Elegance, Elongated: Beauty and Bounty at the
(March 27) Capping a year of commercial diversity with a tasteful and deliberately leisurely ceremony, American Beauty held off a last-minute push from The Cider House Rules to earn five Oscars Sunday night at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. The DreamWorks SKG picture won statues for Best Picture, Best Director (Sam Mendes, who received his Oscar from mentor and DreamWorks co-founder Steven Spielberg), Best Actor (Kevin Spacey), Best Original Screenplay (Alan Ball) and Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall).
Warner Bros.’ The Matrix went four-for-four, winning technical awards for Film Editing, Sound, Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects. Mike Leigh’s critical favorite Topsy-Turvy (USA Films) won two awards, for Makeup and Costume Design. And despite the huge outlay for trade ads in a last-minute push for the Best Picture prize, Miramax’s The Cider House Rules garnered only two Oscars, as Michael Caine picked up his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar and author John Irving won his first for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Hilary Swank won the Best Actress Oscar for her
gender-bending role in Fox Searchlight’s Boys Don’t Cry, while
Angelina Jolie scored in the Best Supporting Actress category as the defiant
mental patient in Columbia Pictures’ Girl, Interrupted.
Pedro Almodovar gave a virtually indecipherable speech as
he accepted the Best Foreign Film Oscar for the Sony Pictures Classics release, All
About My Mother, while veteran producer Arthur Cohn struck one of the
evening’s few sour notes with some unexpectedly strident words following his
documentary One Day in September’s besting of Wim Wenders’ Buena
Vista Social Club (which, along with classical composer John Corigliano’s
win for the Best Original Score of The Red Violin, marked perhaps the
evening’s most legitimate upsets).
For the record, the evening’s big loser was Buena
Vista’s absorbing, intellectual The Insider, which never felt like a
natural fit amidst the glitz (Best Actor nominee Russell Crowe never cracked an
onscreen smile despite ample face time) and thus failed to win in any of the
seven categories in which it was nominated. And despite the publicity afforded
Haley Joel Osment as the young clairvoyant who sees dead people, Buena Vista’s
The Sixth Sense was shut out of the running in the six categories in
which it placed.
While the shorter ceremony promised by first-time Oscar
producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck failed to materialize, the oddly
streamlined four-hour-and-three-minute proceedings were highlighted by
relatively short and graceful acceptance speeches from veterans and newcomers
alike. Jane Fonda gave an impassioned introduction of Polish filmmaker Andrzej
Wajda as the veteran filmmaker collected his Honorary Oscar (and thanked the
Academy in subtitled Polish), while Warren Beatty’s rambling yet enthralling
acceptance of the Irving Thalberg award veered appealingly between stylish
statesmanship and a kind of vaudeville routine with presenter Jack Nicholson.
The craftspeople who won for Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy were suitably
astonished to be there, while the Russian director of the animated short The
Old Man and the Sea confessed to the room that he didn’t speak English but
then thanked the Academy in his native language.
It was that kind of evening, with no apparent axes to grind and a seemingly healthy feeling of satisfaction and even a bit of mischief in the air. After a typically inventive and beguiling start from host Billy Crystal, the Oscars-in-the-dumpster jokes were held to a minimum and the host left the drama to the players. The air of congeniality was enhanced by the new and satisfying strategy of following the winners backstage after their acceptance speeches, where a kind of all-star bullpen of celebrities coming and going was presided over by announcer Peter Coyote, who appeared to be guarding a wall of Oscars that were grabbed by the next gaggle of stars taking the stage.
In fact, the affair sagged only when it fell back on what
the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences promised there’d be less of:
spectacle. The Burt Bacharach-led medley of memorable Oscar-nominated songs had
the novelty factor of seeing Garth Brooks, Queen Latifah, Faith Hill, Ray
Charles, Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick share the same stage, but along with the
Haley Joel Osment-introduced assemblage of clips from Oscar-nominated tykes of
the past, the forced pageantry and reverence seemed just a bit out of place.
"This is fantastic," said Phil Collins as he thanked
his three children for writing the Oscar-winning song "You’ll Be in My
Heart" from Buena Vista’s Tarzan. And, in truth, it really was.