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Oscar will be looking back

  • Article by: Jeff Strickler
  • Star Tribune
  • March 22, 2003 - 10:00 PM

You might want to have a box of Kleenex ready for Sunday night's telecast of the Academy Awards.

On top of a somber, wartime atmosphere that prompted the cancellation of the traditional red-carpet arrivals, an old-fashioned, lump-in-the-throat, tear-in-the-eye sentimentality promises to be the theme of the night, which marks the awards' 75th anniversary.

The show's producer, Gil Cates, is keeping his specific plans hush-hush so as not to ruin the surprise. But it's certain that he'll have some sort of stroll down memory lane on the agenda.

For Oscar's 70th anniversary, he brought together 70 former winners. If nothing else, he'll have to rustle up an additional five.

Many observers believe that the nostalgic aura will carry over to members' voting. Among those who could benefit:

Martin Scorsese, a nominee as best director for "Gangs of New York." At a time when Hollywood is focused on its history, he's at the forefront of an effort to keep that past alive. He has become the point person in the campaign to save old films that have started to deteriorate because they were stored improperly or made with inferior stock. In addition to leaning on his fellow filmmakers for funding, he has volunteered countless hours to the painstaking task of going through damaged films frame by frame, helping to to restore them.

Jack Nicholson, a best-actor nominee for "About Schmidt." An icon since his "Easy Rider" days, Nicholson has become one of the bigger-than-life characters that Hollywood loves. But he also is admired because he disdains star treatment on the set. And he knows how to play to the audience's emotions: When he won an Oscar for a supporting role in "A Few Good Men," he dedicated it to the recently deceased J.T. Walsh.

Paul Newman, a supporting-actor nominee for "Road to Perdition." The 78-year-old actor is one of Hollywood's few remaining ties to its Golden Age. He threatened to retire last year, later saying his statement was a joke. But the comment serves as a powerful reminder that the film industry might not have many more chances to honor the man who defines the term "movie idol."

"Chicago," a best-picture nominee. The nostalgia angle comes into play on two fronts: As a genre, the musical is considered a throwback to the '60s. Plus, the film offers a chance to remember Bob Fosse, whose choreography graced a long list of classic musicals from "White Christmas" and "Damn Yankees" to "Cabaret" -- the last musical to win best picture -- and "All That Jazz."

Conrad Hall, a cinematography nominee for "Road to Perdition." Hall, who died just as Oscar ballots were going into the mail in January, saw Hollywood history through his viewfinder. Beloved by directors and actors alike because of his boundless enthusiasm, Hall, 76, did some of his best work after he turned 70, including winning an Academy Award for "American Beauty."

Peter O'Toole, 70, will receive a lifetime achievement award tonight. O'Toole, however, wasn't interested in playing the sentimentality game. Initially, he declined the award and said he'd boycott the ceremony if the academy went ahead with its plans.

A seven-time Oscar nominee who's never won, he said that if Newman and Hall could still be competitors, he didn't have to settle for an honorary award. But Cates eventually convinced him, promising a nice, reflective tribute.

Chances are it won't be the only one.


The Oscars

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, KSTP, Ch. 5, with host Steve Martin.

Pre-show coverage: 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday on cable's E! and 7-7:30 p.m. on Ch. 5.

Oscar party: The Twin Cities' annual Hollywood 2003 fundraiser, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Historic State Theatre, 805 Hennepin Av. S., Minneapolis. $30-$75. 612-373-2407.


Jeff Strickler is at jstrickler@startribune.com.

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