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It Was a Beautiful Night for Berry, Washington and Howard

25 Mar, 2002 By: Gregg Kilday

A Beautiful Mind, named best picture at the 74th Annual Academy Awards, may have captured the big prize, but it was Halle Berry's emotional acceptance speech following the announcement that she had been named best actress for her wrenching performance in Monster's Ball -- making her the first black actress to claim that honor in the Academy's history -- that captured hearts at Sunday night's marathon ceremony.

Berry's win followed a standing ovation given to Sidney Poitier, who received an honorary Oscar -- he was the first black to be named best actor when he won for 1964's "Lilies of the Field." And it preceded Denzel Washington's selection as the year's best actor for his villainous turn in the cop drama Training Day, which made Washington the first black actor since Poitier to take that honor.

In accepting his Oscar, Washington joked, "Two birds in one night," quickly adding, "Oh, God is good, God is great. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all." It was the second Oscar for Washington, who also won a best supporting actor award for 1989's Glory.

Together, the trifecta of Poitier, Berry and Washington added up to a historic evening, bringing a powerful end to the ceremony, produced by Laura Ziskin, that began on a somber, low-key note when Tom Cruise walked onstage at the Academy's new home at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland to ask the rhetorical question whether, in the wake of Sept. 11, the film industry should "celebrate the joy and magic the movies bring? Well, dare I say it, more than ever."

This year's Academy Awards ceremony may have had its wacky moments -- Whoopi Goldberg, in her fourth stint as host, made a grand entrance by descending on a trapeze from the ceiling a la Nicole Kidman's first appearance in Moulin Rouge. She also tweaked all the Oscar controversies of the year when she said, "So much mud has been thrown this year, all the nominees look black."

But there also was an underlying seriousness of purpose to the assembly, which paused for a Woody Allen tribute to New York and, later, a moment of silence led by Kevin Spacey for the victims of Sept. 11.

Although this year's Oscars took place at the Academy's glitzy new theater -- and despite all the security the theatergoers had to brave to reach their seats -- the show itself began with a deceptively low-key introduction as Cruise then introduced short clips by documentarian Errol Morris, who interviewed moviegoers (from famous folks like Laura Bush to more anonymous types) on what they like about the movies.

Universal/DreamWorks' A Beautiful Mind, which had come under fire in recent weeks when charges were raised that it misrepresented the life of its subject, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash Jr., survived its critics to take home four of the most glittering prizes. New Line's epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring also won four Oscars -- for cinematography, score, makeup and visual effects -- but despite its commanding 13 nominations, it didn't break into the top circle of awards.

In addition to the best picture award that went to its producers -- Imagine Entertainment partners Brian Grazer and Ron Howard -- Beautiful Mind also earned the best director laurel for Howard. It was the first time the child actor-turned-director had been nominated by the Academy -- Howard was shut out in 1996, when his Apollo 13 earned nine nominations -- but this year, following his Directors Guild of America victory this month, Howard found himself in the winner's circle.

"I'm not a good enough actor anymore to stand up here and make you believe that I haven't imagined this moment over the years and played it out about a thousand times," Howard said. "It's pretty simple really. I'm grateful," he added before thanking his "great friend and partner Brian Grazer." He also singled out "John and Alicia Nash for sharing your important story with us. I'm very, very proud to know you, and may you have many years of peace ahead of you." Nash was in the audience at the Kodak Theatre to take in the moment.

Said Grazer in accepting the best picture award: "I hope in some way our movie helps to improve in some way the way we feel about and treat the mentally ill."

The filmmakers behind Beautiful Mind had to have endured some uneasy moments on their way to victory, however.

The evening's first award went to Beautiful Mind's Jennifer Connelly, named best supporting actress for her portrayal of Alicia Nash. A first-time nominee who'd been widely predicted as the winner, Connelly saluted her real-life counterpart, saying, "Alicia Nash is a true champion of life, so thank you to her for her example."

But it was three hours into the long night's journey before another Beautiful Mind winner was summoned back to the stage as Akiva Goldsman was invited to pick up his first Oscar for the screenplay he adapted from the book by Sylvia Nasar. He, too, cited the real-life inspiration for the movie. "I would like to thank John and Alicia Nash for their extraordinary courage and for entrusting us with their lives."

Jim Broadbent won the best supporting actor award for playing another real-life figure, author John Baily, whose marriage to late novelist Iris Murdoch is the subject of Miramax Films' Iris. But because Iris had escaped most of the controversy that surrounded Beautiful Mind, Broadbent noted in his acceptance speech, "I'd like to thank John Baily, who allowed us to plunder and I'm sure misrepresent his life with Iris." Before surrendering the microphone, the actor, who also appeared last year as the nightclub impresario in Moulin Rouge, called out, "And good luck, Moulin Rouge. "

Displaying even more of a British sense of amusement, actor-turned-screenwriter Julian Fellowes was clearly delighted to be awarded the best original screenplay award for USA Films' Gosford Park. Before thanking his director, Robert Altman, for the career-changing opportunity, he cracked, "I feel as if I'm in A Star Is Born and any moment now Norman Maine is going to show up and knock me in the mouth."

