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Calender Goes to the Oscars : Analysis : Life Is Like a Box of Oscars : But Statues Are Divvied Up, Quite Fittingly

March 28, 1995|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

Weary perhaps of being reviled for the puniness of their nominations, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did something Monday at the Shrine Auditorium they don't always do: They paid attention to who and what they voted for in the final round. The result was one of the more judicious divisions of Oscar spoils in recent memory.

Resisting the urge to have one film (i.e., "Forrest Gump") sweep everything before it, the academy voters instead parceled out their awards like gold coins to deserving orphans. The 18 Oscars available for theatrical features went to 10 films, and, except for "Gump," with six, no film got more than two statuettes.

It wasn't only that the Oscars went to so many different films that was laudable, but that they went, in a large number of cases (albeit mostly in the less celebrated categories), to surprisingly deserving choices, given the competition.

So the best art direction Oscar went to the gorgeous "The Madness of King George" and best costumes went to the deliciously gaudy "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." Two awards went to the little-seen "Ed Wood," even though, as best supporting actor winner Martin Landau noted, "Everybody who saw the movie is in this room tonight."

Neither did the academy penalize films for their financial success. John Toll won the cinematography award for his beautiful outdoor photography on "Legends of the Fall," certainly the most deserving choice among the four Hollywood nominees (though Piotr Sobocinski's work on "Red" was perhaps more artful). And the head-spinning audio on "Speed" helped that action piece to two awards.

Even the foreign-language Oscar, which has been awarded to some dubious films in the past, went to the best of the five nominees (and the only one not yet in commercial release), Nikita Mikhalkov's delicate and powerful "Burnt by the Sun." Though not as eager to make it easy for its audience as some of the other nominees, "Burnt by the Sun" has a dignity and resonance that has consistently marked the best of this Russian director's work.

Though "Gump" won an evening-high six Oscars, those who were expecting bigger things got a hint of the bad news early, as the picture lost the first two contests it was in and ended up with only two of the first nine Oscars it was eligible for before storming back with four in a row.

And though Tom Hanks was gracious in accepting his best actor Oscar, it is a shame that neither he nor screenwriter Eric Roth nor any of the producers managed to find the time to fully thank Winston Groom, the author of the original novel and the person who truly, more than agents, studios and wives, really made this film possible. But, as Ken Kesey said when questioned about his omission from acceptance speeches when "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" swept the Oscars, "The sun shines on them so long in Hollywood, they think they own it."

It was even a good night, ironically enough, for that celebrated invalid, the non-nominated documentary "Hoop Dreams," which got more attention, including a much-applauded mention in host David Letterman's list of 10 indications the movie you're watching won't win an Academy Award, than it would have gotten had it been nominated or even won.

The documentary that did win, "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision," was one of the centers of the documentary controversy, because its director, Freida Lee Mock, is a former chairman of the documentary committee.

Some astute observers had predicted in advance that "Freedom on My Mind," generally considered to be the best of the five choices, had the same subject matter as "A Time for Justice," which won for best documentary short subject and which academy voters might have seen before they saw "Freedom."

One of the most pleasant aspects of this year's Oscar ceremony was its emphasis on movie history. The special Oscar for Michelangelo Antonioni, the moving in memoriam section, the fine clips of comedy moments of the past, even makeup winner Rick Baker's tribute to past great Jack Pierce, all made for a welcome tribute to those who came before.

Though the show, as usual, ran longer than even Letterman apparently expected, it still has not figured out how to handle the business of acceptance speeches. Keeping them short is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face: a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet recital of a laundry list of people to be thanked does not make for a more dramatically satisfying show. Maybe the academy and the winner could strike a deal: The fewer names you mention, the more time you'll have. And if you forget to mention the author of the original material, your mike gets shut off. Permanently.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Top Winners Picture: Forrest Gump

Actor: Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump

Actress: Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

Director: Robert Zemeckis, Forrest Gump

Supporting Actress: Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway

Supporting Actor: Martin Landau, Ed Wood

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