Clint Eastwood Corrals Best-Picture Oscar

Monday night's awards show highlighted some achievements, but attempts to showcase women's contributions fizzled

THE 65th Academy Awards will go down as the night Hollywood tried to honor women in film, gave a qualified handshake to smaller independent filmmakers, and finally made Clint Eastwood's day.

Of all three gestures, honors for Mr. Eastwood's dark repudiation of Western violence, "Unforgiven," were the most successful. Nominated as director, producer, and actor, Eastwood garnered two Academy awards (best director, best picture).

The film also won a film-editing Oscar as well as a best-supporting-actor award for Gene Hackman as the movie's sadistic sheriff.

"I tried to deglamorize violence and gunplay and a lot of [those] things that people have misgivings about today," Eastwood said backstage after the show. Calling the movie the culmination of everything he has learned in 39 years as an actor and director, Eastwood said the awards showed Hollywood's willingness to finally embrace the western as an art form.

"I've had films like `Outlaw Josey Wales' and `Bronco Billy' I thought were as good as `Unforgiven' in many ways," Eastwood said, clutching two gold-plated Oscars like dumbbells. "But there was something about [this film's] message that it's not so cool to carry guns and kill people that coincides with people's concerns today."

Onstage, the Oscars made several efforts to spotlight the contributions of women to film. Among them was a tribute to Audrey Hepburn (the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award), honoring the late Miss Hepburn's longstanding commitment to help famine- afflicted populations in Africa; a film tribute to costume designer Edith Head, a 35-time Oscar nominee for films stretching from the Marx Brothers to "The Sting"; and an Oscar to Elizabeth Taylor for her work spotlighting AIDS research.

But backstage, several comments made it evident that actresses would rather see such concern for women translated into richer and more diverse roles.

"There has just got to be more and better roles out there for women besides girlfriend and wife," said Marisa Tomei, who won the best-supporting-actress Oscar for her role as a feisty female automotive expert in "My Cousin Vinny." "Hopefully this Oscar in the year of the woman will [entice writers to write] more- complex female characters."

Emma Thompson, who won best actress for her role as an Edwardian-era wife in "Howard's End" also spoke about the dearth of well-rounded roles for women. Onstage, she commented, "I would like ... to dedicate this Oscar to the heroism and the courage of women. And to the hope that it inspires the creation of more true screen heroines to represent them."

Backstage, she continued: "This year was supposed to honor women, but ironically it was one of the worst years for actresses." Attributing her win to the richness of the role she played, Ms. Thompson said, "women today forget how much they owe to the strength of those that came before, who fought for some of the equalities we now enjoy."

Thompson also said her Oscar, which came on the heels of last year's best-actor award for fellow British actor Anthony Hopkins will be a major boost to the British film industry. "We really need all the encouragement we can get in Britain. You have no idea how much this helps."

Oscar night was considered only a modest success for independent and smaller film companies.

Expectations were high because of the unprecedented number of nominations to such companies - a total of 24 Oscar nominations among the five top films, including three for best picture. But "Unforgiven" won only four, "Howards End" only two, and "The Crying Game" ended up with only one.

Neil Jordan, who won best original screenplay for "The Crying Game," said he allowed his idea to gestate for eight years, but wrote it in about 3 months. "It was a difficult script to write. People said to me it was about characters [who would be] unappealing to audiences at large. But ... this film has taught me [that] ... audiences have it in their hearts to embrace any range of characters and points of view."

Al Pacino took the best-actor Oscar for his role in "Scent of a Woman." In a prepared note he said: "I've been lucky, I've found desire for what I do early in my life. And I'm lucky because I had people who encouraged my desire from Lee Strasberg to my great friend and mentor Charlie Laughton."

The academy honored these movies in other categories: foreign-language film, France, "Indochine"; adapted screenplay, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, "Howards End"; art direction, Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker, "Howards End"; cinematography, Philippe Rousselot, "A River Runs Through It"; costume design, Eiko Ishioka, "Bram Stoker's Dracula"; makeup: Greg Cannom, Michele Burke and Matthew Mungle, "Bram Stoker's Dracula"; original music score: Alan Menken, "Aladdin."

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