Gwyneth Paltrow is emotional, Roberto Benigni is wild, and Steven Spielberg gets half of what he wants at a low-key ceremony

Gwyneth Paltrow
Credit: Steve Granitz

With a billion or two people watching the Academy Awards broadcast in 25 languages in 117 countries, there isn’t a lot of news about the ceremony that viewers didn’t already witness for themselves. There are, however, a few lessons that may have been lost amid all the diamonds, speech making, and mascara over Helen Hunt’s eyes. And here they are:

GOOD SPORTS FINISH FIRST Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Judi Dench — who won for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress — had the graciousness to start their acceptance speeches with a genuine tribute to all of the other nominees. Of course, it would get boring if everyone copied them. So next year nominees will be required to practice bitchiness and backbiting before the ceremony.

FORMULAS WORK, SOMETIMES For a few moments, Spielberg seemed likely to prove the formula that a Best Director award (which he won) leads to a Best Picture award. But no such luck. What went wrong? Well, for the past 14 out of 15 years, the movie with the most nominations has won Best Picture — and that could only be ”Shakespeare.” Leave it to the Bard to pick the winning formula.

WINNING IS BEAUTIFUL Jumping up on the backs of the chairs around him, then hopping like a bunny onto the stage, and offering ”a hailstorm of kindness and gratitude” to those who awarded him Best Foreign Film, Roberto Benigni was the night’s one live wire. Accepting his second award — for Best Actor — he also said something about ”making love with everybody.” Of course, that may have something to do with the length of the show. Everyone in Italy says things like that after 9 p.m.

WHEN IN DOUBT, TRY SEX JOKES Aside from her annoying habit of apologizing for her own one-liners, Whoopi — as the evening’s host — had at least a couple of entertaining moments. Just after her hilarious entrance in a gown and whiteface that made her look like Queen Elizabeth, she returned in modern dress with no makeup, and joked about the difficulty of her costume change: ”Who knew it was this hard to get a virgin off your face?”

SUNDAY IS SUPER In case anyone had the false impression that the Oscars are a less important spectator sport than the Super Bowl, warm-up commentators reminded us that moving the Oscar ceremony from Monday to Sunday night is an event of great historic importance. The last time there was this much hoopla about the creation of a weekend event, it was recorded in Genesis.

DRAMAS NEED DIRECTORS After protestors outside the ceremony decried Elia Kazan’s role as an informer during the McCarthy era, it seemed as if trouble might follow when he received his lifetime-achievement award. As it happens, a sense of respect — either for Kazan’s work or for his presenters Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese — kept things rather civil. Though Ed Harris and Nick Nolte crossed their arms, refusing to clap for him, and Steven Spielberg remained seated, others gave the director the usual ovation. If only they had hired Kazan to direct the ceremony, he never would have let this moment pass with so little drama.

FAMILY IS VALUED Steven Spielberg brought along his father and various children; Kevin Costner escorted his 14-year-old (going-on-24) daughter; Liv Tyler introduced a performance by her dad Steven Tyler; and as the camera panned the audience, there seemed to be a family member with half of the nominees. Though Gwenyth Paltrow gave the most heartfelt tearful thanks to her family members when she accepted her Best Actress award, it was Benigni who had the last word about family values. ”I thank my parents,” he said. ”They gave me the biggest gift: poverty.”

ADJECTIVES ARE CHEAP The Oscar writers love to throw around adjectives when presenting the presenters. Jennifer Lopez was introduced as ”an actress of depth and beauty”; Uma Thurman was described as ”sumptuous.” Even if you agree with those descriptions, you gotta believe there’s a little sex bias here — at least until they introduce Nic Cage as ”an actor of depth and beauty” and Harrison Ford as ”sumptuous.”

MORE IS MORE Okay, we’re talking eight tribute segments, including one for Sinatra, Norman Jewison, Stanley Kubrick, Elia Kazan, cowboy movies, movies that people like, and a tribute to performers who died in the past year. With all due respect to the dead — who deserve to be honored in at least one segment — we could all go to sleep an hour earlier if they cut out half of these segments. Or at least we’d do less dozing during the show.

HOLLYWOOD IS BOOMING At the Governor’s Ball after the ceremony, tents were festooned with 5000 flowers, dinner was served on Louis XIV-style place settings, the menu (catered by Wolfgang Puck) was presented to each diner in an elaborate frame, and Oscar-shaped desserts were dusted with real gold. Ah, just wait till the economy slumps. Then they’ll have to settle for silver on the dessert instead.

Life Is Beautiful

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Roberto Benigni