Spielberg Earns Director Award By Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 1999
LOS ANGELES "Shakespeare in Love," an Elizabethan comedy that portrayed William Shakespeare as a sexy, love-starved pauper, swept the 71st annual Academy Awards tonight with seven Oscars, trumping a historical epic that honored World War II veterans.
Although Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" was heavily favored, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rewarded the lighthearted story about 16th-century writer's block and the theater by bestowing "Shakespeare" with statues for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Musical or Comedy Score and Best Art Direction.
But the real surprise of the evening was the Best Actor award, which went to Italian Roberto Benigni, who also took Best Foreign Language Film for his Holocaust fable "Life Is Beautiful," which he wrote, directed and starred in. Producer Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, the studio that distributed both "Life Is Beautiful" and "Shakespeare in Love," said the latter film, which he campaigned heavily for, was "about life and art and art and life combining it's called magic."
A tearful Gwyneth Paltrow, accepting the award for Best Actress, thanked a long list of co-stars including her "soulful partner" Joseph Fiennes, who played Shakespeare her co-nominees, and, it seemed, most of the members of her family.
Judi Dench, who was nominated last year for portraying Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown," won for her biting portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the film. Dench said she was completely surprised by the award, since her role lasted only eight minutes. "In fact it's completely taken my breath away," she said backstage. "I can honestly say I didn't think it had a running [chance] at all."
The evening's most memorable quotes, however, were provided by the irrepressible Benigni. After the award for Best Foreign Langauge Film, he stood on the backs of audience members' seats and said, in fractured English, "I feel like, really, to dive in this ocean of generosity. . . . It is a hailstorm of kindness." When he won a short time later for Best Actor (the first Best Actor ever for a foreign film), the emotional Benigni lamented comically, "This is a terrible mistake. I used up all my English." The movie also won for Best Dramatic Score. Then Benigni added, "I hope to win some other Oscars."
Spielberg did take the Best Director Oscar his second for directing "Saving Private Ryan," about an Army unit sent behind enemy lines to save a young recruit. The film also took Oscars for cinematography, sound effects editing, sound and film editing.
A snow-haired and -bearded James Coburn took the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the abusive alcoholic father in the low-budget film "Affliction." Coburn, an old-time star who found himself crippled by arthritis for many years and has only recently found treatment that allows him to work, said he was hugely gratified.
"I've been doing this work for over half my life, I finally got one right, I guess," he said. "Some of 'em you do for money, some of 'em you do for love this is a love child." Backstage he told reporters he mainly hoped winning the Oscar would mean "I'll get more work."
A film about James Whale, a gay director from Old Hollywood, took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for "Gods and Monsters."
"Elizabeth" a drama about the 16th-century virgin queen won for Best Makeup. Winner Jenny Shircore said that to achieve the haunted appearance of Cate Blanchett near the end of the film, she shaved the actress's hairline and bleached her eyebrows and lashes.
Dench said that playing a queen or two was the same as playing any other role. "You start with the guts of a person, and you somehow fill up the inside of you, as that person," she said. "Whether she's a queen or the Neapolitan prostitute that I just finished in London a couple of weeks ago. It's the same process, whether she was that or Queen Victoria."
The awards were marred by political controversy from the McCarthy era. Protesters outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion shouted, "Don't Stand for Kazan," against the honorary Oscar to be awarded to Elia Kazan, director of such landmark films as "A Streetcar Named Desire," "On the Waterfront" and "Gentleman's Agreement." In 1952 Kazan informed on eight friends from his days as a Communist Party member in testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, a betrayal that many blacklisted Hollywood liberals never forgave.
The director did not directly address the controversy in accepting his Oscar, thanking the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and saying, "I think I can just slip away."
Director Norman Jewison, who made "Moonstruck," "A Soldier's Story," "Fiddler on the Roof" and many other films, took an honorary Irving Thalberg Award, and "The Last Days," about the destruction of the Hungarian Jewish community in the Holocaust, won Best Documentary Feature.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post
Academy Awards, Oscar, Oscar Night and the Oscar design mark are the trademark and service marks, and the Oscar statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.