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Monday, March 22, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Love' Conquers All -- Oscar Gets Fickle In Night Of Close Calls And Upsets

Seattle Times Movie Reviewer

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never reveals the numbers of votes cast for individual Oscars, but there must have been some tight races in the balloting this year.

John Madden's 16th-century comedy, "Shakespeare in Love" was named 1998's best movie last night in Los Angeles, but Steven Spielberg was selected as best director for his World War II drama, "Saving Private Ryan." The two films were widely regarded as close competitors, but few predicted this kind of split.

Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, accepting for "Shakespeare," pointed out the ensemble nature of the piece, claiming that "this is a movie about life and art." Spielberg dedicated his award to families like the fictional Ryan family in "Saving Private Ryan," who lost more than one son in World War II.

While "Shakespeare" collected seven Oscars in all, including best actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), supporting actress (Judi Dench), costumes, musical/comedy score, art direction and original screenplay (by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard), "Saving Private Ryan" earned five awards, including best cinematography, sound recording and film editing.

Paltrow gave an emotional speech thanking her family, her co-stars Joseph Fiennes and Ben Affleck (who weren't nominated). Dench looked at her Oscar and quipped that she "should get only a little bit of him" because she was on-screen for only eight minutes. Each mentioned the defeated nominees; Paltrow singled out Meryl Streep (nominated for "One True Thing") as "the greatest one who ever was."

Ian McKellen, widely regarded as the front runner for best actor for his portrayal of movie director James Whale in "Gods and Monsters," was defeated by Roberto Benigni, whose Italian-language Holocaust movie, "Life Is Beautiful," also won for best dramatic score and best foreign-language film. Benigni is the first actor in Oscar history to win the best-actor prize for appearing in a foreign-language film. (Sophia Loren, who was there last night to witness his victory, won for best actress in 1962, for another Italian film, "Two Women.")

The excited Benigni, who stood on the tops of seats and hopped up the stairs to accept his Oscars, was clearly a popular choice. However, his enthusiasm led the emcee, Whoopi Goldberg, to tell him he should stay in his seat on one occasion. Accepting his writing prize, Stoppard claimed to be more emotional than he seemed: "I'm behaving like Roberto Benigni underneath."

"Gods and Monsters" did pick up an Oscar for writer-director Bill Condon's script, based on Christopher Bram's novel, "Father of Frankenstein." This suggests McKellen was the runner-up in his category. Or it could have been Nick Nolte, whose co-star in Paul Schrader's "Affliction," James Coburn, was named best supporting actor.

In any event, most other films were shut out. The big losers of the night were "Elizabeth," nominated for seven awards and winner of one minor Oscar (best makeup), and "The Thin Red Line," nominated for seven prizes and winner of none. "What Dreams May Come" won for its unique visual effects, and "Prince of Egypt" for best song ("When You Believe").

The Spielberg-produced Holocaust film, "The Last Days," was chosen best documentary. Its disturbing portrayal of Hungarian survivors of the death camps presents a stark contrast to Benigni's concentration-camp fable.

Last night's Oscar tributes, to Stanley Kubrick, Frank Sinatra, Norman Jewison, Elia Kazan, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, often seemed to outnumber the awards at this last Oscar show of the century.

"Just find some good stories; never mind the grosses," said Jewison, advising filmmakers after he received the Irving Thalberg Award for the consistent quality of his productions. "The biggest-grossing picture is not necessarily the best picture."

Kazan's special Oscar stirred up controversy before the awards, but the presentation was almost a non-event. Some people stood and applauded, others pointedly did not, while the frail, 89-year-old Kazan said little after Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro introduced him. The clips from his films, including "On the Waterfront" and "East of Eden," demonstrated why he was there.

Also included were a memorial to filmmakers who have died during the past year, and a segment, introduced by Sen. John Glenn, that called attention to how many bad biographies Hollywood has turned out of such historical figures as Lewis and Clark, John F. Kennedy and John Paul Jones. In addition, Gen. Colin Powell was brought in to present film clips from "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line," and choreographer Debbie Allen used music from those films for a tasteless dance sequence.

As a result, this was the longest and possibly the dullest Oscar show of the century, clocking in at four hours. That's 4 1/2 hours if you count a pre-Oscar show, hosted by Geena Davis, that rivaled in tackiness the Joan Rivers interviews that also precede the Oscars.

