A ‘Beauty’ of an Oscar Night

It wasn’t exactly like the nosy newspaper said it was going to be, but as expected, “American Beauty” was the big winner, nabbing a field-best five Oscars, including Best Picture, at tonight’s 72nd Annual Academy Awards.

American Beauty

“Beauty” star Kevin Spacey was named Best Actor. The relatively no-name Hilary Swank (“Boys Don’t Cry“) bested Spacey‘s big-name co-star Annette Bening in the Best Actress race. The Wall Street Journal may have spoiled some of the surprises (including the Swank victory) with its controversial scoop-the-Oscars story Friday, but nobody here seemed to care.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was looking at the night’s scorecard and realizing that, after “American Beauty” (which also claimed wins for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay), the other big film was “The Matrix,” which swept the four technical categories in which it was nominated.

Here’s an annotated recap of the night’s winners at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium:

BEST PICTURE: “American Beauty.”

Kevin Spacey BEST ACTOR: Kevin Spacey, “American Beauty.” Heavy favorite or no, Spacey says he’s “stunned” and goes on to inexplicably thank, um, Jack Lemmon. Backstage, when the “American Beauty” winners converge with the adoring press, Spacey explains that he first met Lemmon when he was 13 (Spacey, not Lemmon) and considers him a mentor. Lemmon‘s turn as a corporate schmuck in “The Apartment” (1960), in fact, was the inspiration for Spacey‘s Oscar-winning performance. “He really was a model for Lester Burnham. Without his performance in ‘The Apartment,’ it never would have been possible for me,” Spacey says. The press here are adept at posing some odd questions, and when a scribe asks Spacey if he was “surprised” that he got so emotional onstage (and thus stammered through his acceptance), the actor retorts: “Actually, I was experiencing an aneurysm.”

BEST ACTRESS: Hilary Swank, “Boys Don’t Cry.” “We have come a long way,” says the star, formerly of “The Next Karate Kid.” And, for those wondering what husband Chad Lowe said in Hilary‘s ear before she accepted her award, it was: “Breathe and be free.” He should have said, “Don’t forget to thank me when you’re up there,” ’cause once she took the stage, he started bawling (aw!) and she started talking about not him.

Hilary Swank Backstage, Swank fixes the boo-boo with a “Thank you, honey, you’re my everything,” and explains that the faux pax occurred because “it’s very surreal up there.” Meanwhile, Swank proves the hippest and most chatty Oscar winner paraded in front of reporters. She waxes about living in a car with her mom (“My mom has been the biggest believer in me. … We picked up from Washington state, we got in our Oldsmobile with $75 to our name, and we drove down to Los Angeles” and lived on air mattresses until Swank got a job on “Growing Pains”).

Michael Caine BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Caine, “The Cider House Rules.” On stage, a hyperventilating Caine reels off a the-other-guys-were-really-wonderful-too speech. By the time he finishes, it’s Friday. When Caine finally comes backstage, we raise our number in the air (that’s the way it works back here if you want to ask a star a question — getting called on is kind of like winning a raffle), but, no, we don’t get called on. We actually had two questions we wanted to ask Caine — one was about all the abortion protesters lining Jefferson Boulevard outside the Shrine tonight (he plays an abortion doctor in “Cider House‘), the other one was, “Hey, Michael, what was the best part about making ‘Jaws: The Revenge?'”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Angelina Jolie, “Girl, Interrupted.” Angelina Jolie Onstage, Jolie (looking like Wednesday from “The Addams Family“) thanks her brother (a lot). Backstage, the 24-year-old-star offspring of Jon Voight (a winner himself for 1978’s “Coming Home“) gets used to the feel of Oscar. “My dad’s mother had his [trophy] in a goldfish bowl, on the mantelpiece,” Jolie says. “I never held it. You know, you grow up with it, and you kind of think it’s just this strange thing in grandma’s house.” As for the brother thing — the guy’s name is James Haven Voight and, according to Jolie, “he and I were each other’s everything.”

BEST DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes, “American Beauty.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Alan Ball, “American Beauty.” Ball used to write for “Cybill.” He doesn’t write for “Cybill” anymore. Instead, he uses his mike time at the Shrine to thank plastic bags that float in the wind and, you know, inspire him.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: John Irving, “The Cider House Rules.” After author Irving thanks Miramax on stage for having the guts to make a film about the “abortion issue” and praises Planned Parenthood for getting behind the film, Irving ducks out — he’s the only high-profile Oscar winner to avoid meeting the press backstage.

IRVING G. THALBERG MEMORIAL AWARD: Warren Beatty. In a rambling to-all-the-girls-I’ve-loved-before speech, Beatty pays tribute to wife Annette Bening: “She is my treasure.” Reflecting on his award in the press boom afterward, Beatty talks a lot of cybertalk about the “broadband revolution” and delivers some of that great stammering that he’s known and loved for. Asked whether he’s dismayed that Bening didn’t get the Best Actress nod, the almost-presidential candidate star says: “I’m disappointed, but Annette did win. She’s, it, it’s, this thing about, I mean, who could possibly say that Annette is anything other than a winner? So, uh, it’s one, one, and, and I think that Hilary gave a terrific performance in a wonderful movie, you know. I don’t think it’s the greatest idea in the world to think of these things as competitive.”

