(ran SS edition of Metro & State)
The English Patient was living up to its billing as the favorite as the 69th annual Academy Awards ceremony unfolded Monday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Beverly Hills.
Billy Crystal returned for his fifth stint as host of the Academy Awards and made a grand entrance. 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 punchline 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 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 wouldn'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 ever 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.
When We Were Kings won for best documentary feature, highlighted by a standing ovation for one of the film's subjects in attendance, Muhammad Ali.