Oscars and Spirits

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Two recent film awards shows couldn’t have been more different. The Oscars featured films mostly within the Hollywood corporate studio system, and the Spirit Awards favored low-budget independent productions.

During its lengthy program, with one billion watching, the Oscar Awards focused on the nominees with many highlights and surprises.

Director Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar, while Peter O’Toole was the actor with the most nominations (8) without a win. After being rejected on TV’s American Idol, newcomer Jennifer Hudson won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Dreamgirls.”

This year was the most international Oscars ever with a record number of nominations for Mexico. A trio of young Mexican directors represented three films. “Babel,” directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and “Pan’s Labyrinth” by Guillermo del Toro each garnered six nominations. “Children of Men,” with three nominations, was helmed by Alfonso Cuarón.

Argentinean Gustavo Santaolalla won Best Original Score for “Babel.”

The five nominees for Best Foreign Language film included four powerfully acted and directed films, among them the stunning fantasy/reality telling of the Spanish Civil War, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which also received five other nominations. Others included “After the Wedding,” the dramatic Danish film about corporate funding of an Indian orphanage; the epic “Indigenes,” an Algerian testament to World War II; and “Water,” part of a trilogy by Canadian director Deepa Mehta. Winning the award was the German film, “Lives of Others,” about a hapless Stasi agent reluctant to spy on theater people in East Germany, which carries on the relentless Cold War drive against the former German Democratic Republic.

1874.jpgThe Best Documentary category featured two Iraqi nominees, “My Country, My Country,” and “Iraq in Fragments” by the distinguished director James Longley. They were joined by “Deliver Us From Evil,” about serial child molesters, and “Jesus Camp,” about the right-wing indoctrination of Christian youth. “An Inconvenient Truth” won the award. In receiving the Oscar, Al Gore stressed that combating global warming is a moral, not a political issue and – referring to the current administration – the will to take it on, if missing, is a renewable resource. Leonardo DiCaprio joined Gore to say this is the first time the Oscars went “green,” meaning environmentally intelligent practices have been incorporated in all aspects of planning and producing the broadcast.

Melissa Etheridge’s powerful call for action, “I Need to Wake Up Now,” from the same film, won Best Song, the first such nomination from a documentary film since “Mondo Cane” won in 1963.

Ari Sandel directed the Best Live Action Short Film, “West Bank Story,” an adaptation of “West Side Story.” Sandel said, “I made a comedy musical about Israelis and Palestinians that takes place between two falafil stands in the West Bank. It’s a movie about peace and hope. To get this award, shows there’s many people out there who share this feeling that the situation is not hopeless.” Check out westbankstory.com.

The Best Short Documentary winner was “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” about children with AIDS in China. The growing recognition and support from the Chinese government has facilitated research and treatment of AIDS.

Ennio Morricone, master composer of over 500 movie scores, received a Special Oscar in recognition of his contributions to filmmaking. Morricone is currently working on the film “Leningrad,” with director Giussepe Tornatore and slated for 2008.

The independent Spirit Awards took place in a tent on Venice Beach and was hosted by Sarah Silverman. Relaxed and uncensored, the Independent Film Channel’s Spirit Awards recognized only independent alternative films.

“Road to Guantanamo,” directed by Michael Winterbottom, won Best Documentary there.

“Sweet Land,” winner of the Best First Feature Award, still does not have an American distributor. A special tribute was paid to master director Robert Altman, who personified independent cinema. He had been nominated as Best Director for his final film, “A Prairie Home Companion.”