Oscars orgy of glamour and trivia

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The Independent Online
GWYNETH PALTROW broke down in tears, right on cue. Roberto Benigni climbed over the furniture and became the first recipient of the Best Actor award in Oscar history to quote Dante - in Italian, no less.

Colin Powell was there, to pay tribute to this year's war movies, and so was Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the wrestler turned governor of Minnesota, for no discernible reason except to have a good time.

This year's Oscars delivered everything they were supposed to, an orgy of glamour and glorious meaninglessness that set out to be as much of an entertainment as any of the films it honoured. There were tears, laughter, and even a final upset as the favourite for Best Picture, the war drama Saving Private Ryan, was squeezed out at the last moment.

After a publicity battle of rare passion between Miramax, makers of Shakespeare in Love, and DreamWorks, the company behind Ryan (Whoopi Goldberg, the evening's presenter, described it as "fighting World War Three over World War Two"), it turned out to be Shakespeare's year, with seven awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Best Supporting Actress (Judi Dench) and Best Original Screenplay (Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard).

But there was really something for everybody, or almost - a directing award for Steven Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, a surprise Best Actor Oscar for Benigni that seemed to owe more to his charmingly outrageous appearances on US talk shows than to his performance in Life is Beautiful, a nod to the stunningly acted drama Affliction in the form of a Best Supporting Actor gong for James Coburn, and another nod to Gods and Monsters, the small independent film starring Ian McKellen and Lynn Redgrave whose director, Bill Condon, won for best adapted screenplay.

Condon took the award as a rare piece of Hollywood indulgence towards gay themes - the film recounts the last days of James Whale, the gay British director of Frankenstein - particularly since both he and Sir Ian McKellen are openly homosexual.

"Sixty years ago, Hollywood sort of turned its back on him [Whale] because he lived the way he wanted," Condon said. "Mr Jimmy, this is for you."

The biggest losers were perhaps the British films Elizabeth and Hillary and Jackie - Cate Blanchett losing out to Dame Judi for the Best Queen Bess award, and Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths falling victim to the prevailing Shakespeare mania.

Hovering over the proceedings was a sense of cringeing embarrassment at the Academy's decision to bestow a Lifetime Achievement Award on Elia Kazan, the veteran director of A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden and On The Waterfront, whose considerable professional achievements were overshadowed by his decision to shop eight of his friends to the House Un-american Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthyite anti- Communist witchhunt in 1952.

After weeks of passionate debate about the merits of the award, hundreds of protesters, both pro and anti, turned up with banners outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles where the Oscars were presented. Inside, the auditorium was divided between ardent champions of Kazan such as Warren Beatty, who became a star in Kazan's Splendor in the Grass, and detractors who believe Kazan owes the industry an apology for the careers he ruined to save his own.

Oscar nominees Ed Harris and Nick Nolte were among those who pointedly refused to applaud him.

"It was a touch of real drama, to watch the spreading embarrassment through 2,000 people," another Oscar nominee, Sir Ian McKellen, said afterwards. "There was real confusion in the house."

Senior Academy members have admitted they would never have honoured Kazan if they had realised what passions the decision would unleash. The 89-year-old director all but squirmed as he hurriedly thanked the Academy for its "courage and generosity".

There was more embarrassment when Monica Lewinsky appeared at the post-Oscar Vanity Fair bash in Morton's restaurant in West Hollywood.

In a year of presidential scandal, Hollywood wore its support for President Clinton very much on its sleeve, with jokes flying at the expense of Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Trent Lott and Kenneth Starr.

"Fifty million dollars down the drain," Whoopi Goldberg said of Starr's investigation. "For that kind of money we could've made five good movies."

Lewinsky, accompanied by her current boyfriend, movie industry executive Jonathan Marshall, was laughed at, looked upon as a bit of a freak and, in some cases, roundly ignored.

"I'm not with her," said an adamant Bridget Fonda. "We staggered our arrivals so we wouldn't come in together." Jay Leno, the popular evening talk-show host, remarked: "She was under Table 14, I believe."

Howard Jacobson,

Review front;

Leading article,

David Aaronovitch, Review, page 3

The Winners

Best Picture: Shakespeare in Love, David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman

Director: Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan

Actor: Roberto Benigni, Life Is Beautiful

Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

Supporting actor: James Coburn, Affliction

Supporting actress: Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love

Foreign film: Life Is Beautiful, Italy

Screenplay (written directly for the screen): Marc Norman, Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love

Screenplay (based on material previously produced or published): Bill Condon, Gods and Monsters

Art direction: Shakespeare in Love, Martin Childs (art direction) and Jill Quertier (set decoration)

Cinematography: Saving Private Ryan, Janusz Kaminski

Sound: Saving Private Ryan, Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Ronald Judkins

Sound effects editing: Saving Private Ryan, Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns

Original musical or comedy score: Shakespeare in Love, Stephen Warbeck

Original dramatic score: Life Is Beautiful, Nicola Piovani

Original song: `When You Believe' from The Prince of Egypt, Stephen Schwartz

Costume: Shakespeare in Love, Sandy Powell

Documentary feature: The Last Days, James Moll, Ken Lipper

Documentary (short subject): The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years, Keiko Ibi

Film editing: Saving Private Ryan, Michael Kahn

Make-up: Elizabeth, Jenny Shircore

Animated short film: Bunny, Chris Wedge

Live action short film: Election Night (Valgaften), Kim Magnusson and Anders Thomas Jensen

Visual effects: What Dreams May Come, Joel Hynek, Nicholas Brooks, Stuart Robertson and Kevin Mack

Scientific and technical award: Avid Technology Inc

Thalberg award: Producer- director Norman F Jewison

Honorary award: Director Elia Kazan (AP)

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