74th Academy Awards (2001): Commentary

The 74th Academy Awards (2001): Telecast Commentary

The 74th Annual Academy Awards didn’t start off with a bang, but started out with a dull thud. The “On the Red Carpet” pre-show was woefully unnecessary. Apart from the stiff presentations by hosts Chris Connelly and Ananda Lewis (Leeza Gibbons was okay), the show had numerous factual errors (the most grievous of which was an assertion that “A Beautiful Mind” had only seven nominations, when it had eight) and was mis-cut several times (most notably when Lewis referred to Leeza talking to Julia Roberts, but Roberts had long since stopped her interview). The only really good parts of the presentation were the tracking shot through Hollywood where numerous Best Picture winner “ads” were placed on various buildings and structures and the use of big screens behind the announcers to show various images of the celebrities’ wins or the nominees in categories they were appearing in. Overall, it was rather disappointing to watch and certainly something that Oscar can forget next year.

Then the actual show started. It was led off by a gorgeous panoramic view of the new Kodak theater (as breathtaking as it was spectacular). Once that was over, the obligatory, post-9/11 inspiration speech was delivered by an unshaven Tom Cruise who seemed unnecessarily demure. He presented a clip of several Americans who were asked on the street what films they remembered most. The film was very enjoyable, but unnecessary. Once that was out of the way, one of the grandest entrances in Oscar history was perpetrated by host Whoopi Goldberg who, dressed in a feather-laden frock, descended into the chamber on a catbird seat from the ceiling (ala Moulin Rouge). She then imparted several memorable and not-so-memorable jokes (the best being the introduction of the Smith family: Will, Jada Pinkett and Dame Maggie).

The show then pressed on with the announcement of its first award of the evening for Best Supporting Actress, presented by last year’s Supporting Actor winner Benicio Del Toro. A rather unprepared Jennifer Connelly took the award and gave a very impersonal and unemotional speech that lacked the considerable emotion that she displayed at the less-important Golden Globe Awards in January.

We then met our announcers for the evening. Dubbed “The Voices of Oscar,” Glenn Close and Donald Sutherland announced presenters throughout the evening. Close appeared on several occasions outside of the announcement booth backstage including in the lobby and a box seat. Sutherland’s voice seemed overbalanced for the show, but Close was perfectly pleasant.

President of the Academy, Frank Pierson gave a rather lackluster speech extolling the virtues of Hollywood in a time of global crisis. The speech sounded very similar to that of opener Tom Cruise and neither were terribly inspirational.

The next award of the evening, for Film Editing was presented by “Ali” thesp Will Smith. This was the first technical award of the evening to receive a description written by a Hollywood playwright. This first was written by David Mamet whose description was probably the most glowing and uninteresting of the evening. He described editing as it really is, not as the butt of jokes later screenwriters suggested. The award went to American Cinema Editors winner “Black Hawk Down” and signaled a resonating blow against all of the Best Picture nominees, making the eventual winner more infamous than in past years.

Hollywood couple Ryan Phillip and Reese Withespoon were next up presenting the Makeup award described by Buck Henry. His description was one of the more lively of the evening, explaining that an actor’s head had to be really tiny to apply so much makeup to it. The winner went to the expected “Lord of the Rings,” its first award of the evening, but one seen by most to be one of the few sure things.

Host Whoopi Goldberg came out on stage to present the first of the five Best Picture nominated films, “In the Bedroom.” In the tradition of her riding-in-on-a-swing Moulin Rouge reference, she proceeded to joke about the film’s low budget and its original title “In the Double-Wide.”

The Costume Design award was presented by friends Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson who provided their own commentary on the category. Wilson dressed as Harry Potter and Stiller, reluctantly dressed as Gimli from “Lord of the Rings.” They played off of one another like friends would and provided one of the most enjoyable segments of the evening. The award went to the lavish spectacle “Moulin Rouge” where director Baz Luhrmann’s wife, Catherine Martin, was one of the recipients. She heaped praises on her husband who was destined not to take home a single award.

The next segment was one of several surprises, unannounced sequences that brought Hollywood legends back to the Academy stage for the first time in years. Woody Allen, harkening back to his stand-up days, presented a hilarious introduction to a montage on New York City. The montage itself was better than some in previous years, but couldn’t Top the opening sequence where people described why they loved movies.

