Few thanks for Ireland as `Braveheart' leads the Oscar winners


THE 68th annual Academy Awards provided a triumph for independent productions, for a number of hard working actors who had paid their dues down the years, and for Mel Gibson's second outing as a director, Braveheart, which took five Oscars, including best picture and best director. No other movie took more than two awards on the night.

Gibson came to the podium twice towards the end of the show to accept the film's two major awards. He read a prepared speech in which he thanked copious amounts of people everyone but his wet nurse, Barry Norman told BBC viewers but Gibson and his co-producer, Bruce Davey, conspicuously omitted any reference to Ireland, where most of the movie was shot and where they enjoyed unique access to historic castles and to the army.

Given all the co-operation he received in this country, a mention would not have been out of place in his profusion of thanks. Of the five Oscar winners for Braveheart only the Australian Peter Frampton included a few words of thanks for the Irish, when he accepted the Oscar for best make up.

This was predicted to be the most unpredictable Oscars ceremony in years, but it proved otherwise and I, for one, was relieved that almost all the predictions I ventured here last Friday came true.

THE big surprise to me was Braveheart taking best picture as well as best director. My money was on the charming Babe to take best picture but, sadly it ended up with just a single award, for visual effects.

To shower five Oscars on Braveheart is to over praise a sturdy, well made epic which, at three hours long, is slow to get started and overstays its welcome. It reeks of homophobia too, in its treatment of Prince Edward as a mincing queen and although hundreds of people get killed in the movie, the one death that's played for laughs is the murder of the prince's gay lover.

It was ironic that such a non PC movie should win at a ceremony where less than an hour earlier the Academy had called a naive, self congratulatory compilation of clip's celebrating what passes for labial Hollywood cinema, from such films as Philadelphia and Norma Rae.

That was one of the most embarrassing moments in a bloated ceremony which over ran by a full 35 minutes. It started at 6 p.m. in Los Angeles on Monday evening 2 a.m. yesterday in this part of the world and sprawled along for three hours and 35 minutes. Time and again over the weekend, the show's producer, Quincy Jones, issued sound bites promising an Oscars ceremony with a difference, and things were looking up as compere Whoopi Goldberg, wearing four million dollars worth of borrowed jewellery, kicked off the show with some barbed political humour. Oscar is 68, younger than Bob Dole," she said, "and I'm glad he's going to get that nomination because he won't have time to go to the movies" a reference to Dole's regular attacks on Hollywood values.

Goldberg is no Billy Crystal, but she was a considerable improvement on last year's presenter, David Letterman. Gone, happily, was the cringe inducing song and dance number which usually opens the show and, for a while, it looked like Quincy Jones has genuinely revamped the ceremony, making it snappier and pacier.

FOR the first award, Pierce Brosnan came on to introduce 16 models dressed in outfits from the five films nominated for costume design. The award went to James Acheson for Restoration, which disappeared off Dublin screens after just one week this month, and the same movie shortly afterwards won best art direction.

All four Oscar winning performances this year came from modestly budgeted movies made outside the studio system by independent production companies although one of those companies is owned by one of the studios. Is there a lesson there for the Hollywood studios?

The first acting winner to be announced was Kevin Spacey, a well deserved winner for The Usual Suspects "Whoever Keyser Soze is, he's going to get gloriously drunk tonight," Spacey declared in a reference which will not mean anything to anyone who hasn't seen The Usual Suspects. That riveting thriller later picked up a second award, best original screenplay for Christopher McQuarrie.

The shadow of dreadful former Oscar ceremonies loomed with Gloria Estefan performing the forgettable Moonlight from Sabrina the worst of the five nominees for best film song. The nadir was hit a few hours later with a barbershop sextet chanting a pointless re cap of all the nominated songs.

As ever, it was an evening heavy on sentiment and tears flowed freely through the show. Steven Spielbeig presented an honorary Oscar to Kirk Douglas, whose speech was slurred as a result of a recent stroke whos his wife and four sons were in the audience. Mira Sorvino had tears in her eyes as she accepted the best supporting actress Oscar for Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite and her actor father, Paul Sorvino (who plays Henry Kissinger in Nixon) was in floods of tears in the audience. There was an emotional moment when Christopher Reeve came on stage in a wheelchair, and more tears were shed when Academy president Arthur Hiller introduced a roll call of actors and directors who had died since last year's ceremony shamefully, the great Krzysztof Kieslowski was omitted from the list.

The least sentimental special awards went to two animators John Lasseter for the ground breaking Toy Story, and the gifted veteran, Chuck Jones, who received a lifetime achievement award from Robin Williams. And British animator Nick Park wore another of his big bow ties as he accepted his third Oscar, best animated short film for A Close Shave.

The Oscar for best foreign language film always one of the oddest because of the arcane regulations governing it went to Marleen Gorris's untypically mellow Dutch film, Antonia's Line. Braveheart added to its laurels by taking the Oscars for cinematography (to John Toll, who won the same last year for Legends of the Fall) and for sound effecting.

THE heavily touted Apollo 13 took just two awards film editing and sound from its nine nominations, and the heavily hyped II Postino won just the original dramatic score award from its five nominations. The new best musical or comedy score Oscar went to Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for Pocahontas and their treacly song, Coluors of the Wind from that film, won best original song.

It was a very good year for actors working in other capacities. In addition to Mel Gibson taking best director the sixth act or turned director to do so in 21 years the best live action short film Oscar went to actress Christine Lahti and her co-director, Jana Sue Memel, for Liberman in Love actors Jeff Goldblum and Griffing Dunne were among the other nominated directors in that category. And a characteristically chirpy Emma Thompson became the first person to win Oscars for acting and writing having won best actress for Howards End three years ago, Thompson took the best adapted screen play Oscar for Sense and Sensibility this year.

Her Howards End co star, Anthony Hopkins, and first time nominee Nicolas Cage were the most nervous looking contenders on the night and they had to wait for three hours to hear the result in the best actor category. Of the 20 nominees in the four acting categories this year, only two were not present, Sean Penn and the late Massimo Troisi. In the end, it was Cage's night as he gratefully accepted the Oscar for his performance as a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas a low budget movie shot on Super 16 and filmed in four weeks.

Towards the end of the seemingly interminable show came the most deserved award of the evening when justice finally was done and five time nominee Susan Sarandon won her first Oscar, for her beautifully judged performance as a nun befriending a condemned killer in Dead Man Walking, directed by Sarandon's off screen partner, Tim Robbins. An euphoric Sarandon dedicated the award to my partner in crime and all things of the heart, the writer, the producer, the director, the spirit, Tim Robhins".

So talent mostly won out at the 68th Academy Awards although it's a shame about Babe but the news overall was much better for video stores than for cinemas, given that many of the prize winning films have finished their cinema release, and Dead Man Walking and Leaving Las Vegas will be the principal beneficiaries on the big screen.