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"English Patient' wins best picture, other honors

Miramax Films' The English Patient capped one of the biggest Oscar bonanzas in Hollywood history when it was named best picture of 1996 at the 69th annual Academy Awards on Monday night.

The sweeping romance set against the backdrop of World War II garnered nine Oscars in its 12 nominations when winners were announced at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. That total tied Gigi (1958) and The Last Emperor (1987) for the third-highest number of Oscars won by a single film.

Director Anthony Minghella was honored for his duties on the film, which began by transforming a dense novel into a linear drama that has grossed $60-million to date. The English Patient also was cited for its dramatic musical score, sound, film editing, art direction, cinematography and costumes, as well as a surprising best supporting actress prize for Juliette Binoche.

Producer Saul Zaentz capped a dream evening when The English Patient claimed the top prize. He was honored with the annual Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award minutes before he returned to the stage to accept the best picture prize.

Zaentz is now three-for-three as a producer in best-picture competitions, after previous wins for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984).

Australian actor Geoffrey Rush completed his sweep of post-season awards with a best actor Oscar for the biography Shine, in which he played a piano virtuoso whose career was wrecked by emotional problems.

Helgott himself made a brief appearance, performing a spritely version of Flight of the Bumblebee while muttering in his peculiar behavior pattern that Rush so vividly captured.

Frances McDormand was named best actress of the year for her quirky portrayal of a pregnant police chief in the dark comedy Fargo, which also won for best original screenplay.

Music was once again a central factor in the show.

In addition to Helfgott's performance, there was a stirring rendition of You Must Love Me by Madonna, who was snubbed in the best actress category for her impersonation on Argentine leader Eva Peron in Evita. The song, however, was named best of the year.

Rachel Portman was presented with an Oscar for best musical score for a comedy or musical for the period piece Emma.

The Czechoslovakian drama Kolya, currently playing at Tampa Theatre, was named best foreign film.

Chosen as best documentary feature of 1996 was When We Were Kings, a tribute to Muhammad Ali's boxing victory over George Foreman in the 1974 "Thrilla in Manila." When We Were Kings is scheduled begin a one-week engagement at Tampa Theatre on Friday.

Ali and Foreman attended Monday's festivities and received an emotion-packed, standing ovation.

Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien was named best documentary short subject for its peek inside the world of a poet living in an iron lung.

The academy's infatuation with low-budget, adventurous films pushed some of the biggest moneymakers of 1996 into the less glamorous technical categories. The $306-million domestic gross posted by Independence Day was rewarded with an Oscar for best special effects.

Twister ($242-million domestic gross) blew through the evening without an Oscar.

Billy Crystal returned for his fifth stint as host of the Academy Awards and made a grand entrance as usual. Crystal's decision to return after a three-year hiatus was the subject of a clever compilation of film clips from nominated or classic films with the comic superimposed in the action.

Crystal was shown getting his instructions from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and warned against the job by Armin Mueller-Stahl as the domineering father in Shine. The punch line was a surprise appearance by former host David Letterman in a plane-crash clip from The English Patient that equated his notorious "Uma-Oprah" joke.

As usual, Crystal devoted part of his opening monologue to a song medley based on the five films nominated for best picture. The plot of Secrets and Lies was conveyed in Brady Bunch fashion, and Crystal sang about how Fargo, N.D., is My Kind of Town.

Crystal's snappy improvisational style got a fast workout after the first envelope was opened. Cuba Gooding Jr. claimed the best supporting actor prize for his role as a struggling yet cocky pro football player in Jerry Maguire. His acceptance speech was a spontaneous bit of pride and exhilaration that couldn't be stopped after 30 seconds by a musical cue from Bill Conti's orchestra.

Gooding was undaunted as he thanked everyone whose name popped into his mind. The audience didn't mind, responding with a standing ovation for the actor, who became the sixth African-American to win an Oscar for a performance.

"If there's anyone Cuba has not thanked, give me your name and I'll take it backstage, where he'll be happy to thank you," Crystal cracked when he returned to the podium.

