Golden night for movie outsiders as Oscars favour liberal values

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The Independent Culture

This year's Oscars host was a Hollywood outsider. Four of the five films nominated for best picture were made outside the studio system and none made more than pocket change at the box-office. The recipient of the honorary Oscar, Robert Altman, has been a consummate industry outsider for 40 years.

So it was only fitting, perhaps, that the Academy would reserve its biggest prize for a film the bookmakers didn't much fancy, that most American cinema-goers didn't see, an ensemble piece rather than a conventional star vehicle without a traditional happy ending, an examination of race relations in Los Angeles that sharply polarised its audiences, especially in LA, and was written and directed by a Canadian.

The glory bestowed on Crash at the climax of Sunday night's three-and-a-half hour Academy Awards ceremony prompted gasps of surprise from the assembled glitterati inside Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Even Jack Nicholson looked a little stunned as he opened the envelope on stage and read the single word inscribed there.

Until the very last moment, this awards season had seemed to belong exclusively to Brokeback Mountain, the haunting story of forbidden love between two sheep herders.

More predictable was the triumph of British talent. Best supporting actress went to Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener. Best animated feature went to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Cathy Schulman, one of Crash's two producers, proclaimed from the stage that it was a film about "love and tolerance" and hailed 2006 as "one of the most breathtaking, and stunning, maverick years in American cinema".

That's certainly the most positive spin on a year in which the big film studios watched in horror as audience numbers slumped.

The event also revealed an industry deeply concerned about its continuing relevance. Several participants, starting with the Academy president, Sid Ganis, preached the virtues of seeing movies on the big screen, not on DVD.

Off-stage, there were jokes about just how many hundreds of people would be tuning in to an Oscars show bereft of box-office hits. When the ratings came in, they were the second worst in history.

The unenviable task of turning the evening into entertaining television fell to the host, Jon Stewart. He never looked entirely comfortable, never really engaged with his audience and never really solved the problem of how to make good jokes about films that tackle racism, homosexuality, political repression, violence and terrorism.

If the night belonged to anyone, it was Paul Haggis, the director and co-writer of Crash, who was also the screenwriter of last year's big winner Million Dollar Baby. "Bertolt Brecht said that art is not a mirror ... to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it. So I guess," he said, pointing at his best original screenplay Oscar, "this is ours."

And the winners were...

* Best picture: Crash

* Best director: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

* Best actress: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

* Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

* Best supporting actress: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

* Best supporting actor: George Clooney, Syriana

* Best animated feature film: Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

* Best foreign language film: Tsotsi (South Africa)

* Best original screenplay: Crash

* Best adapted screenplay: Brokeback Mountain

* Best documentary feature: March of the Penguins

* Best cinematography: Memoirs of a Geisha

* Best visual effects: King Kong

* Best art direction: Memoirs of a Geisha

* Best film editing: Crash

* Best sound mixing: King Kong

* Sound editing: King Kong

* Best music (song): "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp", Hustle and Flow

* Best music (score): Brokeback Mountain

* Best costume design: Memoirs of a Geisha

* Best make-up: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

* Best short film: Six Shooter

* Best animated short film: The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation

* Best documentary short subject: A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin

* Lifetime achievement award: director and writer Robert Altman