On Oscar night, Clint Eastwood is king of the hill

HOLLYWOOD — HOLLYWOOD -- Call it a coronation of the common man. Clint Eastwood, an underappreciated foot soldier for much of his career, was king of all he surveyed last night as his "Unforgiven" won Oscars for best direction and best picture at the 65th Academy Awards.

Though the success of "Unforgiven" was expected, especially after it walked off with two of the evening's first three Oscars, the evening's climax was no less emotional for that. The audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion erupted into roars when his name was announced for the evening's last two awards.


"This is pretty good," was Mr. Eastwood's typically deadpan response. He then graciously thanked not only his cast and crew but, surprisingly for a best-picture winner, the critics who supported the film, even the French ones.

All the "Unforgiven" winners thanked Mr. Eastwood in their speeches. Gene Hackman, best supporting actor winner, said the director "made it all possible for me." Editor Joel Cox said he was grateful for "18 years of friendship and support." Even the director of "Indochine," Regis Wargnier, best foreign film, took a deep breath and said, "Well, you made my day."


It was ironic that on a night the Academy commemorated as the "Year of the Woman," a night when Emma Thompson movingly dedicated her Oscar to "the heroism and courage of women," the show found it could not do without production numbers featuring the usual scantily clad femmes. Some things are apparently harder to change than others.

As befits the Oscar's 65th anniversary, this year's ceremony was something of an old home week, giving awards not only to veterans Mr. Eastwood and Mr. Hackman, but also to eight-time nominee Al Pacino, who heaved a huge sigh of relief after finally winning for "Scent of a Woman."

"You broke my streak," Mr. Pacino said on reaching the stage. He then read one of the evening's few moving acceptance speeches as he talked about the importance of being a role model in his old neighborhood in the South Bronx.

The Academy also was in a sweep-avoiding mood. Oscars that might have gone to either "Unforgiven" or "Howards End" went to "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (costume design) and "A River Runs Through It" (cinematography). And when the evening started, it looked as though upsets would be the order of the day.

The very first award was the night's biggest surprise, as Marisa Tomei won best supporting actress for "My Cousin Vinny," causing Billy Crystal to insist on calling her Marisa "Rodham" Tomei.

The night probably was most anticlimactic for "The Crying Game." Nominated for six awards, it won only one, for best original screenplay, and screenwriter Neil Jordan confessed to being in the bathroom and almost missing that. Though Jaye Davidson lost to Gene Hackman in the best supporting actor category, he was perhaps the most visited nominee of the night, as everyone from Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave came by his seat to say hello.

"Howards End" fared slightly better, winning three awards out of a possible nine nominations. But screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a previous winner for "Room with a View," was not there to accept her Oscar, and winning art director Luciana Arrighi was interrupted before she could finish her acceptance speech.

One of the evening's running leitmotifs, not always to the audience's delight, was the usual unscripted political commentary by the presenters. After Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon spoke up for Haitians quarantined for AIDS and Richard Gere asked everyone to think good thoughts about Tibet, it seemed only natural that the controversial "The Panama Deception" won best documentary. But when its co-producer and director Barbara Trent talked about "the deceptive tactics of our government," a few restless and patriotic souls broke the decorum and hissed.


One of the things that made this year's presentation unusual was that the special awards, normally a kind of filler, were probably the strongest parts of the program. Both Elizabeth Taylor and the late Audrey Hepburn won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, with Ms. Taylor commenting that this was honor she never ever expected to get. And venerable Italian director Federico Fellini, a special award winner for lifetime achievement, made a typically Felliniesque acceptance speech when he said, "I really did not expect it. Or perhaps I did."

What upset the audience most was the rigor with which the program's directors cut off loquacious acceptors in mid-sentence by starting up the music if their speeches went on for too long. Even Fellini had to shout his unintelligible last words off camera without benefit of a mike.

While no one longs for the old days of four-hour shows, the Oscar thank-you speeches, the most remembered part of every awards show, now tend to sound like a speed-read version of the telephone book. Maybe a little more time would be time well spent.