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Tuesday, March 26, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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One More Victory For `Braveheart' -- Mel Gibson's Epic About A Battle For Freedom Tops The Oscars

Seattle Times Movie Reviewer

The 68th annual Academy Awards began as a Republican roast, with emcee Whoopi Goldberg pointedly reminding the audience that Oscar is "younger than Bob Dole."

It ended 3 1/2 hours later with Patrick Buchanan's favorite movie - Mel Gibson's three-hour Scottish epic, "Braveheart" - being crowned best picture of 1995.

Filled with emotional high points, including standing-ovation tributes to Kirk Douglas and Chuck Jones, appearances by two Holocaust survivors, as well as a lecture about "the power of film" delivered from a wheelchair by Christopher Reeve, it was one of the most varied and unpredictable Oscar shows in memory. The top prizes were still in doubt when the final envelopes were opened.

No clear sweep developed early in the evening for "Braveheart," which ended up with five awards, or any of the other best-picture candidates, all of which took home an Oscar or two. In the home stretch, all five still looked like contenders.

Accepting the prize for best director, longtime superstar Mel Gibson joked that "I suppose like most directors what I really want to do is act." His film also won Oscars for best cinematography, makeup and sound-effects editing.

While "Braveheart" was a dark horse for best picture - it had received no critics' prizes and it recently lost the Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards to "Apollo 13" - Gibson's Oscar for directing was widely predicted.

So was Nicolas Cage's best-actor Oscar for his performance as a suicidal drunk in "Leaving Las Vegas." Admitting that "I just love acting," he expressed astonishment that a low-budget production filmed in 16mm could have received this honor.

Susan Sarandon seemed equally amazed to win the best-actress award for her role as a committed nun in "Dead Man Walking," directed by her companion, Tim Robbins. She talked about the balance Robbins tried to achieve in this examination of capital punishment, and she dedicated the award to him: "This is yours as much as mine - thank God we live together."

Mira Sorvino, named best supporting actress for her role as a bubbly hooker in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite," singled out her father, actor Paul Sorvino, who dissolved in tears when she told him, "I love you very much, Dad."

Kevin Spacey, the supporting-actor winner for his performance as the mystery man in "The Usual Suspects," thanked his mother for driving him to acting classes. The tricky, low-budget sleeper also won the Oscar for best original screenplay. Its author, Christopher McQuarrie, talked about his father's influence.

Emma Thompson won the other screenplay Oscar, for best adaptation, for her condensation of Jane Austen's novel, "Sense and Sensibility." She joked about visiting Austen's grave to tell her about the grosses, and singled out for special praise the movie's non-nominated director, Ang Lee.

"Apollo 13" took the Oscars for best film editing and sound recording, and the winners pointedly mentioned that film's non-nominated director, Ron Howard.

`Babe' wins once

Another major contender, the G-rated Australian fantasy, "Babe," had to make do with a single award, for visual effects. The Oscars for best costume design and art direction went to the historical drama, "Restoration," which made the most of its relatively small budget.

As usual, two of the music Oscars went to a Disney cartoon. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz made two visits to the podium for "Pocahontas," which won for best musical/comedy score and best song, "Colors of the Wind." Its lyrics, Schwartz said, were inspired by Chief Seattle.

Another music category was added this year to allow non-Disney composers a chance. The Oscar for best dramatic score went to Luis Bacalov for the Italian-language film, "The Postman."

For best foreign-language production, the voters picked the Dutch feminist epic, "Antonia's Line," whose director, Marleen Gorris, said it was "a fairy tale to win the Oscar." She praised the movie's American distributor for picking up this "obscure Dutch film."

Lahti, Memal win

Christine Lahti and Jana Sue Memel won the prize for best live-action short film, for "Lieberman in Love," a cheeky romance Lahti starred in and directed. British filmmaker Nick Park, nominated four times in five years for his animated shorts, picked up his third Oscar in that category for "A Close Shave."

Two films about the Holocaust took the documentary awards. Jon Blair's "Anne Frank Remembered" was named best feature and Kary Antholis' "One Survivor Remembers" was chosen best short subject. Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank and her family in an Amsterdam attic, appeared with Blair at the podium.

