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'Unforgiven' ropes honors for Eastwood

LOS ANGELES -- A story about four broken-down gunfighters, told in a broken-down genre, walked away with the top honors here Monday night at the 65th annual Academy Awards.

"Unforgiven," the story of a hired gun who comes out of retirement to avenge a particularly nasty deed, won the Oscar as the year's best picture. And its star and director, Clint Eastwood, was named best director - an award that acknowledges his unique stature as the leading actor-director of his generation.

The unexpected success of "Unforgiven" has given a new breath of life to the Western, long a Hollywood staple, which had fallen on lean years recently. But Eastwood didn't sweep the top awards. He was edged out for best actor by Al Pacino, and "Unforgiven," with its four Oscars, barely edged "Bram Stoker's Dracula," with three, all in craft categories.

"This is pretty good. This is all right," Eastwood said after winning his director's Oscar. It's wonderful, he said, "when you're able to make a living in a profession you really enjoy." In keeping with his reputation as a popular filmmaker with an artis tic side, he became perhaps the first directorial winner in memory to thank film critics and film museums in his acceptance speech.

Back again, wearing his producer's hat to accept the Oscar for best picture, Eastwood revealed a sentimental side to his hard-boiled image, saying, "In the year of the woman, the greatest woman on the planet is here tonight--my mother, Ruth." He dedicate d his Oscar to Time/Warner chairman Steve Ross, who died earlier in the year, "but saw the picture, and predicted this Oscar."

Al Pacino, who went into the evening with eight career nominations but no wins, was named the year's best actor for his work in "Scent of a Woman." He played an abrasive old retired military man, blind and bitter, who spends a long weekend in New York wi th a worried young prep school student, and teaches him the ropes of manhood and honor.

Scratching his head in the face of a tumultuous standing ovation, Pacino joked, "You broke my streak." He thanked his agent, Rick Nacita, for talking him into taking the role--"since I didn't want to do it, for some reason," and added: "I've been very lucky. I found desire for what I do early in my life." He thanked acting coach Lee Strasberg, and legendary actor Charles Laughton for inspiration, and then said that recently a young woman from the South Bronx--"where I'm from"--for encouraging her because of where he was from. Pacino said he hoped others were watching who would think, "If he can do it, I can do it."

British actress Emma Thompson was named best actress, as expected, for her performance in "Howard's End." Her character was the quiet, unwavering center of courage in the story based on E. M. Forster's novel about a woman whose marriage into an old English family tests its standards and hidden values.

The win continued a recent Academy tradition of honoring a British performer in a top category. For the last three years in a row, the best actor award has gone to Britain, and this year it was an actress who won.

"Good grief!" Thompson said in her acceptance, thanking the Academy for the view from the stage of "so many faces who have entertained me through the years." Reflecting the night's theme, the Year of the Woman, she dedicated her Oscar "to the heroism and the courage of women," and said she hoped Hollywood would find more and better roles for them.

Veteran Gene Hackman, winner of the best actor award for "The French Connection" in 1971 (please check year), won as expected in the best supporting actor category for his role in "Unforgiven." He played a Western sheriff who swung between two extremes-- peacefully building a house in some scenes, sadistically beating prisoners in others. His win, coming right after "Unforgiven's" Joel Cox won for editing, suggested from the outset that it would be a victorious evening for the Eastwood film.

Hackman dedicated his performance to his uncle, Orin Hackman, explaining backstage "he passed away last night, and I just learned about it today. He was a newspaperman in Rochester, New York, a painter, and a really interesting guy. He was 88."

Hackman also told the backstage press he first thought his winning role was "too violent" when he read the screenplay some years ago, when Francis Ford Coppola was going to direct it. He thanked his agent and Eastwood for convincing him to reconsider.

If Hackman won the category, another award for inspiring audience curiosity could have gone to his rival in the category, British newcomer Jaye Davidson, who starred in the independent sleeper "The Crying Game." Davidson, who doubted for weeks that he wo uld even attend the awards, was said to be enormously shy about the attention he might receive, and slipped into the Chandler pavilion by a side entrance, avoiding the red carpet where the world's press was waiting. After much speculation about what sort of costume he would wear after playing an androgynous role, he arrived in a tuxedo and leather pants.

