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By Rick Kisonak | March 28, 2002

History was made and justice done on a number of fronts Sunday night. Not that deserving people didn’t leave the 74th annual Oscars empty handed.
For the first time ever, a black man and woman took home best actor and actress awards. Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) was the first black actress ever to win an Oscar for work in a leading role. Denzel Washington (Training Day) was only the second black actor to do so and, serendipitously, the first happened to be on hand to collect a lifetime achievement honor. One of the highlights of the evening was the moment when Denzel and Sidney Poitier saluted one another from across the Kodak Theatre. “Forty years I’ve been chasing Sidney,” Washington joked, “They finally give it to me and they give it to him the same night!”
Berry put the occasion in broader perspective. “This moment’s so much bigger than me…it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.”
Other triumphs long overdue included a best song win for Randy Newman for his Monsters, Inc. ditty “If I Didn’t Have You.” “I don’t want your pity,” he cracked on accepting the award, the 16th for which he’d been nominated in his distinguished career. The composer went on to thank the music branch of the Academy for “so many chances to be humiliated over the years.” Host Whoopi Goldberg should have been so cheeky.
Opie finally struck gold. A Beautiful Mind earned Tinsletown’s nicest guy best director and best picture awards not to mention the respect which has eluded him inexplicably through his accomplished directing career. And it was nice to see Woody Allen getting along with the grown ups. He did a classic bit of stand up. Acknowledging the crowd’s ovation as well as the heightened security, he quipped “Thanks very much. That makes up for the strip search” and then introduced a pastiche put together by Nora Ephron and devoted to classic films shot in New York City, opening with Allen’s own Manhattan. I thought it was a nice touch.
Also from the nice surprise file: rumors of Ryan O’Neal’s imminent expiration appear to be exaggerated. The actor looked pretty fit to me as he joined Ali MacGraw to present their Love Story director, Arthur Hiller, with a special humanitarian award. The wonderful and all too overlooked Jim Broadbent (Iris) appeared to be as shocked as everyone else when his name was announced in the best supporting actor category. George Harrison’s inclusion as part of the show’s yearly In Memorium tribute was classy I thought. It would have been easy for the Academy to overlook the late Beatle’s second career as a film producer.
And talk about history: Not only did Barbara Walters fail to make any of her three pre-show interview subjects weep, a couple of them — Sarah Jessica Parker and Halle Berry — even chided her for trying. Now that’s entertainment.
Let’s face it though, Russel Crowe’s got to be walking around asking himself what more an actor’s supposed to do to win one of these deals. His performance in A Beautiful Mind was the best thing about the picture and he’s practically the only one associated with it who didn’t go home with an Oscar. And Jennifer Connelly? Come on. In what possible way was hers the best supporting performance in a film this year? For my money, Marisa Tomei did infinitely more interesting work in In the Bedroom.
High on the list of things we probably could have lived without- that goofball backstage newsdesk setup from which “anchors” Donald Sutherland and Glenn Close performed cohost chores like handling the transition to commercial breaks. And gaily colored members of Cirque du Soleil running around and striking fanciful poses all over the place. Not to mention a record-shattering running time of 4 hours and 23 minutes. I say we bag the pre-show fashion chat along with the Barbara Walters special and just get this party started earlier. I don’t know about Whoopi Goldberg but I’ve got to get up early in the morning.
The scandal of the 2002 Oscars has to be the snubbing of Baz Luhrmann, director of Moulin Rouge. Somehow the groundbreaking musical was good enough to merit a best picture nomination but Luhrmann wasn’t a good enough filmmaker to merit a best director nomination for making it. The Lord of the Rings was a more daring, original and visionary movie? Black Hawk Down? I don’t think so. And their directors got nominated.
It’s due to that kind of high-powered thinking that forty years passed between Sidney and Denzel. The Academy made up some important ground Sunday night but it still has a long way to go.
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