'American Beauty' comes up with five roses
Technological 'Matrix' wins four nods
By Porter Anderson
(CNN) -- "American Beauty," as expected, came out the winner in Sunday night's ceremony of the 72nd annual Academy Awards, winning five Oscars.
But there was a surprise runner-up when the awards were totaled at the end of the four-hour ceremony: "The Matrix," a film heavy on technology but light on critical praise, finished with four of the gold statuettes.
"American Beauty," which led all contenders with eight nominations, won best picture, director, screenplay, actor and cinematography.
"This is the high point of my day," deadpanned Kevin Spacey, who won best actor award in the sometimes-surreal story of dysfunction in the suburbs. "This movie is about how any single act by any single person put out of context is damnable."
Spacey has won once before, in 1995, for "The Usual Suspects," and he bested Denzel Washington, who was nominated for "The Hurricane."
British theater director Sam Mendes and American writer Alan Ball were given the prizes for best direction and screenplay on "American Beauty." Their quick rise to prominence with the popular dark comedy has left many observers stunned.
Conrad L. Hall was given the Academy Award for cinematography for his work on "American Beauty." His previous win was for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969.
One key award that did not go to "American Beauty" was best actress. Hilary Swank, a first-timer, won that honor; she swept aside a powerful field that included Annette Bening for "American Beauty," as well as Julianne Moore, Janet McTeer and Meryl Streep.
"We have come a long way," Swank said. "To think that this movie would be made three and a half years ago. We made it for under $2 million."
Wearing an opulently feminine gown, the actress -- whose award honors her portrayal of a young woman who paid a horrible price for dressing as a man -- held the vast stage of the Shrine Auditorium in an extended speech. She concluded by thanking Brandon Teena, the male persona of her real-life chararacter: "His legacy lives on in this movie."
'The Matrix' and supporting actors
Until the final hour of the show -- it ran 30 minutes longer than planned -- "The Matrix," a dark fantasy of futuristic terrorism, was building an impressive lead in technical awards.
The film, which stars Keanu Reeves, captured Oscars for best film editing, sound, sound effects editing and visual effects -- outdoing competitors that included "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace."
Dane A. Davis, sound effects editor, told the crowd, "Wow, so this is where the rabbit hole goes," a familiar line to those who know the film and a phrase that editor Zach Staenberg echoed in his own acceptance speech.
As this drama of century-ending technical screen work played out on one level, much longer-term contributions got their due, too. Polish film director Andrzej Wajda was given an Honorary Oscar for his four decades' work in films set in the aftermath of World War II. Wajda spoke in Polish, his acceptance speech at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium translated into English in subtitles.
Michael Caine had a crowd-pleasing win for best supporting actor, crediting his performance as Dr. Wilbur Larch, an orphanage tender in "The Cider House Rules" -- the first of two awards for the film, nominated for six Oscars.
In an extended acceptance speech, Caine winked and said to co-producer Richard Fini, "Dick, I wasn't here the last time I won, so give me a bit of extra time." Caine last won for his 1986 role in "Hannah and Her Sisters."
Standing backstage after accepting his award, Caine said, "The standing ovation threw me. ... To be held in such regard in a town so full of talent is quite something."
Author John Irving won an Oscar for adapting to screenplay his novel, "The Cider House Rules." And in his acceptance speech, Irving highlighted the unusual political aspect of the film, mentioning the National Abortion Rights League.
Angelina Jolie won best supporting actress for her work in "Girl, Interrupted," a film based on a true story of mental treatment, despair and struggle.
Jolie made an emotional thank-you speech, appearing in a dark, close-fitting gown. Backstage, she gasped with relief and smiled when she saw a still shot of her acceptance speech. "Look," she chortled, "it really happened!"
A crewcut Jack Nicholson strolled onto the stage to give the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for career achievement to "a filmmaker we almost lost to politics ... my friend and colleague, Warren Beatty."
In an acceptance litany -- "thank you for encouraging me for using my voice in public affairs" -- Beatty repeatedly promised: "I'll try to do better." But when it came to making his wife Bening available to films outside his own projects, Beatty wryly changed his tune. "Please forgive me for not saying I'll try to do better."
