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THE OSCARS

And the award didn't go to Hollywood

Europeans, and two iconoclasts from Minnesota, stand out. Even the best song beats a blockbuster.

February 25, 2008|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood took on a new role in Sunday's 80th annual Academy Awards: bit player.

In a series of startling upsets and a few expected triumphs, almost all of the top Oscars were handed to foreigners and iconoclastic show business outsiders. Every one of the evening's winning actors came from beyond American borders, and the ceremony's dominant film -- best picture winner "No Country for Old Men" -- was created by a pair of filmmaking brothers from Minnesota who have never made a mainstream movie in their three-decade career.

In an era when overseas revenue accounts for more than half of a movie's income, the percentages were tilted far more heavily toward foreigners throughout the awards show, with an especially strong showing from Europe.

Best actor Daniel Day-Lewis of "There Will Be Blood" lives in Ireland, while "La Vie en Rose" surprise best actress winner Marion Cotillard makes her home in Paris. Spain's Javier Bardem was named best supporting actor for "No Country for Old Men," and Scotland's Tilda Swinton won best supporting actress for "Michael Clayton." Many of the evening's lower-profile awards -- for art direction, makeup, costume design and animated short among them -- went to non-American filmmakers and designers.

"Hollywood is built on Europeans! Go back and look," Swinton said backstage after her triumph. "I'm really sad I couldn't give a speech in Gaelic."

After he won his supporting actor Oscar, Canary Islands-born Bardem gave a shout-out to his actress mother -- in Spanish, adding, also in Spanish, "This is for Spain, this is for all of you."

It wasn't just foreign accents, and foreign-language acceptance speeches, that set many of the evening's winners apart: The big winners all have distinctive creative voices too. Though quite a few of the victors were hardly household names, almost all of the Oscar recipients are known by film lovers for their fierce determination to invent singular work not typically embraced by the studios. Day-Lewis, who won a best actor Oscar for "My Left Foot" in 1989, is very selective about his acting jobs, having appeared in only three movies over the last 10 years. In fact, he once took a hiatus from acting to study shoemaking.

Joel and Ethan Coen won not only the best picture honor for co-producing "No Country for Old Men" with Scott Rudin, but also took home Oscars for directing the film and adapting Cormac McCarthy's gothic crime novel. In accepting their shared directing prize, Joel Coen said he and his brother were not making movies all that differently from when they were kids in the 1960s shooting with a Super 8 camera. "We're very thankful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox," Joel Coen said.

In what perhaps captured the tenor of the night most fittingly, "Falling Slowly" was honored as best original song. The tiny love ballad comes from the equally small Irish film "Once," and defeated three flashy songs from Disney musical blockbuster "Enchanted."

"This is such a big deal, not only for us, but for all other independent musicians and artists that spend most of their time struggling," said the song's co-writer and the film's co-star, the Czech Republic's Marketa Irglova, after returning to the stage of the Kodak Theatre because she was inadvertently played off by the orchestra before she had a chance to speak. "This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are."

Given that Hollywood was recently torn -- and the Oscar broadcast nearly eviscerated -- by a nasty labor strike, it was appropriate that acclamation would be showered on so many people working beyond the town's customary orbits. The best original screenplay statue was presented to "Juno's" Diablo Cody, a former stripper and peep-show worker who made her fiction writing debut on the movie about a precocious pregnant teen.

"It's a great year for extraordinary films," the film's director, Jason Reitman, said after the show. "It's a great year for unique films. Nothing felt popular or included because it was popular."

The Paris-born Cotillard, who played singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose," won the best actress honor against the favorite, swinging London survivor Julie Christie. "It is true, there is some angels in this city," Cotillard said in fractured English in collecting her award.

The show began with an Anglo-French rout: Costume design went to the British team behind "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." Makeup went French as well, to the couple responsible for aging Cotillard from youth to her middle-age death in "La Vie En Rose." Visual effects was the mostly British team behind "The Golden Compass."

Art direction was a double whammy, going to two Italians who'd worked on "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" with a mostly British cast and crew.

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