Segments don't work

Unfortunately, the impact of this singular and sobering moment was undercut by an immediate segue to a song-and-dance tribute to the late Gene Kelly. None of the musical segments worked particularly well; the "Colors of the Wind" production number was especially gaudy.

There were other glitches, too. Anjelica Huston's mike didn't work. The envelope for "The Postman's" music award disappeared, and Sharon Stone neatly improvised while waiting to find the winner's name. Goldberg and presenters Stone and Robin Williams went out of their way to capitalize on lame double entendres.

The film clips were often ill-chosen, especially the annoying montages that were used to illustrate most of the best-picture candidates. Much more effective were the single, self-contained scenes lifted from "Babe" and "Georgia."

Also more carefully chosen were the clips in the tribute to Kirk Douglas, especially an extended segment from Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory." Douglas received a heartfelt introduction by Steven Spielberg, who gracefully mentioned the actor's recent stroke, preparing the way for awkwardly delivered but moving remarks by Douglas, whose ability to speak is impaired.

Clips work well

Film clips also complemented Reeve's appearance, as he talked about the films that inspired him and made him think as a child ("The Defiant Ones," "Dr. Strangelove") and proposed that Hollywood make "a few more films that put social issues ahead of box-office success." Coming from anyone else, the speech might have seemed like empty awards-show talk, but Reeve gave it a unique urgency.

The show opened with Goldberg wondering, "Did you miss me?" referring to last year, when David Letterman was the host (Goldberg held sway in 1994). On the whole, yes.

There were no stupid pet tricks, her opening monologue was full of zingers, and she brought an edge to the show that often matched the suspense about the final outcome. Now if . . .

Now if they could only do something about those production numbers. . . .

Here is a complete list of the winners:

Best costume design: James Acheson, "Restoration"

Best supporting actor: Kevin Spacey, "The Usual Suspects"

Best makeup: Peter Frampton, Paul Pattison and Lois Burwell, "Braveheart"

Best art direction: Eugenio Zanetti, "Restoration"

Best live action short film: Christine Lahti and Jana Sue Memel, "Lieberman in Love"

Best animated short film: Nick Park, "A Close Shave"

Best sound effects editing: Lon Bender and Per Hallberg, "Braveheart"

Best achievement in sound: Rick Dior, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan, David MacMillan, "Apollo 13"

Best supporting actress: Mira Sorvino, "Mighty Aphrodite"

Best cinematography: John Toll, "Braveheart"

Best film editing: Mike Hill, Dan Hanley, "Apollo 13"

Honorary award: Animator Chuck Jones

Special achievement award: Computer-animator John Lasseter

Best visual effects: Scott E. Anderson, Charles Gibson, Neal Scanlan, John Cox, "Babe"

Best documentary short subjects: Kary Antholis, "One Survivor Remembers"

Best documentary feature: Jon Blair, "Anne Frank Remembered"

Best foreign language film: The Netherlands, "Antonia's Line"

Lifetime Achievement Award: Kirk Douglas

Best original musical or comedy score: Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; orchestral score by Alan Menken, "Pocahontas"

Best original dramatic score: Luis Bacalov, "The Postman"

Best original screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, "The Usual Suspects"

Best screenplay adaptation: Emma Thompson, "Sense and Sensibility"

Best original song: Music by Alan Menken; lyric by Stephen Schwartz, "Colors of the Wind" from "Pocahontas"

Best director: Mel Gibson, "Braveheart"

Best actress: Susan Sarandon, "Dead Man Walking"

Best actor: Nicolas Cage, "Leaving Las Vegas"

Best picture: "Braveheart"

------------------------------------------------------. . HARTL'S SCORECARD. .

In Sunday's Arts Alive section, Seattle Times movie reviewer John Hartl predicted the Oscar winners. Though he missed the big prize - best picture - most of his other picks were correct.

. Hits. . Best actress. Actor. Director. Supporting actor. Adapted screenplay. Foreign-language film. Cinematography. Makeup. Visual effects. Song. Comedy/musical score. Dramatic score. Documentary feature. Documentary short. Sound recording. Animated short film. Live action short film. Sound effects editing.

. Misses. . Best picture ("Babe"). Supporting actress (Joan Allen, "Nixon"). Original screenplay (Randall Wal lace, "Braveheart"). Film editing ("Babe"). Art direction ("A Little Princess"). Costume design ("Sense and Sensi bility").

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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