The biggest upset of the evening was Marisa Tomei's award for best supporting actress. She played Joe Pesci's wisecracking, feisty girlfriend in "My Cousin Vinny"--the one who made a great surprise witness in a murder case because she knew all about car repair. Tomei is a Hollywood newcomer whose nomination was a surprise, especially since the film was released earlier in the year and Oscar has a notoriously short attention span. By winning, she edged out the favorite in the category, Judy Davis, whose work in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" may have been overshadowed by the controversy in Allen's private life.

"Indochine," an epic film about the French involvement in Indochina, won in the best foreign film category. Intended as a French "Gone With the Wind," the movie starred legendary actress Catherine Deneuve as a strong-willed woman who ran a rubber plantat ion and adopted a Vietnamese girl who later became a revolutionary leader.

Old friends Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni appeared onstage for the honorary award to the Italian directing genius Federico Fellini, whose films have won four Oscars in the foreign film category. A compliation of images from his films helped to il lustrate the term "Felliniesque," and to shame the more ordinary images on view from Hollywood during the evening.

Fellini, attending with his wife, actress Guiletta Masina, received a standing ovation, and asked the audience, "please, sit down, be comfortable." "May I give you a kiss?" asked Loren. "Yes, I want it!" said Fellini, who got a big laugh when he said, "I did not expect it...or, perhaps, I did." Fellini said he comes from "a country and a generation for which America and movies were almost the same thing."

Thanking his wife and frequent leading lady, actress Guiletta Masina, Fellini added, "and please...stop crying!"

Neil Jordan, director and writer "The Crying Game," won the Oscar for best original screenplay. The film, originally turned down by every major Hollywood studio, has turned into the top-grossing independent sleeper in movie history, grossing more than $50 million.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the longtime writing collaborator of the Merchant-Ivory producing team, won the Oscar for best screenplay based on material from another medium, for her adaptation of E. M. Forster's classic novel, "Howard's End." A distinguished no velist, her screen work with the team reaches back more than 20 years. Frequent Oscar honoree Alan Mencken won an Oscar and shared another. He won for best original score for "Aladdin," the latest in a string of three enormous Disney musical hits, after "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." And he shared the Osca r for best song, "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin," with lyricist Tim Rice.

Although "Unforgiven" did mightily in major categories, it lost some of the smaller categories it was expected to sweep. "A River Runs Through It" won for best cinematography, by Phillipe Rousselot, with its poetic evocation of trout-fishing streams in t he Montana of the early years of the century.

The year's best documentary was "The Panama Deception," a film challenging the official view of the U.S. invasion of Panama. The film charged that the operation was duplicitious on the part of the United States, "with the collusion of the major media." Co-producer Barbara Trent mentioned in her acceptance speech (which was hissed by a few audience emmbers) that the PBS network was refused to broadcast the film. The Academy Award may change that. The Oscar for best documentary short subject went to "Educating Peter," about the school experiences of a disabled third-grader. The Jean Hersholdt Humanitarian Award was given in honor of Audrey Hepburn, who died earlier this year. A film tribute was narrated by one of her co-stars, Gregory Peck, and special mention went to her long committment to UNICEF. The award was accepted b y her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer (please check spelling).

A second Jean Hersholt award went to screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, who used her acceptance speech to describe her favorite cause, AIDS relief and research. Mentioning Hepbrun's dedication to children through UNICEF, Taylor said she was sure the actress was in heaven, "looking after her beloved children," while she pledged to "stay here below," being as much of an activist as necessary to further her cause.

While best picture nominees usually dominate the major categories, in the technical categories the Academy sometimes looks a little further. Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula," a box office winner that wasn't nominated in major categories, cl eaned up in the craft categories, taking home three Oscars. It won, as expected, for best makeup, with its ghoulish vampires and other spectral apparations. It also added awards for best sound effects editing and costume design. And "Death Becomes Her," a box office flop, won the Oscar for special visual effects, including computer-animated moments in which Meryl Streep's head seemed to rotate freely on her neck. "The Last of the Mohicans," an audience favorite from last summer that didn't win any major nomin ations, won for best sound, upsetting the favorite, "Unforgiven."

It was a year that seemed to generate less advance suspense than many recent Oscarcasts, perhaps because Hollywood thought it could predict the winners, and was mostly right.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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