"Munich" and "Paradise Now," two films subjected to considerable controversy in the American Jewish community and Israel, came up empty-handed at Sunday evening's Academy Awards ceremonies.
Not at all controversial was the selection of Rachel Weisz as best supporting actress in "The Constant Gardner," in which she plays a passionate activist fighting an international pharmaceutical company.
Weisz was born in London, after her father and mother came to England as Jewish refugees in the 1930s from Hungary and Austria, respectively. She is seven months pregnant, but in a backstage interview, declined a suggestion that she and her fiancee, director Darren Aronofsky, name the baby Oscar.
Host Jon Stewart left no doubt about his ethnic heritage in his opening monologue. After pointing to Steven Spielberg sitting in the audience, Stewart mentioned the director's films, "Schindler's List" and "Munich" and then cracked, "I speak for all Jews when I say I can't wait for what happens to us next."
"Munich," Spielberg's take on the Israeli hunt for the Palestinian killers of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, struck out on all of its five nominations, including best picture and best director.
The film has been criticized, particularly in Israel, for allegedly drawing a "moral equivalence" between the terrorists and the pursuing Mossad agents, as well as for historical inaccuracy.
"Paradise Now," the Palestinian entry in the foreign language film category, has drawn even more heat from a small but vocal Jewish community segment, which charged that the film "humanized" two suicide bombers on a mission to blow up a Tel Aviv bus.
The Israel Project organization denounced "Paradise Now" at a March 3 press conference and presented a petition with 36,000 signatures protesting the nomination to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Critics of the film had the added satisfaction of hearing "Paradise Now" introduced as coming from "The Palestinian Territories," rather than "Palestine," as initially listed. The change, which had been sought by Jewish and Israeli spokespersons, came as somewhat of a surprise. Two years ago, the film, "Divine Intervention," was listed by the academy as originating in "Palestine," despite the fact that it was not a recognized country.
At the time, the Academy explained that its definitions were "as inclusive as possible," citing other accepted entries from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Puerto Rico.
"Paradise Now" had been considered the front-runner, but it, as well as the German entry, "Sophie Scholl," about an anti-Hitler resistance fighter, lost out to the South African entry, "Tsotsi."
Violinist Itzhak Perlman made a surprise appearance, performing music from five movies nominated for their original scores. Pitting Perlman against the Three 6 Mafia rap group, which won for best original song, Stewart suggested that they engage in a "dreidel-off."
Stewart, apparently trying to beat previous Oscar host Billy Crystal in the Jewish gag category, also took note of presenter Ben Stiller, who appeared onstage in a green head-to-toe unitard to present the award for visual effects.
"It's nice to have proof he's really Jewish," Stewart observed.
In the documentary short-subject category, the Oscar went to "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin," celebrating the radio dramas of the 95-year-old Jewish writer, noted for his inspiring radio dramas.