The Thalberg award is named for a man whom Hollywood insiders know as a moviemaking pioneer, someone who elevated the level of MGM films.
The Oscar for a non-English language film was given to Spain's Pedro Almodovar for his "All About My Mother." The film tells the story of a woman who searches for the father of her dead son -- a man who didn't know she was pregnant when she abandoned him.
The Oscar, said Almodovar, was great -- but not reason enough to change how he makes films. "This means a lot to us but it's not going to change the kind of movie I'm going to do. ... Tomorrow, it seems to me that I will be sure what I want to do. Today, I cannot think."
Best original score, an Oscar for which "American Beauty" was nominated but didn't win, went to "The Red Violin." Composer John Corigliano took that prize, his first Academy win.
The art direction Oscar went to Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young for their work on director Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow."
Song, no dance
In a move that seemed to disappoint no one, the show's producers this year dispensed with the old tradition of gussying up renditions of the nominated best songs with interpretive dance.
But observers could be forgiven for thinking that best song nominee "Blame Canada" was handed a stacked deck at the awards. Robin Williams led a full production number with Rockette-style Mounties and a company of more than 25 singers, and it was a hit. The song, from the ribald "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," had been a point of controversy for weeks, as fans speculated on how much of the off-color language in the song could make it into the performance.
But all the glitter won no gold for "South Park."
Phil Collins, who gave a low-key performance of "You'll Be in My Heart" from the animated film "Tarzan," took the prize. His number, and the other four nominated songs, were performed in one part of the show.
Short works and documentary honors
Jude Law, a best supporting actor nominee for his work in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," was joined by Cate Blanchett in giving the Oscar for best live-action short film to "My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York," which Barbara Schock and Tamara Tiehel accepted.
The Oscar for animated short piece went to filmmaker Alexander Petrov for "The Old Man and the Sea." Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford accepted the Oscar for best documentary short subject, "King Gimp."
The Oscar for documentary feature went to "One Day in September." Arthur Cohn, taking his third Academy, accepted the award with Kevin Macdonald.
Early on, the ceremony got a well-dressed start as Lindy Hemming won the first trophy of the evening -- best costume design. It was Hemming's first Oscar and she won it for her work in "Topsy-Turvy."
The award for sound design was given to the "The Matrix" sound designers, which john Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David Campbell and David Lee accepted. This was Rudloff's second Oscar; his first, for "Glory," came in 1989.
Sound quickly gave way to the best makeup award, taken by a boisterous Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud for "Topsy-Turvy." It was the first award for both.
Host Billy Crystal kicked off the evening in a virtual short work of his own, a set-up series of spoofs in which he appeared in Anne Bancroft's "The Graduate" role, Mrs. Robinson; a crowd member in "Spartacus;" a sidekick to Charlie Chaplin ("I see dead people," Crystal said, a reference to "The Sixth Sense"); and in a bathroom-tiled "Psycho" sequence, it was Spacey who turned up on the dry side of the shower curtain.
The long journey to the podium
Like all big events, this year's ceremony did not come to life without birthing pangs.
Even before "American Beauty" collected its nominations, the ceremony earlier this year experienced a little cyber-ambush when a Web site claimed it had short lists from which this year's Oscar nominees would be drawn on February 15. That info didn't pan out.
Then, when ballots went out to the roughly 5,600 voting Academy members, about 4,000 went astray in transit.
After that, 55 of the statuettes -- each boasting the best-cut external obliques in fitness-crazed Hollywood -- were swiped from a loading dock. A shipping-company employee has been charged with grand theft. All but three of the coveted mantelpiece tchotchkes were found. But security, as they usually say about more politically dicey event, has been tight at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium this evening.
And the final blow, at least to the Academy faithful, came Friday when The Wall Street Journal published its poll of likely winners. The Academy was not amused -- nor completely up-front: The Journal could make its poll only with the cooperation of voters who responded.
Raunchy song's creators tuning up for Oscar night
The Official Academy Awards Site
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