck, who accepted the main award on behalf of "Gone Girl," arrived midway through the show, taking a seat next to co-star Emily Ratajkowski at a table that included much of the cast.
Chris Pratt, also a late arrival, held court at his centrally located table, letting out an enthusiastic yelp when one of the servers popped another bottle of champagne for his group, which included his "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn.
But even though the tables were stocked with large bottles of bubbly and tequila, the industry audience, including such major players as Harvey Weinstein, was not treating the event as the free-for-all we've grown to expect from boozy table shows such as the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Still, despite the murky criteria for "winning" and the heavily scripted nature of the evening, a few of the honorees did exhibit true gratitude, making the event feel at times like a rehearsal for what's to come in the next few months of awards campaigning.
O'Connell, for instance, has never fully participated in the awards race. "I'm very sentimental about the whole thing," he said before the show. And indeed, in a largely unemotional evening, he provided one of the few poignant moments by dedicating his award to the late Louis Zamperini, who he portrays in "Unbroken."