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The 68th Annual Academy Awards

Presenters: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Angela Bassett, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage , Jim Carrey, Jackie Chan, Richard Dreyfuss, Laurence Fishburne, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Anthony Hopkins, Anjelica Huston, Jeremy Irons, Quincy Jones , Nicole Kidman, Martin Landau, Nathan Lane, Jessica Lange, Liam Neeson, Sidney Poitier, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Winona Ryder, Steven Seagal, Elisabeth Shue, Alicia Silverstone, Will Smith, Jimmy Smits, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone, Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson, John Travolta, Dianne Wiest, Robin Williams, Robert Zemeckis.

With:
Host: Whoopi Goldberg.

Presenters: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Angela Bassett, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage , Jim Carrey, Jackie Chan, Richard Dreyfuss, Laurence Fishburne, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Anthony Hopkins, Anjelica Huston, Jeremy Irons, Quincy Jones , Nicole Kidman, Martin Landau, Nathan Lane, Jessica Lange, Liam Neeson, Sidney Poitier, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Winona Ryder, Steven Seagal, Elisabeth Shue, Alicia Silverstone, Will Smith, Jimmy Smits, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone, Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson, John Travolta, Dianne Wiest, Robin Williams, Robert Zemeckis.

Performers: Bryan Adams, Gloria Estefan, Savion Glover, Lyle Lovett, Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, Vanessa Williams.

In one of those rare years when there was some true suspense to go with the line “And the Oscar goes to …,” Monday’s telecast proved to be a classy and, yes, long and puffy affair, with more memorable moments than in recent years.

Foremost, there was more genuine emotion to be found in this year’s ceremony than TV viewers have seen in some time, from Paul Sorvino’s uncontrollable weeping in response to daughter Mira’s supporting actress win to the moving Kirk Douglas tribute. When Christopher Reeve later presented a montage featuring movies that tackled social issues, it was clear producers Quincy Jones and David Salzman were pulling out the emotional stops.

Similarly, director Jeff Margolis got it right on a moment’s notice in letting a Holocaust survivor talk eloquently beyond the allotted time (and after the musical fanfare had sounded) while accepting an award in the documentary short category. That led, appropriately, into a standing ovation for the woman who found Anne Frank’s diary, and an elegant, wordless tribute to Gene Kelly.

The producers also were fortunate in something over which they had no control — namely, that this year’s awards proved so TV-friendly. From a sheer star-power standpoint, for example, having two actors, Emma

Thompson and Mel Gibson, win for outstanding screenplay and direction, respectively, certainly helped spread the telegenic wealth, and Oscar winners such as Thompson and Susan Sarandon were articulate yet infectious in their enthusiasm.

In her second hosting stint, Whoopi Goldberg clearly seemed to be having the time of her life, generally keeping laughs coming with snappy asides while gamely presiding over the night’s diverse festivities, which included plenty of lame intros and even a porcine video bit with Miss Piggy and Babe.

Not surprisingly, there was a bit of an arid stretch in the early going, with only one major award (Kevin Spacey as supporting actor) handed out until nearly the show’s midway point. Sorvino’s win, in fact, and her father’s ebullient reaction seemed to jumpstart the proceedings.

Perhaps most pointedly, the Academy managed to get its point across on a variety of fronts and still deliver a celebration of the medium. Goldberg started the evening off on a rousingly well-written note that punctuated most of the issues surrounding this year’s ceremony and let it be known where Hollywood’s loyalties reside.

The host’s routine about the litany of ribbons on display dealtwith Jesse Jackson’s protest in a nifty yet lighthearted way, as she concluded by saying, “I have something I want to say to Jesse right here, but he’s not watching, so why bother?”

The Academy, of course, did bother, making sure that there was an ample presence of minorities throughout the telecast, from Oprah Winfrey helping open the show to Sidney Poitier closing it by presenting the best picture statuette.

Goldberg also exhibited the Academy’s political sympathies, offering a bravo to Alec Baldwin for his skirmish with a paparrazo while ribbing Bob Dole about his age and Pat Buchanan, “the original boy in the hood,” about his right-wing politics. The year’s movie releases also were lampooned, with Goldberg quipping about “Showgirls,””I haven’t seen that many poles mistreated since World War II.”

Robin Williams skewered the Republican presidential candidates as well during a tribute to animator Chuck Jones.

There were, as always, some calculated errors. Presenting most of the best picture clips as musical montages without dialogue was enough to make one wonder what all the fuss was about.

A few other moments were merely puzzling, such as what Steven Seagal was rambling about in presenting nominees for best sound. By contrast, Jim Carrey helped wake up viewers at home in presenting the cinematography Oscar, calling the statue “the lord of all knickknacks,” and Sharon Stone deftly ad-libbed her way through a missing envelope.

Indeed, it was a night when Oscar struck mostly the right notes, even down to performances of the best song nominees, a relatively understated array — in contrast to some of the absurdly splashy production numbers of past years — even if the acoustics were off in the early going. A fashion show displaying nominees for costume design fared less well, turning the category into the night’s most overblown honor.

The show opened with an impressive morphing sequence showcasing stars, even if the juxtaposition proved a bit puzzling. (Hannibal Lecter into Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”?)

Those visuals made up for a slow start that featured a positively giddy Winfrey interviewing arrivals, which did at least provide a sort of palate cleanser after the deadening inanity of KABC’s local preview show — one had to wince in anticipation of the next ill-conceived, unprepared question.

It did, at least, underscore the notion of suspense as the evening’s theme.

The 68th Annual Academy Awards

(Mon. (25), 6-9:39 p.m., ABC)

Production: Produced live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Producers, Quincy Jones, David Salzman; director, Jeff Margolis; writer, Steve Pouliot; special material for Whoopi Goldberg by Bruce Vilanch; film sequences supervisor, Douglass M. Stewart Jr.; special film material, Jack Haley Jr., Terry Sanders, Mike Shapiro, Jim Ruxin, Sheila Hayman, Phil Savenick; costume design, Pete Menefee; music director, Tom Scott; production designer, Ray Klausen; art directors, Keaton Walker, Rebecca Holler Barkley, Lolly Gallop.

Crew: Choreography, Jamie King, Barry Lather; costume design number staged by Matthew Rolston; lighting design, Greg Brunton; audio, Paul Sandweiss; executive in charge of talent, Danette Herman.

Cast: Host: Whoopi Goldberg.

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