Sunday night's 74th annual Academy Awards show turned out to be all about A Beautiful Mind, movies that matter, and making history.
Ron Howard's depiction of the life and shattered psyche of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash was chosen best picture of 2001. A Beautiful Mind won four Oscars for best picture, Howard's direction, supporting actress Jennifer Connelly and Akiva Goldsman's adapted screenplay.
But what is usually the evening's biggest prize seemed anticlimactic after Halle Berry became the first African-American woman to be chosen best actress, for the searing Southern melodrama Monster's Ball. Minutes later, Denzel Washington was chosen best actor for Training Day, making him only the second black performer to claim that prize.
"This moment is so much bigger than me," Berry said between joyful sobs. "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women who stand beside me: Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica Fox and all the women who now have a chance because the door has been opened."
The audience greeted Berry with a standing ovation, and many were in tears before she could say a word.
Berry and Washington's milestones occurred on an evening when Sidney Poitier was honored for a half-century career including the only previous leading-actor Oscar for an African-American.
"For 40 years I've been chasing Sidney, and what do they do? Give it to him in the same night," Washington joked in his acceptance speech. The result makes Washington, a previous honoree for Glory, only the fifth actor to win in the lead and supporting actor categories. He joins Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Gene Hackman.
Poitier earned the statuette with a career excellence, including an Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1962. A 90-second standing ovation followed a videotaped tribute featuring actors Poitier inspired including Cuba Gooding, Jr., Don Cheadle and best actor nominee Will Smith (Ali).
Poitier wished to share his award with a list of filmmakers including Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) and Stanley Kramer (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) for their "courageous" decisions to hire a black actor.
"I benefited from their efforts, the industry benefited from their efforts, and America benefited from their efforts," Poitier said with his trademark precise diction. He dedicated the honor to African-American actors preceding him, "on whose shoulders I was able to stand to see where I could go."
Oscar voters' choices covered a variety of social and political issues, ranging from racial profiling and warfare in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, to an honorary Oscar for filmmaker and social activist Robert Redford.
This year's nominations leader, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring capitalized on only four of its 13 chances, led by Howard Shore's prize-winning musical score. Another best picture contender, the British comedy of manners Gosford Park, entered with seven nominations but left with only one award for Julian Fellowes' original screenplay.
No Man's Land, a biting Bosnian War satire, posted an upset in the best foreign language film race, beating the French romantic comedy Amelie. No Man's Land is the first Oscar nominee produced in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
DreamWorks' fractured fairy tale Shrek won the first Academy Award for best animated feature, a category added after the genre's recent artistic and box office advances. The irreverent story of an overachieving ogre grabbed the prize ahead of Monsters, Inc. from Walt Disney Studios, creators of the feature-length animated format in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Disney regained a measure of satisfaction when For the Birds, a Pixar Animation Studios project attached to Monsters, Inc., was chosen best animated short subject. Later, composer Randy Newman broke the longest losing streak in Academy history, winning a best song prize for If I Didn't Have You from Monsters, Inc. after 15 losses.
"I don't want your pity," Newman said with his usual droll humor. "I want to thank the music branch from giving me all those chances to be humiliated."
Playing characters coping with ailing spouses earned best supporting actor and actress Oscars for Jim Broadbent and Connelly.
Connelly played the schizophrenic Nash's wife, Alicia, in A Beautiful Mind, a film that triumphed despite a last-minute smear campaign against Nash.
Jim Broadbent's character John Bayley in Iris dealt lovingly with the decline of his wife, novelist Iris Murdoch, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Broadbent, who also appeared in Moulin Rouge and Bridget Jones's Diary last year, posted a minor upset over preshow favorites Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) and Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring). The British-born actor thanked Bayley for allowing him to "intrude upon and, he might say, plunder his life." Like Connelly, the actor won with his first nomination.
Connelly's win continued a remarkable trend in Academy voting. Nineteen of the past 20 recipients of the best supporting actress prize were rookies in the running. The exception is Dianne Wiest who claimed the prize with her first nomination for Hannah and Her Sisters, then won in 1995 for Bullets Over Broadway.