Both "Shakespeare in Love" and "Life Is Beautiful" were distributed by Miramax, which spent so much money to promote both movies that the New York Times and several magazines ran articles estimating expenses that ranged from $10 million to $30 million.

Once regarded as the prime distributor of independent films in the United States, Miramax was mostly shut out of Saturday night's Independent Spirit Awards, which were also held in Los Angeles, with Coburn, McKellen, Nolte, Redgrave and other Oscar contenders in attendance.

The company did earn one of several facetious prizes: The Shelf, presented in honor of the distributor that had acquired the most films without releasing them. Miramax's Seattle-produced "Smoke Signals" also picked up an award: best newcomer, Evan Adams.

"Gods and Monsters" dominated the Independent Spirit Awards, winning best picture, actor (Ian McKellen) and supporting actress (Lynn Redgrave), while Don Roos' "The Opposite of Sex" won for best script and best first feature. Redgrave and McKellen both mentioned their hopes for the Oscars the following night.

"Rushmore" won for best director (Wes Anderson) and supporting actor (Bill Murray). Murray wasn't present but sent a message saying he was still courting the academy, which had failed to nominate "Rushmore" for anything.

Ally Sheedy, the indie best-actress winner for "High Art," gave a semi-hysterical, 11-minute acceptance speech after warning the audience that she was going to take her time. It was the strangest moment in a goofy show that was far less formal than the Oscars, and in general quite a bit livelier.

Other winners at the Independent Spirit Awards: Darren Aronofsky (best first screenplay for "Pi"), "Velvet Goldmine" for best costumes, and "The Celebration" for best foreign film. "Affliction," which had more nominations than any other film in competition, unexpectedly came up empty.

------------- How Hartl did -------------

Hartl got 15 right, nine wrong in his predictions. He missed best picture, actor, supporting actor, art direction, makeup, cinematography, documentary short, live-action short and animated short.

---------------------------- Coming to a theater near you ----------------------------

From the makers of "The Wiz," comes Lewis Carroll for today's generation - Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen of Hearts in "Peace Out, Alice!"

Even the heather blushes when Whoopi Goldberg emerges from the forests of Elizabethan England in "Grizzly Adams in Love."

Tom Hanks rebels against tyrannical Army hygiene "regs" in the hirsute and turgid drama, "Shaving Private Ryan."

Celine Dion's floatation headgear rescues her from a sinking cruise liner in "My Hat Will Go On."

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll pound your head against the wall to stay awake when Geena Davis stars in "The Most Boring Pre-Oscar Show of All Time."

--------------------------- And the winners are . . . ---------------------------

Best picture: "Shakespeare in Love," David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick and Marc Norman.

Director: Steven Spielberg, "Saving Private Ryan."

Actor: Roberto Benigni, "Life Is Beautiful."

Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow, "Shakespeare in Love."

Supporting actor: James Coburn, "Affliction."

Supporting actress: Judi Dench, "Shakespeare in Love."

Foreign film: "Life Is Beautiful," Italy.

Screenplay (written directly for the screen): Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, "Shakespeare in Love."

Screenplay (based on material previously produced or published): Bill Condon, "Gods and Monsters."

Art direction: "Shakespeare in Love," Martin Childs (art direction) and Jill Quertier (set decoration).

Cinematography: "Saving Private Ryan," Janusz Kaminski.

Sound: "Saving Private Ryan," Gary Rydstrom, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Ronald Judkins.

Sound-effects editing: "Saving Private Ryan," Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns.

Original musical or comedy score: "Shakespeare in Love," Stephen Warbeck.

Original dramatic score: "Life Is Beautiful," Nicola Piovani.

Original song: "When You Believe" from "The Prince of Egypt," Stephen Schwartz.

Costume: "Shakespeare in Love," Sandy Powell.

Documentary feature: "The Last Days," James Moll and Ken Lipper.

Documentary (short subject):"The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years," Keiko Ibi.

Film editing: "Saving Private Ryan," Michael Kahn.

Makeup: "Elizabeth," Jenny Shircore.

Animated short film: "Bunny," Chris Wedge.

Live-action short film: "Election Night (Valgaften)," Kim Magnusson and Anders Thomas Jensen.

Visual effects: "What Dreams May Come," Joel Hynek, Nicholas Brooks, Stuart Robertson and Kevin Mack.

Oscar winners previously announced this year:

Scientific and technical award: Avid Technology Inc.

Honorary award: Director Elia Kazan.

Irving Thalberg Award: Producer-director Norman F. Jewison.

-- The Associated Press

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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