Golden Moments Blue in the face: Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" stole the show, Nicolas Cage wasn't leaving Los Angeles without a trophy, and Susan Sarandon's reward was a long time coming.

March 26, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

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.

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