March 3, 2005
On Stage, Off Screen
Jewish talent didn't make the headlines at Sunday evening's Academy Awards, but found some consolation in the less glamorous categories. Tom Rosenberg briefly shared the spotlight with Clint Eastwood as one of the three producers of best picture "Million Dollar Baby," which also collected Oscars in the best director, actress and supporting actor categories.
Charlie Kaufman, the favorite, won the best original screenplay Oscar for his "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." After a "normal Jewish upbringing" on Long Island, Kaufman has become one of the hottest Hollywood writers for scripts that tend to blur the line between fantasy and reality.
In the documentary feature category, often dominated by Holocaust-themed entries in the past, the winner was "Born Into Brothels," about the children of Calcutta prostitutes. Sharing the award were director Zana Briski, whose Iraqi Jewish mother now lives in Israel, reports Jewhoo.com, and her Jewish co-producer Ross Kauffman.
African American comedian Chris Rock, the evening's host, turned down his normally edgy nightclub routine for the occasion, but pricked up some ears in a bit about "The Passion of the Christ," when he observed that "A lot of Jewish people were offended [by the film], they were mad about it."
But as a follow-up, Rock commented, "I can relate to that. I had to deal with a movie called 'Soul Plane'" -- a lame comedy about a one-plane airline run by blacks and panned for its black stereotypes.
Mel Gibson's "The Passion," hardly a Hollywood favorite, was nominated for its cinematography, makeup and original score, but failed to win a single Oscar.
Sidney Lumet, director of such memorable films as "Twelve Angry Men," "Network" and the Jewish-themed "The Pawnbroker" and "Bye Bye Braverman" accepted a lifetime achievement award. The son of Yiddish actors Baruch Lumet and Eugenia Wermus, Lumet, 80, made his stage debut as a 5-year-old at New York's Yiddish Art Theatre.
Jewish hopes for an acting award rode on the best supporting actress category. Among the five finalists were Natalie Portman for "Closer" and Sophie Okonedo for "Hotel Rwanda."
Portman, born in Jerusalem and equally fluent in English and Hebrew, has just completed a semester at the Hebrew University and is now before the cameras in the Israeli film "Free Zone" by Amos Gitai. (This week she was involved in a brouhaha in Israel when she kissed costar Aki Avni in front of the Western Wall. She later apologized.)
Okonedo, a well-known British actress, is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Nigerian father.
Cate Blanchett, who portrayed Katherine Hepburn in "The Aviator," trumped both women.