The 77th annual Academy Awards seemed mostly dedicated to biopics and boxing, but there were some triumphs for openly gay filmmakers. Out Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar took home Best Foreign Film for the true-story euthanasia drama The Sea Inside, while work and life partners Robert Hudson and Bobby Houston were honored with Best Documentary Short for Mighty Times: The Children's March. The winner of the Best Animated Short Oscar, Ryan, was a film about bisexual Canadian animator Ryan Larkin.
While none of this might have been obvious to the average viewer, Robin Williams's comic bit briefly put the spotlight directly on gays and media censorship. Before presenting the award for Best Animated Feature, he paused to rip a large piece of white tape off his mouth, then proceeded to mock those who connect cartoon characters with pro-gay messages.
The stunt appeared to confirm reports that producers had censored his gags. The Los Angeles Times reported, "Censors of ABC...objected to numerous lyrics in a cheeky song to be performed by Robin Williams [which] mocked the concerns of some Christian conservatives about alleged gay characters and influences in animated films." Williams did not end up singing at all, but after lighting on well-worn comic targets such as Viagra, Joan Rivers, and Botox, he took on the culture wars: "They tell me now that SpongeBob is gay. SquarePants is not gay. TightPants maybe. SpongeBob HotPants? You go, girl!"
Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants was among cartoon characters featured in a pro-diversity initiative of the We Are Family Foundation. James Dobson, founder of the religious conservative group Focus on the Family, complained that the motive for using SpongeBob was "to desensitize very young children to homosexual and bisexual behavior." Williams suggested that other cartoon characters through history also might have been gay--and he didn't spare Disney icons, although Disney-owned ABC was airing the awards show. "What about Donald Duck? Sailor top, no pants. Hello?" Williams said. "Bugs Bunny. More dresses than J. Edgar Hoover at Mardi Gras. Hello?" Williams concluded. He then presented the Best Animated Feature Oscar to The Incredibles, which also won the award for sound editing.
But the big winner Sunday was boxing saga Million Dollar Baby, claiming Best Picture and three other trophies: honors for director Clint Eastwood, lead actress Hilary Swank, and supporting actor Morgan Freeman. Swank had won five years ago for playing real-life transgender man Brandon Teena in Boys Don't Cry.
Swank once again beat out main rival Annette Bening, nominated for the theater comedy Being Julia. Bening had been the front-runner for American Beauty in 2000. "I don't know what I did in this life to deserve all this. I'm just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream," said Swank, who played an indomitable boxer. Swank joined Vivien Leigh, Helen Hayes, Sally Field, and Luise Rainer as the only actresses with a perfect track record at the Oscars: two nominations and two wins.
Eastwood, who at 74 became the oldest directing winner ever, noted his mother was with him when his Western Unforgiven won the 1992 Best Picture and directing Oscars. "She's here with me again tonight, so at 96, I'm thanking her for her genes," Eastwood said. "I figure I'm just a kid. I've got a lot of stuff to do yet." The 77th Oscars were another heartbreak for Martin Scorsese, the man behind The Aviator, who lost the directing race for the fifth time--the second time to Eastwood. Scorsese matched the record of Oscar futility held by a handful of legendary filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman, who also went 0-for-5 in the directing category.
The Aviator came away with the most Oscars, its five awards including the supporting actress prize for Cate Blanchett.Playing Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, Blanchett had the spirit of the Oscars' most-honored actress on her side. Hepburn, the love of Howard Hughes's life in the 1930s before she began her long romance with Spencer Tracy, earned 12 nominations and won a record four Oscars. "Thank you, of course, to Miss Hepburn. The longevity of her career, I think, is inspiring to everyone," said Blanchett. She added thanks to Aviator director Scorsese, saying, "I hope my son will marry your daughter." Oscar host Chris Rock said Blanchett was so convincing that Sidney Poitier, Hepburn's costar in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, showed up at Blanchett's house for supper.
Jamie Foxx took lead actor for his uncanny emulation of Ray Charles in Ray. As he had at earlier awards triumphs, Foxx led the Oscar audience in a rendition of the call-and-response chant from Charles's 1959 hit "What'd I Say," whose funky electric-piano grooves play over the opening credits of Ray. "Give it up for Ray Charles and his beautiful legacy. And thank you, Ray Charles, for living," said Foxx, who climbed to Oscar glory after an early career built mainly on comedy, including his TV series The Jamie Foxx Show and the raunchy sex flick Booty Call. Foxx had been a double Oscar nominee, also picked in the supporting category for the hit-man thriller Collateral.
The wins by Freeman and Foxx marked only the second time two African-Americans had won acting kudos in the same year, following Denzel Washington's and Halle Berry's triumphs three years ago for Training Day and Monster's Ball. "It means that Hollywood is continuing to make history," Freeman said backstage. "We're evolving with the rest of the world."
Winning the animated-feature prize, The Incredibles made it two Osars in a row for Pixar Animation, which won in 2004 for Finding Nemo. "I don't know what's more frightening: being watched by millions of people or the hundreds of people that are going to be annoyed with me tomorrow for not mentioning them," said Brad Bird, writer-director of the The Incredibles. The latest win dabs salt on the Walt Disney Co.'s wounds over the looming expiration of its distribution deal for Pixar films, which ends after next year's Cars. The back-to-back Oscars underscore Pixar's growing ascendance and the weakening position of animation pioneer Disney, which has yet to win the animated feature Oscar with any of its homegrown films and whose biggest recent cartoon hits have all been made by Pixar.
Unlike last year, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King dominated the awards as expected and flat-out front-runners took all four acting prizes, the 77th Oscars shaped up as a mixed bag, with only Foxx a virtual lock to win. "Boy, am I glad there wasn't a fourth episode of Lord of the Rings," said John Dykstra, who shared the visual-effects Oscar for Spider-Man 2.
With no huge hits among top nominees, Oscar organizers worried that TV ratings could dwindle for the live ABC broadcast. The Oscars tend to draw their biggest audiences when blockbusters such as Titanic or Return of the King are in the mix, stoking viewer interest. Producers of the show hoped the presence of first-time host Rock might boost ratings, particularly among younger viewers who may consider the Oscars as too staid an affair. Rock had mocked the Oscars a bit beforehand, calling awards shows "idiotic," but he was on his best behavior in his opening monologue.
Rock chided some celebrities by name and was bleeped by ABC for referring to his "black ass," but his routine was fairly clean for the comedian known for a foul mouth in his standup act. "The only acting you ever see at the Oscars is when people act like they're not mad they lost," Rock said. He recalled the year when Halle Berry won and fellow nominee "Nicole Kidman was smiling so wide, she should have won an Emmy at the Oscars for her great performance. I was like, if you'd done that in the movie, you'd have won an Oscar, girl."
Organizers also tried to spice up the show with new presentation tactics, including herding all nominees onstage at the same time, beauty-pageant style, for some awards. The first prize of the night, for art direction, was awarded that way, with a total of nine nominees from five films spread across the stage behind presenter Berry. The Oscar went to The Aviator, whose awards also included cinematography, film editing, and costume design.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind took the original screenplay award for Charlie Kaufman. Sideways won the adapted screenplay prize for director Alexander Payne and his writing partner, Jim Taylor. "My mother taught me to write, and she died before she could see any of this, so this is for you, mom," Taylor said. Born Into Brothels, which examines the lives of children of prostitutes in Calcutta, received the Oscar for feature-length documentary. (AP, with additional reporting by Advocate.com)