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Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

A classy night at the Oscars

BY DAVID GERMAIN
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Holding a toy penguin, George Miller accepts the Oscar for Happy Feet. Holding a toy penguin, George Miller accepts the Oscar for Happy Feet.
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LOS ANGELES Jennifer Hudson won the supporting-actress Academy Award last night for Dreamgirls, though her co-star and fellow front-runner Eddie Murphy lost the supporting-actor prize to Alan Arkin of Little Miss Sunshine.

More than anything, I m deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received, which in these fragmented times speaks so openly of the possibility of innocence, growth, and connection, said Arkin, who plays a foul-mouthed grandpa with a taste for heroin in the road comedy.

Hudson won an Oscar for her first movie, playing a powerhouse vocalist who falls on hard times after she is booted from a 1960s girl group. The role came barely two years after she shot to celebrity as an American Idol finalist.

Oh my God, I have to just take this moment in. I cannot believe this. Look what God can do. I didn t think I was going to win, Hudson said through tears of joys. If my grandmother was here to see me now. She was my biggest inspiration.

The dancing-penguin musical Happy Feet won the Oscar for feature-length animation, denying computer-animation pioneer John Lasseter (Toy Story) the prize for Cars, which had been the big winner of earlier key animation honors.

I asked my kids, What should I say? They said, Thank all the men for wearing penguin suits, said Happy Feet director George Miller.

The savage fairy tale Pan s Labyrinth took the first two Oscars, for art direction and makeup, the wins for the Spanish-language film kicking off an Oscar evening stuffed with contenders from around the globe. Pan s Labyrinth also took the cinematography Oscar.

To Guillermo del Toro for guiding us through this labyrinth, said art director Eugenio Caballero, lauding the writer-director of Pan s Labyrinth, the tale of a girl who concocts an elaborate fantasy world to escape her harsh reality in 1940s Fascist Spain.

Germany s The Lives of Others, about a playwright and his actress-girlfriend who come under police surveillance in 1980s East Berlin, won the foreign-language Oscar, the films it beat including Pan s Labyrinth.

Letters From Iwo Jima won the sound-editing Oscar for Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman. Murray s father was an Iwo Jima survivor.

Thank you to my father and all the brave and honorable men and women in uniform who in a time of crisis have all made that decision to defend their personal freedom and liberty no matter what the sacrifice, Murray said.

The record holder for Oscar futility, sound engineer Kevin O Connell, extended his losing streak to 19 nominations without a win. This time, O Connell and two colleagues were nominated for sound mixing on Apocalypto, Mel Gibson s portrait of the savage decline of the ancient Mayan empire, but they lost to another trio of sound engineers that worked on Dreamgirls.

Apocalypto lost in all three categories in which it was nominated, all for technical achievements. Gibson, whose Braveheart was the big winner at the 1995 Oscars, had been condemned by many in Hollywood for an anti-Semitic rant he made during his drunken-driving arrest last summer.

Also in the running were Stephen Frears classy British saga The Queen, a portrait of the royal family in crisis, and Clint Eastwood s Japanese-language war tale Letters From Iwo Jima.

Best supporting actress Jennifer Hudson kisses her Oscar as she arrives at the annual Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's in West Hollywood, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007. Best supporting actress Jennifer Hudson kisses her Oscar as she arrives at the annual Vanity Fair Oscar party at Morton's in West Hollywood, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007.
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Those films joined two idiosyncratic American stories nominated for best picture, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris road comedy Little Miss Sunshine and Martin Scorsese s crime epic The Departed.

Though set among the distinctive cops and mobsters of Boston, The Departed had a global connection it was based on the Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs. The film won the adapted-screenplay Oscar for William Monahan, who thanked Scorsese and The Departed star Leonardo DiCaprio, a best-actor nominee.

Once an evening of backslapping and merrymaking within the narrow confines of Hollywood, the Academy Awards this time looked like a United Nations exercise in diversity.

The 79th annual Oscars feature their most ethnically varied lineup ever, with stars and stories that reflect the growing multiculturalism taking root around the globe.

What a wonderful night. Such diversity in the room, said Ellen DeGeneres, serving as Oscar host for the first time, in a year when there s been so many negative things said about people s race, religion and sexual orientation.

And I want to put this out there: If there weren t blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars, she said, adding: Or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that.

Competing for best picture was Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu s Babel, a sweeping ensemble drama. The film s cast ranges from A-listers such as Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett to comparative unknowns Adriana Barraza from Mexico and Rinko Kikuchi from Japan, who both earned supporting-actress nominations for Babel.

Thanks to Marty and Leo for reading the script and calling each other and saying let s make it, Monahan said.

Former Vice President Al Gore the central figure in the global-warming film An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary nominee appeared with DiCaprio to praise organizers for implementing environmentally friendly practices in the show s production.

DiCaprio set up a gag with Gore, asking the 2000 presidential candidate if there was anything he wanted to announce.

I guess with a billion people watching, it s as good a time as any. So my fellow Americans, I m going to take this opportunity here and now to formally announce my intentions ..., Gore said, his voice trailing away as the orchestra cut him off.

Alan Arkin was honored for his role in <i> Little Miss Sunshine. </i> Alan Arkin was honored for his role in <i> Little Miss Sunshine. </i>
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Of the 20 acting nominees, five were black, two were Hispanic and one was Asian, while only two Americans Eastwood and Scorsese were among the five best-director contenders.

With a Directors Guild of America award and other top film honors behind him, Scorsese was considered a shoo-in to earn the directing Oscar, a prize that has eluded him throughout his illustrious career.

The best-picture race was up for grabs, with all five films in the running but many Oscar watchers generally figuring it was a three-way race among Babel, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine.

Organizers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hoped the suspense of the wide-open best-picture category would help offset moviegoers relative lack of interest in the competing films.

TV ratings for the Oscars tend to be lower when fewer people have seen the top nominees. Collectively, the five best-picture nominees had drawn a total domestic theatrical audience of about 38.5 million people, about a third the number of fans who have gone to see the contenders in recent peak years when such blockbusters as Gladiator or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King have won.



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