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 1: Jack Nicholson introduces a filmed tribute on the subject of Warren “Mad Dog” Beatty. In a fit of good taste, the package features just one testimonial from a Beatty ex-girlfriend (Julie Christie).

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 2: Edward Norton pulls duty on introducing the perfunctory people-who-died-last-year clips. Madeline Kahn and George C. Scott win on the applause-o-meter. Proving timing is everything, Hedy Lamarr, who passed away in January about 50 years after she was really famous, draws only minor hand-clappage. And, hey, what about Bones McCoy? Didn’t DeForest Kelley, who played the good “Star Trek” doctor die in 1999, too? Respondeth Academy spokesman John Pavlik when asked about the omission: “Who?”

BEST SONG: “You’ll Be in My Heart” (from “Tarzan”), Phil Collins. Backstage, as Mr. “Sussudio” drones on about how the critics never like his music and so forth, most of the disinterested reporters watch Michael Caine on the TV monitors. To add insult to insult, one writer prefaces his question to Collins with a “Congratulations, guy.”

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 3: Best Song presenter Cher is attacked by her dress. She declines to press charges.

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 4: “South Park” warbler Robin Williams sings “fart” and “bitch” on national television. In other news, the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 5: Horshack from “Welcome Back Kotter” sings the Oscar-nominated “Music of My Heart” with Gloria Estefan. Er, make that ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake sings “Music of My Heart” with Gloria Estefan.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: “The Red Violin.” We do not think Keanu Reeves was forced at gunpoint to present this category. We just think it sounded that way.

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 6: The Oscar producers may have eliminated The Pointless Dance Number, but they’ve come up with a new one: The Pointless Song Medley. Time to go to refrigerator. Unless you’re into hearing Queen Latifah “sing” “The Way We Were.” Others on hand: Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, apparently after taking a wrong turn at the Coun ry Music Association Awards.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Conrad L. Hall, “American Beauty.” This is Hall’s second win. He won his first Oscar a hundred years ago (well, back in 1970 for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid“).

BEST ART DIRECTION: “Sleepy Hollow.”

BEST MAKEUP: “Topsy-Turvy.”

BEST EDITING: “The Matrix.”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: “The Matrix.” Presenter Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s hair color, while a fine visual effect in itself, apparently did not qualify.

BEST SOUND-EFFECTS EDITING: “The Matrix” (again). Somewhere, George Lucas broods.

BEST SOUND: “The Matrix.” A few minutes after this category is announced, an Academy staffer asks the backstage media if anyone is interested in meeting “The Matrix” sound-geek guys, no hands are raised; ditto for the “Topsy-Turvy” folks who took the Oscar for Best Makeup. Know this: The Oscar press cares about stars, not necessarily winners.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: “Topsy-Turvy.” Backstage, winner Lindy Hemming isn’t totally ignored, but the best question a reporter can muster is, “What do you think of all the outfits the stars are wearing?”

HONORARY OSCAR: Andrzej Wajda Jane Fonda — sans Ted Turner or a cause — does the presenting honors on this one. Without incident, she introduces Polish filmmaker Wajda who surprises no one by speaking in, yes, Polish.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: “All About My Mother” (Spain). “PEEEEDROOO” Almodovar (in the vernacular of presenter Penelope Cruz) accepts the Oscar. When the Director Who Made Antonio Banderas a Star comes backstage, he’s greeted by rousing applause, much of which comes from the substantial Latin media corps. In addition to picking up the Oscar, Almodovar gets points back here for his wild hair, cool all-black tuxedo and (natch) cool name.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: “One Day in September.” This is first (and only) upset of the night. The heavy, heavy favorite was “Buena Vista Social Club” (aka the only doc civilians have heard of).

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: “King Gimp.” Was this an upset? Heck if we know.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: “The Old Man and the Sea.”

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: “My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York.” No, we’ve never heard of it, either.

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 7: In his opening, host Billy Crystal acknowledges Willie Fulgear, the man who found Oscar, ending a week’s worth of media oversaturation.

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 8: Hackneyed or tradition? Doesn’t matter. Billy Crystal‘s going to do it, anyway — his opening song salute to the Best Picture nominees. This year, “The Green Mile” gets set to the tune of “Green Acres,” “The Sixth Sense,” to “People,” “The Insider” to “The Minute Waltz,” “The Cider House Rules” to “Mame,” “American Beauty” to “The Lady Is a Tramp.”

TELECAST ASIDE NO. 9: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Robert Rehme opens the show. Exciting, no? No. But it’s only a front — a way to intro host Billy Crystal‘s romp through cinema history, including stops in “Casablanca,” “The French Connection” and “West Side Story.” Fortunately, Crystal avoids a detour to “My Giant” Village.