A Minnesota night at the Academy Awards

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2008 - 11:41 AM

Former Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen's film "No Country for Old Men" won four Oscars last night, and Diablo Cody tearfully accepted the top prize for her first screenplay, "Juno."

 The 80th Academy Awards were a star-studded night for the North Star State as Minnesota-connected talent swept five of Hollywood's most important awards Sunday in Los Angeles.

Joel and Ethan Coen collected Oscars for best picture, direction and adapted screenplay for the gritty, pessimistic crime thriller "No Country for Old Men."

"Thank you very much for this," said a laconic Joel, who offered a self-deprecating explanation for the screenwriting award. "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," referring to their earlier hit "O Brother Where Art Thou."

Ethan Coen was even more reticent. "We, uh ... thank you very much," he said in the shortest speech of the evening.

Returning to accept their directing award from last year's winner, Martin Scorsese, Ethan said, "I, uh -- I don't have a lot to add to what I said earlier. Thank you."

Joel put their triumph in context. "Ethan and I have been making movies since we were kids. In the late '60s, when Ethan was 11 or 12 he got a suit and a briefcase and we went to the Minneapolis international airport with a Super-8 camera and made a movie about shuttle diplomacy called 'Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go.' Honestly, what we do now doesn't feel all that much different from what we were doing then. We're very grateful to all of you out there for letting us continue to play in our corner of the sandbox."

The Coens won an Oscar just once before, in 1997 for their original screenplay for "Fargo."

Earlier, former Minnesotan Diablo Cody's yearlong Cinderella story ended in a tearful moment in the spotlight. Cody won the best original screenplay Oscar for her first script, tapped out on a laptop in the coffee shop of the Crystal Target.

"What is happening?" she asked in a trembling voice, blinking back tears. "This is for the writers. I worship you guys." She thanked her professional colleagues in a breaking voice, "and most of all I want to thank my family for loving me exactly the way I am."

In his opening monologue, Oscar host Jon Stewart introduced Cody to those few holdouts who may not be aware of her unlikely career arc.

"Diablo Cody used to be an exotic dancer and now she's an Oscar-nominated screenwriter," he noted as the camera cut to her beaming smile. "I hope you're enjoying the pay cut." He also praised "Juno" as a feel-good alternative to many of the nominees' bloodstained negativity: "Thank God for teenage pregnancy."

'The emotional Mack truck'

In a phone interview after her award, Cody said she felt "like I was hit by the emotional Mack truck" when her name was announced.

"I'm not feeling anything, I'm completely in shock," she said breathlessly. "I'm completely elated but I don't believe that it happened yet because it's too recent. I am just trying to decide a way to feel and I'll settle on that. I'm very freaked out.

"Backstage they took a class photo that reminded me of a senior photo because you have to like sit down next to some fake flowers and kind of pose. It was a trip. This whole thing is weird. But they do have a bar back here just for the people who have won Oscars and I appreciate that. I'm gonna work it hard. I feel shocked and very humble because when I see the people that won tonight I can't believe we were up for the same award."

Javier Bardem's supporting-actor award for "No Country" launched Minnesota's string of wins.

"Thank you to the Coens for thinking I could do that and putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history on my head," said Bardem, who played a cold blooded killer.

Minnesota talent also was on tap in the performing spotlight. Amy Adams, who began her acting career at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, trilled the nominated "Happy Working Song," which she sang as Giselle, the Disney princess she plays in the "Enchanted." Adams was also on tap to present the award for best original score.

Other awards

All four of the acting winners were foreign-born. As expected, Daniel Day-Lewis received his second best-actor statuette for his towering performance as a power-mad oilman in "There Will Be Blood."

The emotional high point came as French actress Marion Cotillard, vibrating with emotion like a tuning fork, was named best actress for her performance as Parisian songstress Edith Piaf. It was an award most oddsmakers had expected to go to Julie Christie, and Cotillard appeared genuinely stunned.

"I'm speechless now," she said in a tremulous voice, eyes shining. "Thank you life, thank you love, and it is true there is some angels in this city."

For transforming the glamorous Cotillard into a convincingly aged and infirm Piaf, Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald won best achievement in makeup.

Tilda Swinton won as best supporting actress for her role as a conniving corporate lawyer in "Michael Clayton." She held her statuette, eyes goggling, before thanking her agent, who "has exactly the same shaped head, and it has to be said, the buttocks." She teased her costar George Clooney for his "seriousness and dedication," which she claimed he demonstrated by wearing his rubber Batman costume every day beneath his street clothes.

Amid the production-number glitz, best-song nominee "Falling Slowly," sung by the stars of the Irish musical romance "Once," provided a touching, intimate moment. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova bonded while filming the movie and now -- oh, how cute -- they're an offscreen couple. When they won the award, Hansard's beaming, bashful acceptance speech was as sincere as sunlight.

"This is amazing. What are we doing here? This is mad. " When time ran out before Irglova got her say, Stewart brought her back to the microphone. "The fact that we're standing here tonight, the fact that we're holding this, is just proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible."

There were several surprises, as the Iraq war documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side" trumped Michael Moore's "Sicko" as best documentary, and best achievement in visual effects was awarded to "The Golden Compass," eclipsing the popcorn blockbusters "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

The epic "Atonement" and "There Will Be Blood" were honored with the best original score and best cinematography awards.

Alexandra Byrne, whose extravagant designs for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" put the "costume" in bodice-ripping costume drama, won the first award of the evening.

Writer-director Brad Bird accepted the best animated feature award for "Ratatouille," the story of a rat who becomes the greatest chef in France, thanking the high school guidance counsellor who tried to talk him out of pursuing a film career.

Best art direction went to production designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, who created a macabre Victorian London for "Sweeney Todd."

Star/director Philippe Pollet-Villard blinked back tears as he accepted the live-action short award for the winsome French crime comedy "Le Mozart des Pickpockets." The best animated short was "Peter and the Wolf," a modern interpretation of Prokofiev's orchestral children's classic by stop-motion animator Suzie Templeton.

Austria's "The Counterfeiters," the story of a Jewish forger forced by the Nazis to duplicate the Allies' currency, was named best foreign language film.

For its symphonic score of rending sheet metal, crunching bones and gunfire, "The Bourne Ultimatum" took the awards for best sound editing and sound mixing while sound editors Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg suffered temporary amnesia, tripping over their acknowledgements before being cut off by the orchestra.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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