FROM THE 71ST ACADEMY AWARDS
There’s a whole lotta Shakespeare goin’ on.
In an evening with a few surprises, Academy voters saved the biggest one for last, as Miramax’s “Shakespeare in Love” nabbed the best pic Oscar, the second top award given to the company in the last three years.
In the 71st annual Academy Awards, presented Sunday night, the pic nabbed seven kudos, including for actress Gwyneth Paltrow and original screenplay for Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard — the first time in four years that the best pic winner also took home a writing award.
DreamWorks/Paramount’s “Saving Private Ryan” won five awards, including director for Steven Spielberg. The “Shakespeare”-Spielberg split marked only the 18th time that the pic and helming prizes were not the same. (The last time it happened was 1989, when “Driving Miss Daisy” and Oliver Stone, for “Born on the Fourth of July,” won.)
Unlike last year with “Titanic,” there were few shoo-ins, with wildly varying critics prizes, industry buzz and pundits’ predictions. While a few onlookers predicted numerous upsets, there weren’t many — but they were choice.
However, the highly hyped debate over director Elia Kazan’s honorary Oscar led to a moment at the ceremony that turned out to be mild and well-behaved.
In several instances, Academy Awards oddities were upturned and records set.
“Shakespeare” had a record number of producers for a winning film, with the quintet of David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman.
In one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the evening, Roberto Benigni (“Life is Beautiful”) became the first best-actor winner ever for a foreign-language film and the only actor since Laurence Olivier in the 1948 “Hamlet” to direct himself to an acting trophy. Judi Dench, in what may be a record for Oscar-winning brevity, won for her eight-minute turn as Queen Elizabeth in “Shakespeare in Love.”
Since Universal has foreign rights to “Shakespeare,” the two big winners indicate the changing nature of the business, where financing and releasing deals make studio tallies difficult and perhaps irrelevant.
With his helming laurel, Steven Spielberg joins 16 others who’ve won two or more directing nods, including Billy Wilder and David Lean. (The champ is John Ford, with four.) Spielberg has two earlier Oscars, as director and producer of “Schindler’s List,” out of four previous noms for directing and three for producing. He also has an Irving Thalberg award.
In the last Oscarcast of the century and of the millennium, there’s a nice (if unconscious) symbolism that the two most honored films centered on a key turning point of the century and a key period of the millennium: World War II and Elizabethan England.
Unlike “Titanic’s” 11-prize sweep last year, the riches were spread around more, with the Italian-lingo “Beautiful” earning three. “Elizabeth” (makeup), “Gods and Monsters” (Bill Condon, adapted screenplay), “Affliction” (supporting actor James Coburn), “The Prince of Egypt” (Stephen Schwartz, song) and “What Dreams May Come” (visual effects) earned one apiece.
Of the five best-pic nominees, only Fox’s “The Thin Red Line” came away empty-handed.
This year also saw a nice mix of American and non-U.S. pics, of dramas and comedies and of favorites and dark horses.
Ever since “Private Ryan” opened in July, pundits said it was the one to beat for the big prize, and with a global gross topping $450 million, it was clearly the most widely seen. But the odds changed a little on Feb. 9 when “Shakespeare in Love” grabbed 13 nominations to “Ryan’s” 11: In 14 of the last 15 years, the pic with the most nominations went on to win the best-picture Oscar.
The winner this year follows a few recent Oscar traditions for best pic, but bucks a few others.
Oscar has always had mixed feelings about comedies, with only one best pic in this decade, “Forrest Gump,” that could fit into that category. And, since 1991, none of the best-film winners has had a conventional happy ending (“Silence of the Lambs,” “Unforgiven,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart,” “The English Patient,” “Titanic”) and the previous four end with the death of one of the principal characters.
With the “Shakespeare” script win, Miramax took home its sixth screenplay award in seven years, in a run that began with Neil Jordan’s victory for “The Crying Game” in 1992.
Though missing out on the top prize, Italy’s “Beautiful” took home the foreign-language film trophy. The voting echoes the only other time a foreign-lingo pic was nominated in those two categories in the same year, 1969′s “Z.” The Benigni pic also was cited for Nicola Piovani’s dramatic score.
Until the final 30 minutes, there were few clues what would win the big prize, since “Shakespeare,” “Ryan” and “Beautiful” had each won a handful of awards, none of them unexpected (e.g., “Shakespeare” for costumes and art direction, “Ryan” for sound and editing).
In the first half of the show, highlights included a wild audience reaction to Whoopi Goldberg’s entrance in full Queen Elizabeth regalia, while the greatest display of emotion involved, not surprisingly, Benigni.
When presenter Sophia Loren cried out “Roberto!” to announce that his “Beautiful” was top foreign-lingo film, the triple nominee exhibited his customary over-the-top exuberance by standing on the back of his aisle seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and waving to the crowd. A little bit later, Helen Hunt announced him for best actor and, if anything, the reactions from him and the audience were greater.
After all the pre-awards media attention about the honorary Oscar for director Kazan, the moment of presentation was somewhat anti-climactic. Though impish and sassy host Goldberg made a joke about the blacklist in the first hour, the event wasn’t mentioned again.
Nearly three hours into the broadcast, presenters Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese came out to describe Kazan’s work as “vitally important in the history of American film” before introducing a montage of film moments.
