/ 25 February 2008

Coen brothers lead the Oscars pack

No Country for Old Men was living up to its front-runner status at Sunday’s Academy Awards, winning best adapted screenplay for the Coen brothers and best supporting actor for Javier Bardem. La Vie En Rose star Marion Cotillard was a surprise winner in the best-actress category.

Cotillard, of France, rode the spirit of Edith Piaf to Oscar triumph over British screen legend Julie Christie, who had been expected to win for Away from Her.

The award for best supporting actress went to actress Tilda Swinton for her role in Michael Clayton.

Joel and Ethan Coen are mainly known for their original screenplays, making only two films based on adaptations, No Country from Pulitzer winner Cormac McCarthy’s novel, and O Brother, Where Art Thou?, loosely inspired by the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey.

”I think whatever success we’ve had in this area has been entirely attributable to how selective we are. We’ve only adapted Homer and Cormac McCarthy,” said Joel Coen.

Previous original-screenplay winners for 1996’s Fargo, the Coens came in as the best-picture and directing favourites for No Country. They missed out on a chance to make Oscar history — four wins for a single film — when they lost the editing prize, for which they were nominated under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes.

The Bourne Ultimatum won the editing Oscar and swept all three categories in which it was nominated, including sound editing and sound mixing.

No Country also lost the cinematography prize, which went to There Will Be Blood.

Cotillard tearfully thanked her director, Olivier Dahan.

”Maestro Olivier, you rocked my life. You have truly rocked my life,” said Cotillard, a French beauty who is a dynamo as Piaf, playing the warbling chanteuse through three decades, from raw late teens as a singer rising from the gutter through international stardom and her final days in her frail 40s.

”Thank you life, thank you love. And it is true that there are some angels in this city,” she said.

A relatively fresh face in Hollywood, Cotillard has United States credits that include Big Fish, A Good Year and the upcoming Public Enemies, featuring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

With a heartbreaking turn as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer’s in Away from Her, Christie had been expected to win her second Oscar. She won best actress 42 years ago for Darling.

Supporting roles

Heavies ruled the first acting prizes: the supporting-performer awards went to Bardem as an unshakable executioner in No Country and Swinton as a malevolent attorney in Michael Clayton.

”I have an American agent who is the spitting image of this,” said Swinton, fondly looking at her Oscar statuette.

”Really, truly, the same shape head, and it has to be said, the buttocks. And I’m giving this to him, because there’s no way I’d be in America at all, ever, on a plane if it wasn’t for him,” said the Scottish actress, who played a conniving attorney who stops at nothing to achieve her goals in a $3-billion class-action lawsuit.

Bardem won for his fearsome turn in No Country, the first prize of the night for the Coen brothers’ front-running crime saga.

”Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head,” said Bardem, referring to the sinister variation of a page-boy bob his character sported.

Bardem’s character was a terrifying yet perversely amusing presence in No Country, the best-picture favourite in which his character tosses a coin to decide whether some people he encounters should live or die.

Host Jon Stewart joked that Bardem’s haircut in the film combined ”Hannibal Lecter’s murderousness with Dorothy Hamill’s wedge-cut”.

Animated success

Mickey Mouse gained a rival as Hollywood’s favorite rodent as the rat tale Ratatouille was named best animated film, the second Oscar win in the category for director Brad Bird.

Bird thanked his junior-high guidance counsellor, who expressed repeated scepticism over his desire to become a filmmaker.

”It went on like this until we were sick of each other,” said Bird, who also won the animation Oscar for 2004’s The Incredibles and shared a nomination for original screenplay for Ratatouille, a $200-million blockbuster. ”I only realised just recently that he gave me the perfect training for the movie business.”

The win left Bird with two of the seven Oscars ever given for feature animation, a category added in 2001. It was the third Oscar in the category for the partnership of Pixar Animation and Walt Disney, the studio where Mickey Mouse has been the standard-bearer for 80 years.

Glen Hansard of the Irish band the Frames and Marketa Irglova, both non-actors who starred in the music romance Once, won the best-song Oscar for Falling Slowly, one of several tunes they wrote for the film.

”What are we doing here? This is mad,” Hansard said, recounting the low-budget history of Once. ”It took us three weeks to make. We made it for a hundred grand. We never thought we’d come into a room like this and be in front of all you people.”

The song won over three nominated tunes from Enchanted written by composer Alan Menken, an eight-time Oscar winner, and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, a three-time winner, whose previous academy prizes included their song and score collaborations for Pocahontas.

The sound-mixing win for The Bourne Ultimatum extended the years of Oscar futility for Kevin O’Connell, a nominee for Transformers, who holds an academy record: 20 nominations, no wins.

Upset win

Box-office dud The Golden Compass scored an upset for visual effects over the blockbusters Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Other early winners included Elizabeth: The Golden Age for costume design, La Vie En Rose for make-up and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street for art direction.

The Oscar broadcast began with a fanfare and an effects-laden opening segment showing key characters and creatures from past films lining Hollywood Boulevard.

Stewart started his opening monologue with a wisecrack about the 100-day writers’ strike that ended just in time for the Oscars to come off as usual.

”These past three-and-a-half months have been very tough. The town was torn apart by a bitter writers’ strike, but I’m happy to say that the fight is over,” Stewart said. ”So tonight, welcome to the make-up sex.”

Stewart joked about this year’s crop of ”Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies”.

”Does this town need a hug? What happened? No Country for Old Men, Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood? All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy. I think the country agrees,” Stewart said, referring to best-picture nominee Juno. — Sapa-AP

On the net

Academy Awards