In the foreign language film category, No Man's Land from Bosnia-Herzegovina was the upset winner, upstaging the French entry, Amelie, which went into the evening with five nominations but came up empty-handed -- c'est la vie, as Amelie herself might say.

No Man's Land, released by MGM's United Artists and directed by Danis Tanovic, tells of two soldiers, one Bosnian and one Serb, trapped together between enemy lines in a mined trench. The film won the Golden Globe Award as best foreign film.

In the hotly contested race for best animated feature -- the first time that award has been offered -- DreamWorks' fractious fairy tale Shrek beat out the competition offered by the Walt Disney Co./Pixar's Monsters, Inc.

Although Pixar lost the big animation brass ring, the company did win a nice consolation prize when Ralph Eggleston's For the Birds, another Pixar product, was named best animated film short.

As the technical awards were doled out over the course of the evening, the balance of power seesawed between Rings, 20th Century Fox's Moulin Rouge and Sony/Revolution's Black Hawk Down.

Pietro Scalia, who won an Oscar for 1991's JFK, received another for plunging moviegoers into the middle of a battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, in director Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down. "Editors are like alchemists -- we play with magic," he said upon receiving his trophy, offering a salute of "viva Italia!" as he departed from the stage.

The din of Black Hawk Down's battle also earned a best sound Oscar for the trio of Michael Minkler, Myron Nettinga and Chris Munro, all first-time winners.

Moulin, with its far prettier pictures, moved center stage when the awards turned to art direction and costume design. Catherine Martin took home two of the little gold men. Along with Angus Strathie, she won for costume design for Moulin's Technicolored cancan petticoats, and she shared the Oscar for art direction with Brigitte Broch, who decorated the film's marzipan sets. Martin used her two visits to the stage to play tribute to her husband, the film's director Baz Luhrmann. "It was your vision," she said. "This is your Oscar, Baz." On her second visit, she added: "You are my other half. This is for you."

Richard Taylor, part of both the makeup and special effects teams behind Rings, was the evening's other dual winner. Rings won the makeup award, which went to Taylor and Peter Owen. The team that picked up the trophy for Rings visual effects included Taylor, Jim Rygiel, Randall William Cook and Mark Stetson.

The epic vistas of Rings earned the best cinematography trophy for Andrew Lesnie, another first-time nominee.

And veteran composer Howard Shore, who received his first Oscar nomination after writing music for 60 movies, also was honored for his contribution to Rings "It was a tremendously rewarding experience to translate the words of (Rings author J.R.R.) Tolkien into music," he said.

Patience also was rewarded in the case of composer Randy Newman, who received his first Oscar -- for the song "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. It was his 16th nomination, and the acerbic Newman said: "I don't want your pity. ... I want to thank first of all the music branch for giving me so many chances to be humiliated over the years."

For all the noise it made when it was released in May, Disney's Pearl Harbor won only one Oscar, but fittingly that award was for its sound editing, credited to George Watters II and Christopher Boyes.

The best documentary winner was Murder on a Sunday Morning, directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet, an account of a black teenager unfairly accused of a murder in Jacksonville, Fla. HBO plans to air the film.

The documentary short subject winner was Thoth, a portrait of a San Francisco street musician. The colorful Thoth, his violin at the ready, accompanied filmmakers Sarah Kernochan and Lynn Appelle onstage, though he didn't strike up the band. "This man takes to the street and wages love nearly every day," Kernochan said.

The Accountant, a comic piece written and directed by Ray McKinnon, won the best live-action short for McKinnon and Lisa Blount.

Barbra Streisand made one of her rare awards show appearances to pay tribute to her The Way We Were co-star Robert Redford, who received an honorary Oscar.

"Robert Redford's work always represents the man himself -- the intellectual, the artist, the cowboy," she said before lauding him for creating the Sundance Institute, which supports independent filmmaking.

Said Redford: "I really believe it's important in the years to come that we embrace the risks as well as the sure things, to make sure that freedom of expression is nurtured and kept alive."

Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, who played the young lovers in 1970's Love Story, reunited to pay homage to the film's director Arthur Hiller, the recipient of this year's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. "His love story is a love of mankind," MacGraw said.

In accepting that accolade, the veteran director paid tribute to his parents, beginning with the words: "Thank you, mama. Thank you, papa. It feels humbling to receive a humanitarian award for doing what my parents brought me up to do."

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