Jodie Foster arrived next to present the award for Cinematography. No writer gave an explanation, but the expected winner “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” who also won the American Society of Cinematographers award was upset by “Lord of the Rings” which upped its potential for Best Picture with a surprise win. Unfortunately, this was to be its biggest award of the night, a disappointment that will surely match those for “Star Wars” and “E.T.”

The next Best Picture reel presentation came from Goldberg who came out on the stage dressed as a maid. She made some comments about none of the servants in the film “Gosford Park” were black. The montage was similar to that of “In the Bedroom” where people associated with the film explained the nuances of their ideas for their films.

Helen Hunt arrived next and presented a montage celebrating documentary filmmaking over the years featuring noted scenes from “Workers Leaving the Factory,” considered one of the first projected images and “Nanook of the North,” the first film to be fully labeled as a documentary. Those images started out a rather long and unnecessary segment that was followed up by the awards for Documentaries presented by Samuel L. Jackson. The Documentary Feature winner was “Murder on a Sunday Morning” and the Documentary Short Subject winner was “Thoth.”

The next award was for Art Direction. Cameron Diaz presented the award and the description provided by scribes Joel and Ethan Coen; much more humorous than the first few, but not the best of the evening. “Moulin Rouge” carried away its second and final award of the evening. Martin, again the winner, continued to heap praise on hubby Luhrmann. Most would think this award should go to the much more detailed “Lord of the Rings,” but with the fantasy stigma piled with the desire to honor a film that would be honored no where else, “Rouge” triumphed.

After that, the typical montage of winners from the Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony were displayed including Gordon E. Sawyer award recipient Edmund DiGiulio.

Nathan Lane presented a hilarious, if not incendiary introduction to the debut Animated Feature category. A shot at the Weinstein family earned some groans, however he handled them nicely. Once his intro was out of the way, he announced the winner “Shrek,” a worthy choice for the award and its only win for the evening.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote the next technical category description for the Sound and Sound Effects category. At the time Oscar Nominee Halle Berry presented the selection with much relish, talent and long wind. It was the most enjoyable of all of the presentations of the evening. She got through the elaborate onomatopoeia without a mistake, a truly impressive feat considering the speed with which she delivered it. She then presented Sound to “Black Hawk Down” and Sound Effects to “Pearl Harbor.” Surprisingly “Black Hawk Down” managed to triumph over the more noteworthy “Rouge” and “Rings,” perhaps as a tribute for not getting a Best Picture nomination. “Pearl Harbor” simply won because it wasn’t an animated feature, which has never won this category.

After a slew of technical awards, the show finally got back to its major recipients with Marcia Gay Harden, last year’s Best Supporting Actress, presenting this year’s Supporting Actor award to Jim Broadbent. Broadbent seemed to be honored more for his appearances in multiple films than for his nominated performance for “Iris.” He also appeared in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Moulin Rouge.” This was the award that sounded the death knell for “Rings” winning in the Top category.

Goldberg appeared again, this time wearing hobbit feet, to introduce the clip for Picture nominee “Lord of the Rings.”

The honored Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Maggie Smith, wizards in their respective 2001 films “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” arrived on stage next to introduce circus troupe Cirque du Soleil. They danced and performed to clips of Visual Effects films of the past as an introduction to the upcoming Visual Effects award presentation. Probably the most rousing performance of the evening, the audience leapt to their feet upon its completion. It was truly the best performance of the evening, not to be topped at all. Many will say it was unnecessary, but being so it was still a very enjoyable way to pass a very long ceremony.

“Spider Man” duo Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire presented the award for Best Visual Effects. Their technical description was by the surprising droll James Cameron. The award went to “Lord of the Rings,” one of the few expected winners of the evening.

The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was the next on the block. Actors Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal made a surprise comeback to the stage to present to the award to their “Love Story” director Arthur Hiller. His speech, like those he gave at the Oscar ceremonies when he was president, was enjoyable, if not a touch rambling. He did everything but accept for himself, thanking everyone he could.

