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Calendar Goes to the OSCARS : Now, the List Is Complete : Analysis : A Night for Emotion and Breathlessness


The Hollywood ending he'd regularly supplied to others but could never manage for himself finally came to Steven Spielberg Monday night. To the small surprise but great delight of the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Spielberg for the first time won Oscars for best picture and best director for his work on "Schindler's List."

Looking dazed at both awards even though he must have expected at least one of them, Spielberg grew increasingly emotional as he thanked first his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, "for saving my life 92 days in a row in Krakow," and then his mother, "my lucky charm." Then, his voice truly breaking, he talked of remembering "the 6 million who can't be watching this among the billion watching tonight."

Despite this bravura finish, for a while it looked as if this might not be "Schindler's" night after all. Yes, it quickly picked up the first award of the evening for art direction, beating out likely winner "The Age of Innocence." But after that the film lost in four straight categories, including one for sound to in-house rival "Jurassic Park" before John Williams broke the streak with his victory for best original score.


After that, with the exception of the best actor category, "Schindler's List" took everything it was up for, invariably reducing its recipients to tears. Steven Zaillian, whose adapted screenplay was praised by Spielberg for its "inordinate restraint," took pains to thank his father for his complete belief in "common decency." And veteran editor Michael Kahn was equally emotional in referring to this experience as "the most fulfilling time of my life."

Despite all these words for and about "Schindler's List," the Oscar evening was very nearly stolen by someone who didn't say a word. No, not the canine stars of "Beethoven's 2nd," who steadfastly refused to hit their marks, causing host Whoopi Goldberg to remark, "And they call me a bitch." Besides Spielberg, the night belonged to Anna Paquin.

The delighted winner of the best supporting actress Oscar for her uncompromising work in "The Piano," Paquin was so flabbergasted that at first she could do no more than hyperventilate onstage. Then, when her speech was over, she clutched the statue to her chest like a treasured doll and broke tradition by running directly offstage to her seat. It was the performance of the evening.

"The Piano" won two other major Oscars, both expected. Holly Hunter, who reminisced about pretending to play the piano on the window sill when she was 6 years old, won for best actress. And Jane Campion, who won for best original screenplay, confessed that though she "used to feel deeply cynical about award nights like this," actually participating in one had brought her close to tears.

As always, the moments Oscar watchers treasured most were the small, spontaneous ones, like the unidentified woman from the group accepting the best documentary short award for "Defending Our Lives." Last to speak, she passionately blurted out: "Domestic violence is the leading cause of violence to women in the United States. Please, we need all your help to stop this."

As for memorable acceptance speeches, two stood out, one short and one long. The short one came courtesy of Fernando Trueba, the director of "Belle Epoque," the winning foreign-language film from Spain. "I would like to believe in God in order to thank him," he said, "but I just believe in Billy Wilder."


The most eloquent acceptance came from best actor winner Tom Hanks, who starred as an AIDS-afflicted lawyer in "Philadelphia." Speaking completely without notes, Hanks passionately thanked co-star Denzel Washington "for putting his image at risk" and his gay high-school drama teacher, saying, "I wish my babies could have the same kind of influences." He closed with a heartfelt "God bless you all, God have mercy on us all and God bless America."

Unfortunately, moments like these are getting increasingly rare, as the Oscar show gets more and more intent on making the trains run on time. The result is acceptance speeches so brief that they end up being nothing but laundry lists of thank-you's to no-doubt deserving collaborators.

Helping to ease the pain was Whoopi Goldberg, who proved especially adept at keeping things lively with continual ad-libs directed at targets as varied as Nancy Reagan, Larry Fortensky, and a certain fearless section of a great metropolitan daily newspaper.

More star power was provided by Bruce Springsteen, who displayed more onstage charisma in singing "Streets of Philadelphia" than did Paul Newman, winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. "This is the first song I ever wrote for a motion picture," Springsteen said as he hefted the statuette after the song won. "I guess it's all downhill from here."

For collectors of Oscar trivia, the evening provided at least one fun fact to know and tell. When "Black Rider" won for best dramatic short, it marked the second year in a row that a film from a Common Market country set on public transportation took home that particular prize. There's a story in there somewhere.

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