Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" proved the heartiest, if not the bravest, movie of the year as it won four Oscars at last night's 68th Annual Acadmey Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson. The film, a reaffirmation of "old movie values" in a period when movies have come under more and more criticism, told the story of Scottish patriot William Wallace who, in the 13th century, led an army against the English oppressors, won several battles but ultimately was captured and executed.
Nominated in 10 categories, the film won a total of five Oscars, including Best Cinematography, Best Make-up and Best Sound Effects Editing.
Nicolas Cage won the Best Actor award, for his role as a drunken, doomed but gloriously self-aware writer who goes to the mecca of gambling to check out of reality in "Leaving Las Vegas."
Best Actress Susan Sarandon, previously nominated for five Oscars, won her first for her role as Sister Helen Prejean in "Dead Man Walking," an account of a nun who becomes involved with a condemned man in a Louisiana prison.
Gibson's award marked yet another time when an action star turned director has been rewarded with the Oscar, repeating a ** pattern that had already evinced itself with Kevin Costner's victory for "Dances With Wolves" and Robert Redford's for "Ordinary People."
Gibson, calling himself a "complete imbecile," thanked just about everybody on earth, but delivered a good ironic line when he said, "Like most directors, what I really want to do is act."
Mira Sorvino won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as a ditsy, tin-toned prostitute in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite." Sorvino, the daughter of long-time character actor Paul Sorvino, thanked her father for "teaching me everything I know about acting." The actor, who was in the audience, provided a rare moment of feeling in the tinsley cacophony of the show when he broke down sobbing at his daughter's triumph.
But that moment didn't top the one when Christopher Reeve, the once mighty Superman who was tragically paralyzed in a horseback accident last fall, put in a surprise ap- pearance to introduce a series of clips of socially conscious films. The wheelchair-bound Reeve, with a strong voice and a strong profile, earned a standing ovation from the stars and directors in the audience.
Earlier, longtime character actor Kevin Spacey won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "The Usual Suspects." Spacey's victory, something of an upset over frontrunner Ed Harris of "Apollo 13," played a crippled con man named Verbal who may ultimately have known more than he seemed to in director Bryan Singer's clever little crime drama.
Spacey identified the "master criminal" Keyser Soze whose mysterious presence has tickled viewers of the film as "the man who pulls the strings -- Bryan Singer." He also told his mother he was proud that she was there to see this moment and thanked her for driving him to his acting lessons when he was 16. Clutching the gold statuette, he said, "Here's the pudding, Mom!"
The presentation got off to an odd start when host Whoopi Goldberg sniped at Jesse Jackson who was protesting the lack of black nominees at a nearby television station. But things got really weird when the first big production number proved to be 16 supermodels displaying outfits nominated in the Costume category.
This had no effect other than to suggest a concession; it was as if Hollywood was acknowledging it had lost its grip on glamour and beauty, and that those values have been appropriated entirely by the fashion industry.
Introducing the segment, along with the stiff Pierce Brosnan, were Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, neither of whom has ever emoted a believable word in a believable performance. Their beauty -- cool, ethereal, untouchable -- validated them before the world. Meanwhile, an audience that should know better went nuts over a sequence that had been conceptualized not as a movie but as a fashion show, as the hottest faces and bodies in the world -- hotter than any film star's -- came out and strutted their stuff for the cameras. It had nothing to do with movies at all but only with the new source of heat and dazzle in the last half decade of the century.
"Ten grand an hour," said the sour host, "and they still looked [annoyed]."
Goldberg, meanwhile, was proving herself far more adept than poor struggling David Letterman, last year's goat. Goldberg's point of view was much more inside than Letterman's, which took an alien view of the professional film community and didn't win him a second turn at the big job. The audience responded much more warmly to Goldberg, too, particularly to her digs at Bob Dole, who has criticized Hollywood, and Pat Buchanan, another who is no friend of Hollywood.
On the other hand, somebody should have pointed out to Robin Williams that neither Steve Forbes nor Phil Gramm have been a blip on the national screen in weeks. While presenting two honorary awards to animators, Williams wasted most of his time delivering weeks-old and oh-so- inevitable shots at the two long-defunct Republican presidential wannabes. He did get off a good line, however, when he suggested that Bob Dole, the sure nominee, could "use a little animation."
The Oscar for Best Costume went to "Restoration," a British costume drama made with a largely American cast, costing "Braveheart" a minor technical award. "Restoration" soon garnered another Oscar, for Art Direction.
But "Braveheart" soon took its first award, for Best Make-up. Painting star-director Mel Gibson's face blue proved to be a smart career move for the three make-up artists. Other technical awards followed for "Braveheart" in Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Cinematography.
Of its nine nominations, "Apollo 13" won only two: for Best Sound, and also for Best Editing.
Besides the modles, there were other distasteful strokes. Given the amount of attention that the super-models got, the short and not terribly moving tribute to the late Gene Kelly, a great Hollywood pro and the co-director of what many believe to be the best musical ever made ("Singing in the Rain") seemed almost disrespectful, as if the film community itself has lost sight of its own heritage and is too busy trying to appropriate energy from other entertainment media.
The show only snapped to life twice, once when Stomp, a foot percussion group touring the country after a successful Broadway engagement, put on a dynamic demonstration of its talents by syncopating sounds to some great old movie sequences; and Bruce Spingsteen's throaty, bluesy rendition of his own "Dead Man Walking," from the film of that name.
The Netherlands won for "Antonia's Line" as Best Foreign Film.
The Best Original Screenplay went to Christopher McQuarrie for "The Usual Suspects," and for Best Original Screenplay to Emma Thompson, the actress who adopted Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," and then starred in it. Her double nominations were the first for an actress, and although the film received seven nominations, only one came through. McQuarrie had words of thanks to all except his father, whom he chided; Thompson also had a grudge, singling out her director Ang Lee for special thanks, after he had gone unnominated in the Best Director category.
In the music category, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz won Best Song for "The Colors of the Wind," out of the Disney film "Pocohontas." "The Postman," Miramax's heavily-publicized Italian film, won for Best Score.
Pub Date: 3/26/96
Best picture: "Braveheart"
Best actor: Nicolas Cage
Best actress: Susan Sarandon
Best director: Mel Gibson, "Braveheart"
Supporting actor: Kevin Spacey, "The Usual Suspects."
Supporting actress: Mira Sorvino, "Mighty Aphrodite."
Original musical or comedy score: "Pocahontas," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.
Foreign film: "Antonia's Line."
Art direction: "Restoration."
Sound: "Apollo 13."
Sound effects editing: "Braveheart."
Original dramatic score: "The Postman (Il Postino)," Luis Bacalov.