At his entrance, the 89-year-old director, accompanied by his wife, received healthy applause and a scattered standing ovation, to which he replied, “I really like to hear that. I’d like to thank the Academy for its courage and generosity.” He wrapped his brief speech with, “I think I can just slip away.”
Norman Jewison was given the Irving Thalberg award, presented in honor of the body of his work.
Other notable developments:
The four acting races provided a nice international mix of Americans, Brits and Italians, from films in both period and contempo settings, and comedy and drama films.
Benigni is only the third actor in 71 years to have won for performances in a foreign language, after Sophia Loren (“Two Women” in 1961 and Robert De Niro in “The Godfather, Part II” in 1974). Interestingly, all three were speaking Italian. Though nearly two dozen actors have received nominations for foreign-lingo perfs, Benigni is the first to also have received scripting and directing noms.
The supporting actor Oscar was handed to James Coburn for “Affliction,” his first nom in a 40-year career.
Dench won on her second consecutive nom, after her bid last year for playing another queen (Victoria, in Miramax’s “Mrs. Brown”).
According to Miramax, Dench’s time onscreen is an Oscar record for brevity, beating Anthony Quinn and his nine minutes in “Lust for Life” and Beatrice Straight, for 10 minutes in “Network.” Dench becomes the fifth supporting actress win for Miramax in the last six years (after Anna Paquin, Dianne Wiest, Mira Sorvino and Juliette Binoche.) She joins 41 previous actors who’d won for playing real people.
Last year, all four SAG winners went on to Oscars: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Robin Williams, Kim Basinger. This year, the record was 50-50, as the SAG winners were Benigni, Paltrow, Robert Duvall and Kathy Bates.
Another indication of the state of the industry: Paltrow carried on the tradition of other best actress winners in the last decade in pics from the non-majors: Holly Hunter (Miramax’s “The Piano”), Jodie Foster and Jessica Lange (Orion’s “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Blue Sky”), Susan Sarandon and Frances McDormand (Gramercy’s “Dead Man Walking” and “Fargo”), and Emma Thompson (Sony Pictures Classics’ “Howards End”). Last year, Helen Hunt in TriStar’s “As Good as it Gets” was the exception.
This year continued Spielberg’s habit of pulling his tech colleagues into the winners circle.
“Ryan” cinematographer Janusz Kaminski won his second award on his third nom, all for Spielberg pics. Editor Michael Kahn was given his third Oscar, all for the director’s films. Gary Rydstrom was a double winner for the film’s sound and sound-effects editing (He’d won five times before, twice for Spielberg films).
Also in sound effects, Richard Hymns won his second Oscar, both for the helmer’s pics. And in sound, Gary Summers grabbed his fourth Oscar (one earlier for Spielberg), Ronald Judkins won his second (both for the director) and Andy Nelson now has his first.
Spielberg also basks in the glory of feature docu winner “The Last Days,” the October Films/Good Machine release that is a production from his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
In the live-action short race, Kim Magnusson and Anders Thomas Jensen won their first award on a third consecutive nom with live action short “Election Night” (Valgaften).
Members of each branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences select nominees in their respective categories, while all branches vote on winners once the noms are announced. However, the foreign-language film and docu races have separate voting rules.
This year’s docu and music-scoring winners end a chapter in Oscar history. It’s the last time the nominees in those races will be in this form: Next year, the musical/comedy and dramatic scores will be combined, as will the feature and short docu races .
Gilbert Cates produced the kudocast. The first Sunday broadcast in Oscar history aired live on ABC starting at 5:30 p.m. PST, preceded by a half-hour pre-show seg, produced by the Academy for the first time.
A complete list of Oscar winners follows:
“Shakespeare in Love,” Miramax Films, Universal Pictures, Bedford Falls Co. production, Miramax; David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman, producers.
Gwyneth Paltrow, “Shakespeare in Love.”
Roberto Benigni, “Life Is Beautiful.”
Judi Dench, “Shakespeare in Love.”
James Coburn, “Affliction.”
Steven Spielberg, “Saving Private Ryan.”
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, “Shakespeare in Love.”
Bill Condon, “Gods and Monsters.”
Martin Childs, art decoration; Jill Quertier, set decoration; “Shakespeare in Love.”
LIVE ACTION SHORT
“Election Night (Valgaften),” M&M production, Kim Magnusson and Anders Thomas Jensen.
“Bunny,” Blue Sky Studios production, Chris Wedge, producer.
“Life Is Beautiful” (Italy).
Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins, “Saving Private Ryan.”
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns, “Saving Private Ryan.”
ORIGINAL MUSICAL OR COMEDY SCORE
Stephen Warbeck, “Shakespeare in Love.”
ORIGINAL DRAMATIC SCORE
Nicola Piovani, “Life Is Beautiful.”
Janusz Kaminski, “Saving Private Ryan.”
Michael Kahn, “Saving Private Ryan.”
Joel Hynek, Nicholas Brooks, Stuart Robertson and Kevin Mack, “What Dreams May Come.”
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
“The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years,” Keiko Ibi Film production, Keiko Ibi, producer.
“The Last Days,” Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation production; October, James Moll and Ken Lipper, producers.
Sandy Powell, “Shakespeare in Love.”
Jenny Shircore, “Elizabeth.”
“When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt,” music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.
IRVING THALBERG AWARD