Connelly read a prepared statement of thanks without lifting her eyes to the audience until her final words. She was wise to prepare an acceptance speech after winning a Golden Globe and several other prizes during the awards season.
"By some beautiful twist of fate I've landed in this vocation that demands that I feel and helps me to learn," Connelly said. "And no film has moved or taught me more than A Beautiful Mind (that) I believe in love. There's nothing more important. Alicia Nash is a true champion of love and so thank you to her for her example."
Peter Jackson's fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring began the Oscar campaign last month as the favorite with 13 nominations, five more than A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge. Jackson's epic never showed the momentum of a nominations leader in its strong suit, categories dealing with technical achievements. The film won for its wizardly makeup, special effects and Andrew Lesnie's cinematography based on the writings and drawings of novelist J.R.R. Tolkien.
Jackson's lavish adaptation of Tolkien's novel _ the first film in a trilogy already produced _ lost in the film editing category to Pietro Scalia's tension-enhancing assembly of the Somalian war drama Black Hawk Down. Scalia won his first Academy Award for Oliver Stone's JFK in 1992. Ridley Scott's war movie also was honored as the best achievement in sound of 2001.
Moulin Rouge claimed early Oscars for best costume design and art direction in competitions including The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Murder on a Sunday Morning was chosen best documentary feature of 2001. It traces the case of an African-American teenager falsely accused of murder through racial profiling. The short documentary prize went to Thoth, featuring a street musician performing a one-man street corner opera to promote world peace.
This year's Oscar program offered entertainment by committee, as four-time host Whoopi Goldberg carried less of the comedy load than usual for an emcee. Her entrance on a trapeze a la Nicole Kidman's character in Moulin Rouge, wearing a Lady Marmalade costume possibly lifted from Patti LaBelle's closet, was a highlight.
ABC-TV's coverage of the event cleverly supported Goldberg's punchlines with well-planned cuts to the butts of her jokes in the audience.
More humor came from guest stars such as Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson donning nominated costume designs and a surprise standup comedy cameo by longtime Oscar ceremony avoider Woody Allen, encouraging filmmakers to take their business to New York City. Even Tom Cruise got a few laughs during otherwise somber introductory remarks concerning what movies mean to everyone, especially after the events of Sept. 11.
Sunday's Kodak Theatre moments were held under the tightest security procedures in Oscar history. Streets were blockaded for several blocks around the Academy's new $94-million venue in the heart of old Hollywood.
Metal detectors scanned each celebrity although a few fashion statements such as Sharon Stone's plunging backline and Berry's sheer bodice left little room for sneaking contraband.
A Los Angeles Police department spokesman said Friday that downtown Hollywood contained as many police officers as would normally patrol all of Los Angeles. The show's producer Laura Ziskin, the first woman to solely hold that position, called the plans "presidential-level security."
Or, as Goldberg put it with typical disregard for anyone else's ego: "The security was tighter than some of the faces here."
List of 74th annual Academy Awards presented Sunday evening at the Kodak Theatre:
BEST PICTURE: A Beautiful Mind.
BEST DIRECTOR: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind.
BEST ACTOR: Denzel Washington, Training Day.
BEST ACTRESS: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball.
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jim Broadbent, Iris.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind.
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Akiva Goldsman, A Beautiful Mind.
ANIMATED FEATURE: Shrek.
ANIMATED SHORT: For the Birds.
ART DIRECTION: Moulin Rouge.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
COSTUMES: Moulin Rouge.
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Murder on a Sunday Morning.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: Thoth.
FILM EDITING: Black Hawk Down.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: No Man's Land, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
LIVE ACTION SHORT: The Accountant.
MAKEUP: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
ORIGINAL SCORE: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Julian Fellowes, Gosford Park.
ORIGINAL SONG: If I Didn't Have You, by Randy Newman, from Monsters, Inc.
SOUND: Black Hawk Down.
SOUND EDITING: Pearl Harbor.
VISUAL EFFECTS: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Oscar winners previously announced:
GORDON E. SAWYER AWARD: Edmund M. Di Giulio.
JEAN HERSHOLT HUMANITARIAN AWARD: Arthur Hiller.
HONORARY AWARDS: Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford.