It was a case of mind over glossy matter but only just as the Academy handed out four Oscars each to the two top favourites. But in other historic ways, this was Oscar's ``Night to Remember.'' ANAND PARTHASARATHY examines.
A triumphant Denzel Washington... still chasing Sidney Poitier.
YOU AIN'T seen nothin' yet!' -- that corny American expression of perpetual surprise, seemed never more apt than during the final ten minutes of this year's four-hour long Oscar Awards extravaganza. That was when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington, rose to receive their Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Actor respectively. For weeks, the media including some of the most responsible sections of the American Press had been saying in effect: ``A Black Breakthrough? Maybe, but not yet!''
Even so, the 5,000-plus voters of the U.S. Motion Picture Academy, who for 73 years have been alternately delighting and outraging cinemagoers with some truly bizarre selections, finally managed to spring a surprise a `twist in the tail' that was in the best traditions of the classic Hollywood whodunit. ``Halle makes history!'' was the headline that dozens of Internet news sites, with blinding originality, posted within seconds of the star's tearful, incoherent, three-minute acceptance speech. It was a moment that had all four of her competitors in the Best Actress category in tears as well, as the 34-year old daughter of an African-American father and a Caucasian mother, struggled with the realisation of what she had achieved by her portrayal of the widow of an executed prisoner in the racially charged melodrama, ``Monster's Ball.'' ``This is so much bigger than me... it's for every nameless, faceless woman of colour who now has a chance, because this door tonight has been opened...''
Within minutes that door was knocked off its hinges, when Denzel Washington heard Julia Roberts call his name as Best Actor for his first non-heroic role: as a ferociously corrupt cop in ``Training Day.'' ``God is Great!'' he exclaimed, saluting his mentor, Sidney Poitier, who had earlier accepted an honorary Oscar, almost 40 years after he became the first and till last week only African American actor to win an Academy Award (for ``Lilies in the Field,'' 1963) ``Forty years, I'm chasing you, Sidney!''
Washington, now 48, has been seen on Indian screens in recent months, as the paralysed detective in ``The Bone Collector,'' and the concerned secret service agent in ``The Siege''.
If the Academy made up in huge measure for any neglect, real or imagined, of non-White talent over the years, it was curiously indecisive even a bit schizophrenic when it came to deciding which was the Big Film of 2001. For the first three hours of the ceremony, epic-mythological ``Lord of the Rings'' remained ahead in the numbers game having notched up early Oscars for Visual Effects, Original Score, Cinematography and Makeup. But the film which boasted of 13 nominations could not convert any more, as the feel-good true story of a neurotic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, John Nash, ``A Beautiful Mind,'' gradually crept up from behind and tied for a final four Oscars. ``Mind'' scored over glitzy matter in all the important artistic categories: Best Film, Director and Adapted Screenplay, even if Russell Crowe, who played the troubled genius missed getting his own second Acting Oscar.
It paid to be the faithful spouse to an erratic genius: both Jim Broadbent who plays the supportive husband of novelist ``Iris'' Murdoch (Judi Dench) and Jennifer Connelly who plays Crowe's understanding wife in ``Mind'', took Best Supporting acting Oscars. The real Dr. and Mrs Nash were in the Kodak Theatre to see the artistes who brought their story to life, rewarded for their efforts both director Ron Howard and scenarist Akiva Goldsman thanked the aged couple for ``entrusting us with your lives.''
In the even handed dole out of Oscar goodies, the glossy Bollywood-style masala mix of ``Moulin Rouge,'' much favoured by earlier award events, failed to land more than a minor Oscar or two - for Art/Set Direction and Costumes. The real Bollywood too was to remain unrewarded, as the satiric Bosnian war drama ``No Man's Land'' edged out ``Lagaan'' for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Whoopi Goldberg's return as the Oscar Night compere was relatively low key her outfits were bizarre, but her one-liners were chaste in comparison with earlier years. And Robert Redford receiving a lifetime award, joined the long ranks of veterans who waffled away for minutes, saying nothing earthshaking.
For Indian cinemagoers, many of the winners this year, were familiar: films like ``A Beautiful Mind,'' ``Black Hawk Down,'' ``Pearl Harbor,'' ``Lord of the Rings'' and ``Moulin Rouge'' had already been released in the metros.
The 74th Academy Awards, also saw another historic `wrong' righted: Randy Newman took home a Best Song Oscar after 15 failed nominations. The sobering events of September 11, marked by a minute's silence, seemed to have become a watershed for the movie industry as well. Having corrected some historic myopia, the Academy seemed set to act on the clarion call to film makers that Tom Cruise made in his opening remarks, ``to cross lines, break barriers, melt prejudice -- or just plain make us laugh.''
In a year of modest artistic achievements, it was a suitably sober `mantra' for the moviemaking business.
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