Oscar night was the night for “The Departed” to celebrate, with four Academy Awards resulting from its five nominations: Best Picture; (William Monaghan for) Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced; (Thelma Schoonmaker for) Best Achievement in Editing; and, finally, Martin Scorcese for Best Director.
This one’s been a long time coming -- the Queens native and former seminarian has been working in film since 1959, and received seven previous Oscar nominations: five for direction(“Raging Bull,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Goodfellas,” “The Gangs of New York,” and “The Aviator”) and two for writing (“Goodfellas,” “The Age of Innocence”). The award was presented by fellow directors Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, and Scorcese quipped, “Can you double-check the envelope?” Then he walked backstage, where Jack Nicholson waited to give him a bear hug. Nicholson played mobster Frank Costello in Scorcese’s Boston Irish mafia drama, and we were surprised Jack didn’t get a nomination himself.
“The Wind that Shakes the Barley” wasn’t eligible this year for Oscar -- even though it won last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, besting '07 Oscar nominee "Volver" and Oscar winners "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Babel." "Barley" also came in big at January’s Irish Film and Television Awards in Dublin, gaining Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor for Liam Cunningham, and a People’s Choice Award, along with nominations for Cillian Murphy, Orla Fitzgerald and Padraig Delaney. Despite the disappointment of not having one of Ireland's own in this year's Oscar field, we are pleased to see Scorcese win, especially with his Irish-inflected crime saga. Maybe "Barley" Director Ken Loach will gain a nod for an Oscar in '08; the film is premiering in the U.S. on March 16.
The 79th Academy Award show was the most global, with individuals from Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Germany, China, Canada, Ireland, England, Italy, Spain and Israel nominated for awards. Best Foreign Film went to “The Lives of Others” from Germany; “Pan’s Labyrinth” picked up three statues, and the Best Documentary Short was “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” a film about AIDS in China. Ruby Yang gave an acceptance speech in Chinese; her co-producer, Thomas Lennon, is known for his miniseries “The Irish in America,” which aired on PBS in 1998. And Ennio Marricone, who received an honorary award for his magnificent and multifaceted contribution to the art of film music, gave his acceptance speech in Italian, with Clint Eastwood translating for him. Who would have thought that spaghetti westerns and linguistics were linked?
Age was also a factor in the diversity found among this year’s honorees. For example, three of the five actresses nominated for Best Actress were over the age of 50. The major awards -- Best Actress to Helen Mirren for “The Queen,” Best Actor to Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland,” and Best Supporting Actress to Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls” – were no surprise. Hudson had said on a pre-Oscar telecast that she would thank the staff of “American Idol” if she won, but she forgot them in the emotional moment. Alan Arkin won for Best Supporting Actor.
Surprises? “Dreamgirls” had three songs nominated in the Best Song category, but came up empty in that category, losing out to Melissa Etheridge for her song “I Need to Wake Up” from the global-warming cautionary tale, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Melissa thanked her wife, children and Al Gore, the star of the doc.
Ellen De Generis was the evening’s hostess, and she played it light, at times interacting with the audience. She gave Scorcese a “screenplay” and elicited his promise to read it, then had Steven Spielberg snap her picture with Clint Eastwood for her My Space page. Eastwood asked if she had a script for him, too.
And the political was a part of the evening as well; “An Inconvenient Truth” won Best Documentary Feature. There were rumors that former Vice President Gore would use the occasion to announce his presidential candidacy, and in the lighthearted spirit of the evening, they played it, having him begin an announcement, only to have his words drowned out by the music played to alert speakers their time is up.
Culture Editor, www.TheWildGeese.com