Media learns a lesson from evening's wins

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  • HOLLYWOOD — Even its rivals were tempted to breathe a sigh of relief March 24 when Universal/DreamWorks’ “A Beautiful Mind” took home four key Academy Awards, including the best picture Oscar.

    The film was at the center of below-the-radar mudslinging in this year’s Oscar campaign; if “Mind” had lost, it might have opened the floodgates to more backbiting in the future. And it would have led to endless media speculation on the effect of the negative campaigning — speculation sure to make the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and all of Hollywood look bad.

    The mainstream media — the New York Times, Time, the TV networks — breathlessly reported on this year’s mudslinging. By doing so, they gave respectability to gossipy stories from the Internet’s Matt Drudge and Jeanette Walls.

    But when Academy voters chose “Mind,” they disproved the implication that rumor-mongering and nasty campaigning would sway their votes. It seems that, ultimately, Acad voters disregarded all this and simply cast their ballots for the work that they thought was best.

    In truth, negative buzz has been a fixture of Oscar campaigns for years. (And, of course, it’s not just Oscar; every week, execs from rival studios get on the phone to groan over the quality of the weekend’s top-grossing picture and to allege exaggeration in boxoffice figures.)

    Meanwhile, another source of concern ended up with rave reviews: Oscar’s new home, the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. The day after the event, AMPAS exec administrator Ric Robertson told Variety, “We’re extremely pleased. We’re getting a lot of phone calls from members and board members. The response is overwhelmingly positive. I haven’t heard anything negative.”

    Those who attended the Oscar ceremony and its ancillary parties also volunteered the following observations:

    • A record number of winners opted to read acceptance speeches rather than risking a spontaneous (and perhaps overemotional) response;

    • The exemplary turnout of superstars as presenters, participants and audience members effectively refuted contentions that the Golden Globes were increasingly impinging on the importance of the Oscars.

    • There were a healthy number of parties — but an unhealthy number of partygoers. At fetes held March 22 and 23 and post-awards, many complained about the crush of revelers.

    In the days following the Oscars, the media hailed the wins of Halle Berry and Denzel Washington as a breakthrough. Certainly if anyone who wants to see the glass as half full, the awards offered triumphant proof that Hollywood has broken through some barriers. But for those who see the glass as half empty, the film biz still has a long way to go.

    With the presence of host Whoopi Goldberg and a special award to Sidney Poitier, in addition to the actor and actress wins, it seemed like protests over Hollywood’s alleged exclusion of blacks could finally be put to rest.

    Similarly, the kudocast might indicate that showbiz’s “graylist” (its alleged distaste for anyone over 40) was on the wane, given the heartfelt standing ovations for Poitier, 75; Arthur Hiller, 78; Robert Redford, 64; Randy Newman, 58 (a 16-time nominee who chalked up his first win); and Woody Allen, 66, a multiple Oscar winner making his first Oscarcast appearance.

    There were further clues: A slew of over-40 tech winners and an Oscar to first-time scripter Julian Fellowes, 52.

    So, for films representing 2001, the first official year of the new millennium, Hollywood seemed to be embracing all races and ages.

    But the battles are not over yet: There were no black nominees in the non-acting categories, and Hollywood continues to lust after teen demographics. (When films like “Blade II” and “Ice Age” dominate the weekend box office, it’s clear Hollywood is not going to suddenly target its films to over-55s.)

    So, the movers and shakers in the audience gave the veterans a standing ovation — but will they give them jobs?

    Only time will tell if all these wins mark a fluke or a breakthrough. (And don’t blame members of AMPAS. They’re just voting for work that reflects the year’s films.)

    Maybe years from now, there will be so much work for blacks, Latinos, Asians and other minorities, and everyone with gray hair, that their presence won’t be a factor.

    In the meantime, optimists embraced the evening. In the past 73 years, only six black thesps had ever won in the four acting categories.

    In general, Oscar voters spread the wealth wide, with eight pics nabbing one Oscar apiece, and only four films taking home multiple awards.

    Of the five pics in the best film race, only Miramax’s “In the Bedroom” went home empty-handed. New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” had a quartet of wins. Twentieth Century Fox’s “Moulin Rouge” won two, and USA Films’ “Gosford Park” had one.

    The only other multiple-winning film was Sony-Revolution’s “Black Hawk Down,” marking the first Oscar wins for Joe Roth’s fledgling company. In studio tallies, U/DreamWorks nabbed four, as did New Line; Fox, Disney and Sony/Revolution each have two.

    The 74th annual awards at the Kodak marked the first time Oscars have been held in Hollywood since the April 1960 event at the Pantages.

    The kudocast was produced by Laura Ziskin and aired live in the U.S. on ABC.

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