“Schindler’s List” thesp Sir Ben Kingsley recognized the composer of that film, John Williams, who orchestrated a celebration of famous film themes. Not surprisingly, he focused mainly on those he composed, but also examined famed themes from Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann and “Gone With the Wind” composer Max Steiner among others. Rather unimpressive, the presentation was difficult to understand as they showed clips from the film the orchestra played, but at times the names of the composers and the films were posted on a large screen behind the musicians, but would often be blocked so as not to be read.

As follow up, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant presented the Original Score award to Howard Shore for “Lord of the Rings.” Unfortunately, this would be the last award the film saw that evening and Shore seemed to be quite happy that the four years he took out of his professional career to work solely for “Rings” had paid off.

The next special award presentation was for an Honorary Oscar presented by Denzel Washington to luminary Sidney Poitier. After another uninspired film reel, Poitier gave the single best speech of the evening. It was so well presented that twice I was convinced he was actually going to rescind the honor.

“Mulholland Dr.” starlet Naomi Watts joined Hugh Jackman to present to the Short Film awards. Live-Action Short Film went to “The Accountant” Two winners were announced, but three people went to the stage.it was rather odd. Then the award for Animated Short Film went to the expected Pixar short “For the Birds.”

Rising star Josh Hartnett showed next to present the Original Song montage featuring performances from the nominated songs. Sting performed admirably, a seasoned stage performer with no hitches in his performance of “Until” from “Kate & Leopold.” Enya was understandably nervous performing her song from “Lord of the Rings.” Randy Newman played piano and sang with John Goodman on terrific lead vocals for Newman’s song from “Monsters, Inc.” called “If I Didn’t Have You.” Faith Hill performed the Dianne Warren song from “Pearl Harbor.” And finally, Paul McCartney sang his song from “Vanilla Sky” with no real emotion for a rather uninspired song. Pop star and actress Jennifer Lopez presented the Oscar to Newman, who would have been the most dishonored Oscar nominee in history if he hadn’t won. More of a tribute than an honor for Original Song, this category continues to play into the not-the-best-but-we-must-honor-him type of category.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke were next on the stage to present the Screenplay categories. This year they decided to read short vignettes from the nominated screenplays as the introduction of each nominee was made. The award for Adapted Screenplay went to the revisionistic script for “A Beautiful Mind.” The Original Screenplay award went to the only Best Picture nominee in the lot, “Gosford Park” instead of to the more original and more deserving “Memento.” Both selections matched the Writers Guild of America exactly.

The next presenters were John Travolta and Sharon Stone who presented the award for Best Foreign Language Film. Matching the Golden Globes, French art film “Amelie” lost to Bosnian film “No Man’s Land.”

Kevin Spacey announced a moment of silence for the tragic loss of lives at the World Trade Center and then proceeded to introduce the annual In Memoriam film clip heralding the entertainment figures who died over the last year.

Goldberg next presented the clip for “Moulin Rouge” without any terrific fanfare outside of calling it the film that directed itself. Lamenting director Luhrmann’s exclusion from the category.

Another surprise visitor showed up to present Robert Redford with an Honorary Oscar. “The Way We Were” co-star Barbra Streisand introduced him and the clips that accompanied it. Another uninspired video clip and his speech was very actor-oriented, but lacked the power that Poitier’s speech did.

Last year’s Best Actor winner, Russell Crowe, as tradition holds, presented the award for Best Actress. The Oscar went to Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball.” She set history with this win and she knew it. She looked shocked when she approached the podium and with a very long ovation, she finally calmed won enough to start her speech, but still managed to cry through lots of it. It was probably the most genuine, honest acceptance speech in Oscar history and certain to go down in the record books. She became the first black actress in history to win in her category. (Irony note: the first black ever nominated for Best Actress category, Dorothy Dandridge, was the subject of a biopic starring Halle Berry as the famed actress.

The final Best Picture clip of the evening saw Goldberg accompanied by her own imaginary Secret Service agent in honor of the film’s mentally disturbed fictional visions.

Julia Roberts returned to the podium after winning last year’s Best Actress prize to present another record-breaking trophy to actor Denzel Washington as Best Actor for “Training Day.” No other time in history saw two black actors take the Top two acting prizes and this was the first.

Oscar winning director Mel Gibson bestowed this year’s Best Director trophy to the schmaltzy Ron Howard for the disappointing “A Beautiful Mind.” The Directors Guild of America held strong in a year where most of the guild precursors were accurate.

