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'Schindler's List' Brings Triumph for Spielberg : Movies: Director wins for best picture. Tom Hanks is honored as best actor and Holly Hunter is best actress.

March 22, 1994|CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES MOVIE EDITOR

After two decades of creating some of Hollywood's biggest commercial successes, director Steven Spielberg finally had his artistic triumph Monday night at the 66th annual Academy Awards.

Spielberg's risky labor of love, "Schindler's List," the gripping black-and-white epic about the Holocaust that industry cynics wrongly predicted would never draw audiences, won the best picture award for 1993 and delivered the 46-year-old filmmaker his first Oscar for directing.

The acclaimed film, based on Thomas Keneally's bestselling 1982 fact-based novel about Nazi war profiteer Oskar Schindler who secretly saved more than 1,100 Jews from extermination, took seven awards, including best adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing, original score and art direction.

The evening's top acting awards went to Holly Hunter, who won best actress for her role as the mute mail-order bride in colonial New Zealand in "The Piano," and Tom Hanks, named best actor for his performance as the AIDS-stricken lawyer Andrew Beckett in "Philadelphia" who fights for his human rights when he is fired from his job.

Tommy Lee Jones won the best supporting actor award--his first Oscar--for his role as the relentless Federal Marshal Sam Gerard in "The Fugitive," based on the popular 1960s TV series.

Eleven-year-old Anna Paquin won the best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as Holly Hunter's jealous daughter Flora in "The Piano." She is the second-youngest Oscar winner ever, after Tatum O'Neal, who received the supporting actress honor at age 10 for 1973's "Paper Moon."

Monday's awards ceremony was clearly a night of personal triumph and vindication for Spielberg, who had been snubbed by fellow members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and underestimated by critics as a serious artist.

"This is the best drink of water after the longest drought in my life," said Spielberg after accepting the award for best picture from Harrison Ford, his star in the popular "Indiana Jones" pictures.

"I actually have friends who have won this before, and I swear I have never held one before," said Spielberg. He credited Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg for persuading Keneally to write the book and for "carrying Oskar Schindler to us."

Spielberg also thanked MCA President Sidney Sheinberg for "giving me the book" and screenwriter Steven Zaillian for his "inordinate restraint." And he spoke of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, "who can't be watching this among the 1 billion watching this telecast tonight."

Spielberg implored educators watching the show to not allow the Holocaust to "remain a footnote in history."

In accepting her award, Hunter, who was nominated for best actress for 1987's "Broadcast News," thanked her first piano teacher and her parents for letting her have piano lessons. She also thanked director Jane Campion for "giving me a character and experience that was so difficult to say goodby to."

The Oscar was a first for Hanks, whose role in "Philadelphia"--the first studio movie about AIDS--was a rare and bold departure for an actor best known for his comedic skills in such films as "Big" (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 1988), "Sleepless in Seattle" and "A League of Their Own."

Hanks' award seemed to indicate a more accepting attitude toward mainstream actors choosing to play unconventional roles. Historically, Hollywood's top stars have steered away from portraying gay characters for fear it could harm their careers.

With a standing ovation and a kiss from fellow Oscar nominee Liam Neesom, an emotional Hanks thanked the filmmakers of "Philadelphia" and his co-stars, calling Antonio Banderas "the only person I would trade my lover for" and Denzel Washington an actor "who really put his film image at risk."

"Philadelphia," which drew mixed reviews, was not nominated in the best picture category. Nor was its director, Jonathan Demme, nominated. He had been harshly criticized by some gay activists for the film's lack of explicit sexuality in the relationship between Hanks and his lover.

"Philadelphia" picked up the award for best original song, "Streets of Philadelphia," written and performed by Bruce Springsteen.

Jones, a Texas-born actor who also won the Golden Globe, was nominated in 1991 for his portrayal of Clay Shaw in Oliver Stone's "JFK."

Jones thanked the Academy for "the greatest award" an actor could receive.

The first upset of the evening was Paquin's win. The young actress was practically speechless when she picked up her award. She beat out the favored Winona Ryder, the Golden Globe winner for "The Age of Innocence." That period romance, directed by Martin Scorsese, did win one Oscar, for best costume design.

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