Momentum for The English Patient was evident from the first flurry of awards, when the film was honored for its art direction and desert-style costuming, which has sparked a minor fashion trend.

The Academy's infatuation with the World War II drama was hammered home an hour into the broadcast when the results of balloting for best supporting actress was announced.

Screen legend Lauren Bacall was a heavy favorite to win for her performance as Barbra Streisand's high-society mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. Bacall even had a prime interview slot on the annual Barbara Walters special on ABC that preceded the Oscars _ usually a good-luck charm for nominees.

Last year's best supporting actor winner, Kevin Spacey, sent a shock wave through the pavilion when he announced that Juliette Binoche had been voted the best supporting actress Oscar for the compassionate nurse in The English Patient.

"I thought Lauren was going to get it and I think she deserves it," Binoche said.

The Nutty Professor was named the year's best achievement in makeup for transforming Eddie Murphy into seven different characters of various ages, race, gender and body size.

The jungle adventure The Ghost And The Darkness was cited for its sound effects editing.

Worst films 1996: Demi Moore and her revealing Striptease led annual Oscar eve dishonors Sunday, capturing six Razzie Awards for the worst in Hollywood movies in 1996.

The Golden Raspberry Foundation declared it: "Demi Does Dullest" at the 17th annual spoof of the Academy Awards. Striptease won Razzies for worst picture, actress (Moore), screen couple (Moore and Burt Reynolds), director (Andrew Bergman), screenplay (Bergman) and song. Moore's "bumbling and grinding" role actually tied in the worst actress category _ with herself.

In addition to Striptease, she got a Razzie for her work in The Juror.

Other Razzie "winners" included: worst actor (tie): Tom Arnold for Big Bully and Pauly Shore for Bio-Dome. Worst supporting actor: Marlon Brando for Island of Dr. Moreau. Worst supporting actress: Melanie Griffith for Mulholland Falls. Worst written film grossing over $100-million: Twister. Worst new star: Pamela Anderson Lee for Barb Wire.

Oscar security sniffs out crasher: A man who wrote a how-to book on crashing big events was jailed Sunday for trying to sneak into the site of the Academy Awards.

Scott Kerman, 30, of Los Angeles, author of All Sold Out! How to Sneak Into Sporting Events and Concerts, allegedly was caught in the Shrine Auditorium lobby while a rehearsal was under way.

Kerman, a comedian, had predicted in a news release earlier this month that he would infiltrate the Oscars. He boasted that he had sneaked into 300 sporting events, including 25 World Series games. He was booked for trespassing and held in lieu of $250 bail.

"People should not attempt to sneak into the Academy Awards. We have increasing amounts of security here," said Dereck Andrade, a spokesman for Pinkerton's Inc., the security firm for the Oscars. "And we will catch you."

THE WINNERS

The winners, by category, of the 69th annual Academy Awards are:

BEST PICTURE: The English Patient

BEST ACTOR: Geoffrey Rush, Shine

BEST ACTRESS: Frances McDormand, Fargo

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Juliette Binoche, The English Patient

BEST DIRECTOR: Anthony Minghella, The English Patient

BEST FOREIGN FILM: Kolya, Czech Republic

BEST SCREENPLAY (written directly for the screen): Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Fargo

BEST SCREENPLAY (based on material previously produced or published): Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade

BEST ART DIRECTION: The English Patient

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: The English Patient

BEST SOUND: The English Patient

BEST SOUND EFFECTS EDITING: The Ghost and the Darkness

BEST ORIGINAL MUSICAL OR COMEDY SCORE: Emma, Rachel Portman

BEST ORIGINAL DRAMATIC SCORE: The English Patient, Gabriel Yared

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: You Must Love Me from Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

BEST COSTUME: The English Patient

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: When We Were Kings

BEST DOCUMENTARY (short subject): Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien

BEST FILM EDITING: The English Patient

BEST MAKEUP: The Nutty Professor

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILMS: Quest

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: Dear Diary

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Independence Day

IRVING G. THALBERG MEMORIAL AWARD: producer Saul Zaentz

HONORARY AWARD: choreographer Michael Kidd

Up next:OBITUARIES

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