The final trophy of the night was presented by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks. “A Beautiful Mind” took the Top prize from a very deserving slate of finalists. It will hopefully only be remembered as a footnote as one of many films that will barely be remembered five years after their wins.

Overall, the telecast was relatively even. There were plenty of slow, agonizing moments and there was plenty of excitement. Unfortunately, the lack of exceptional choices made the show one of the least impressive in years. None of this is the fault of the directors, but more the stodgy Academy who continue to recognize the sappy, message movie while ignoring the more subtle and brilliant works also nominated. If it weren’t for the amazing speeches of Poitier and Berry and the wonderful Cirque du Soleil, this would have been one of the most unbearable shows in recent memory.

<editor’s note: The following was my original rolling commentary as the winners were announced. The winners below are presented in logical order, not in the order of announcement. – OG (August 31, 2006)>

Picture

A Beautiful Mind

How disappointing. This is probably one of the worst oversights in Academy history.

Actor

Denzel Washington – Training Day

History made twice in one night. The first double win for African Americans at the Oscars. This could be Lord of the Rings’ night with Beautiful Mind’s own subject not winning. We’ll see how director pans out.

Actress

Halle Berry – Monster’s Ball

It’s about time. Oscar history for the first time tonight. Moulin Rouge’s chances are fading.

Supporting Actor

Jim Broadbent – Iris

The death knell has been sounded for Lord of the Rings. Moulin Rouge is looking quite good. This was more an award for ALL his performances, than just his in Iris.

Supporting Actress

Jennifer Connelly – A Beautiful Mind

Very much expected and unlikely to mean anything except a potential Beautiful Mind win for Picture.

Director

Ron Howard – A Beautiful Mind

The DGA managed to get it right again. How sad. Well, Beautiful Mind looks more like a lock for Picture now.

Original Screenplay

Gosford Park

How sad. Gosford Park was neither incredibly interesting nor unpredictable. Nolan was much more deserving and this award becomes my bane for eterntiy as the first time in history I have not predicted the eventual winner.

Adapted Screenplay

A Beautiful Mind

Predictability and sadness accompany this victory. Beautiful Mind needed this to win after all the controversy over the inaccuracies of the translation.

Foreign Film

Bosnia & Herzegovina: No Man’s Land

Not necessarily a surprise, but a disappointment. Amelie was such a wonderful film…damn war movies.

Original Song

“If I Didn’t Have You” – Monsters, Inc.

At least it wasn’t Paul McCartney and they finally threw Randy a bone.

Original Score

The Lord of the Rings

Rings is making its way to most honored of the night, could this mean that the Broadbent win was more a subliminal tribute to Moulin Rouge than anything?

Animated Feature

Shrek

No surprise and the first of its kind ever.

Film Editing

Black Hawk Down

Rouge, Rings and Mind have no boost through this category and the guilds seem on the button so far. Look for Memento to attempt an overthrown in Original Screenplay.

Cinematography

The Lord of the Rings

The tide may be turning now. With Deakins, the ASC winner, losing here, it could symbolize a desire to hand everything, including Picture to Rings…we’ll see, though.

Art Direction/Set Decoration

Moulin Rouge

What an unfortunate loss, but the balance has swung back and the Picture race is once again open.

Costume Design

Moulin Rouge

Again, no surprise. Still no hint at the Best Picture winner.

Makeup

The Lord of the Rings

Also as expected. Still not hint at who will take home the Oscar for Best Picture.

Sound

Black Hawk Down

The war films DIDN’T split the vote and made the Best Picture race all the less predictable.

Sound Effects Editing

Pearl Harbor

No surprises, animation is never taken seriously and Score and Song could be out of reach now for Randy Newman.

Visual Effects

The Lord of the Rings

As expected and welcome news.

Documentary Short Subject

Thoth

Some predicted Artists and Orphans, I picked Sing. We were all wrong.

Documentary Feature

Murder on a Sunday Morning

Some predicted Promises, I predicted Children Underground and we were all wrong.

Animated Short Film

For the Birds

No surprise at all.

Live-Action Short Films

The Accountant

Child abuse is always a valid topic, but apparently not this year.