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All the Buzz on Film Festival Awards, Celebrity Tributes and the Film Awards Season.

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Oscar Surprises

Monday, February 26-----While readers can turn to almost any newspaper, internet site or media outlet to get the results of the 79th Academy Awards (it is, after all, watched by over a billion people worldwide), this story will focus on what were, at least for me, the surprises of the evening….actually the surprises that kept the evening lively and unpredictable.

  

Among the night's biggest surprises:

BEST PICTURE: While the choice of THE DEPARTED is certainly worthy (certainly compared to such previous dubious Oscar winners as DANCING WITH WOLVES, BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR), its win was far from a certainty. In fact, in the past few weeks, speculation seemed to center on either BABEL (which had won the Golden Globe Award) or LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (which had won the Producers Guild Prize and 4 Film Independent's Spirit Awards on Saturday) as the strongest contenders. Even THE QUEEN has been bandied about as a sleeper winner, since it received the consistently best reviews of the nominee bunch.  The win by THE DEPARTED, a film made by the iconic Martin Scorsese and also the only film in the list of five nominees to make big waves at the box office, was an unexpected but certainly worthy choice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: While no one is more delighted than I am about the choice of veteran “actor’s actor” Alan Arkin for this award, the apparent snub of Eddie Murphy, who has won almost all the prizes in this category during awards season, still was a shocker. While no one contests Arkin’s skillful portrayal of the foul-mouthed, heroin-snorting grandfather in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, it is true that his was the smallest role in the acting ensemble, and that he had dropped dead before the picture even reached its mid-point. While awards should be given to the quality not the quantity of a performance, there is wide speculation that Eddie Murphy, universally praised for his role as a soul singer in DREAMGIRLS, was deemed too arrogant or uncooperative (attributed to his apparent shyness) and his “smugness” seems to have cost him the Oscar.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lebezki, the brilliant cinematographer who gave the futuristic thriller CHILDREN OF MEN its intense edge, was passed over for the Oscar in this category for the cinematographer of PAN’S LABYRINTH. This is all the more surprising since Lebezki had won the Cinematographers Guild Award just a week ago, and the same craftspeople vote on the Oscar. How this could happen in the span of a week is rather baffling. But perhaps the omission has more to do with the fact that CHILDREN OF MEN has been very anemic at the box office and the film was viewed by Academy voters on the small screen, where its impact must have been greatly diminished. PAN’S LABYRINTH is certainly a beautifully shot piece of work, but Lebezki brought a visceral “you are there” immediacy that has certainly stuck with me.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: While there is no doubt that momentum has been building since the opening of the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS this month, its win over the heavily favored PAN’S LABYRINTH is indeed a surprise. While the Guillermo Del Toro fantasy epic is basking in its three Oscar wins, and an unexpectedly robust box office for a foreign language film, the choice of Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck’s intellectual thriller about the East German secret police will help that film, which will widen its release in the coming weeks. Go, Florian!!

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: The choice of the film THE DANISH POET, produced by the National Film of Canada and a Norwegian animation studio, was a nod to old fashioned cel animation that still retains a visceral power and poetry. It was nice to see an animated film from the “old school” (drawn instead of computer generated) walk off with the award, despite formidable competition from Pixar and Disney.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: While the choice of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH was widely predicted, the real shocker was the odd choice of comedian Jerry Seinfeld to introduce the nominations. Usually, the Academy chooses a person of great “gravitas” or someone who is widely associated with promoting social causes to hand out this award. But Seinfeld, whose tentative connection (he stated) was that a documentary film was made on him a few years ago, did not connect with his rather lame and slightly offensive jokes about the documentary nominees (actually calling them all “depressing”). Certainly the Academy could have chosen someone more appropriate (and left the joke-telling to the wonderful mistress of ceremonies, Ellen DeGeneres).

BEST ART DIRECTION: What, no MARIE ANTOINETTE? The fact that this visually sumptuous film was not even nominated was itself rather shocking. The film was, at least, honored for its wonderful Costume Design by Milena Cannonero.

CLINT EASTWOOD’S ITALIAN FLUENCY: Eastwood was the perfect choice to offer a tribute to film composer Ennio Morricone, who had scored the memorable music to several of his “spaghetti westerns” of the 1960s (directed by the brilliant Sergio Leone). However, when Morricone, who is Italian but has worked extensively in Hollywood, gave his acceptance speech ENTIRELY IN ITALIAN, a game Eastwood suddenly became a translator. Since the speech went on for a good five minutes, the somewhat ill-at-ease looking Eastwood did his best to make it seem as natural as possible (but one could detect a look of slight panic in his generally impassive eyes). Bravo, Clint….after LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA you must be used to translation from other languages. Maybe there is a United Nations award that we can give Eastwood to keep his four Oscars company.

Aside from the above surprises, the evening ran like clockwork (despite the fact that at almost four hours, it was the longest telecast in recent memory). Kudos to Martin Scorsese (FINALLY!!), Helen Mirren’s regal manner, Forest Whitaker’s wise decision to write down his acceptance speech in advance, and Jennifer Hudson’s true humility and awe to be living out her dream (she still must be pinching herself).

So, the awards season reached its climax and we will continue to let readers know about special awards, tribute, festival prizes and the start of the new awards season (which began at 12:01am Los Angeles time).

Sandy Mandelberger, Awards Watch Editor

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