The stage is set for the most wide-open Oscar race for best picture in years.
That scenario unfolded at Saturday night's glittering Golden Globe Awards ceremonies during which Walt Disney's animated musical "Beauty and the Beast" captured three prizes, including best musical or comedy picture of 1991, and TriStar Pictures' "Bugsy," starring Warren Beatty, won in the best dramatic picture category.
But the Globe for "Bugsy" was the only one out of eight nominations it received from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the sponsor of the annual Golden Globe film and TV awards show. Instead of cleaning up, "Bugsy" fell prey to a lone assassin: "JFK." That three-hour movie, suggesting a conspiracy to murder President John F. Kennedy, won the best director award for Oliver Stone--and thus elevated its chances in the Oscar derby.
In the press room backstage, the overtone of rivalry among upcoming Oscar contenders was almost amusing, as stars and representatives waited their turn before cameras and reporters. At one point, the winners for "Beauty and the Beast" were being interviewed as Nick Nolte (best actor in "The Prince of Tides") and Jodie Foster (best actress in "The Silence of the Lambs") stood by. Press questions for them eventually caused a backup of the other potential competitors, the winners for "Bugsy" and "JFK."
"Bugsy" star Warren Beatty confirmed to interviewers that he and his "Bugsy" co-star, Annette Bening, are parents of a baby girl, named Kathlyn Bening Beatty after his mother.
Bening joined Beatty, director Barry Levinson, co-producer Mark Johnson, TriStar Pictures Chairman Mike Medavoy and screenwriter James Toback in answering questions about the movie, based on the life of mobster Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel. But, mostly, the interest was on the new arrival.
The 8-pound, 11-ounce girl was delivered by Cesarean section this month. Beatty, 54, and Bening, 33, became romantically involved during filming of "Bugsy."
As the questions for the "Bugsy" crew ran on, Stone and "JFK" star Kevin Costner waited patiently. Costner at one point joked to those around him: "And they say our movie runs long."
What the Golden Globe prizes really mean and why stars by the hundreds show up each year is debatable. On the television side, which this year was dominated by CBS shows, the awards carry a publicity value. But when it comes to movies, the 86 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. who run the affair have managed to make it a must-show night for any potential Oscar contender.
Year after year, they have an uncanny ability to predict the top prize winners of the Oscars, which are not handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences until months later.
It doesn't hurt, either, that the Globe ceremonies often coincide with the Academy's mailing of more than 4,000 ballots for Oscar nominations--as it did this weekend. The nominations will be announced on Feb. 19 and the winners named on March 30.
Hollywood being Hollywood, and business being business, there's also the underlying knowledge that these representatives of the foreign press can be important conduits to the international market. These days that market is the industry's primary area of audience growth.
But perhaps even more compelling, the Golden Globe ceremonies, televised live by TBS and produced by Dick Clark Productions, feel like a throwback to Hollywood's earlier days, when Oscars were handed out over dinner and the party-goers could mingle. It's a far cry from the huge, high-security, international media event that now marks the Academy Awards.
Thus it was not out of the question for hundreds of fans to crowd the Beverly Hilton's lobby to get a close look at the year's one awards ceremony where stars of feature films and television mix. Some onlookers were even able to get a handshake or hug from the parade of arriving stars such as Dustin Hoffman or Burt Reynolds.
Inside the International Ballroom, the lighthearted party atmosphere made it possible for Bette Midler to visit with Robin Williams at the next table, and then turn around to hug Hoffman, seated immediately behind. Or for Tom Cruise to chat with his "Rain Man" director, Levinson, or Barbra Streisand to whisper with table-mate Nick Nolte, her co-star in "The Prince of Tides."
Film industry executives such as Disney's Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Sony's Peter Guber and TriStar's Medavoy made the rounds.
Others dropped by Robert Mitchum's table to visit with the veteran actor of 113 movies, who was honored with the association's Cecil B. DeMille Award, and with actress Jane Russell, seated near him.
But the evening wasn't without its more resonant moments. A majority of the guests wore red ribbons, which, as actress Raquel Welch explained to the TV audience, denoted concern for the AIDS epidemic.
Beau Bridges, the winner for best actor in a TV movie, made a pitch for national gun control, based on his work in HBO's "Without Warning: The James Brady Story," the story of President Ronald Reagan's press spokesman who was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt.
The show's most emotional moment came when "Beauty and the Beast" composer Alan Menken paid tribute to his longtime writing partner, the lyricist Howard Ashman, who died from AIDS complications last year. Thanking the Disney organization for "keeping the Hollywood musical alive," Menken said Ashman "showed how it was done. . . . All who worked with Howard know he is missed." Their music and songs for "Beauty" picked up Globes for best score and the movie's title song.
Ashman's sister, Sarah Gillespie of New York City, joined Menken to tell the story of how, as a boy, her brother's first Hollywood memories were of his grandmother taking him to see a Walt Disney animated movie. "He fell in love with the movies and the music and the theater."
She added: "He died too young . . . but I'd like to think that, someday, some little child will fall in love with the music, and with the movies and with the theater, because his grandmother took him to see 'Beauty and the Beast.' "
Director Stone, whose dramatically-praised film "JFK" has been the source of much controversy, told the audience he hopes his movie will prompt the government to open its secret files on the 1963 Kennedy assassination.
"At a time when so many media organizations are bashing this film, I really want to thank this one for being so generous," Stone said.
"And in spite of, really, the excellent work done by my colleagues and my fellow directors, I think what you're really recognizing here tonight is that a terrible lie was sold to us 28 years ago. And maybe this film can be the first step in maybe trying to right it again."
Backstage, Stone was even more succinct when asked by a reporter if he'd rather have the Kennedy case reopened than win an Oscar. "Oh, yes," he replied.
In other film categories, Midler, who entertained the troops in "For the Boys," was named best actress in a motion picture or comedy. "For the Boys," she said in an understatement, was a movie that "not a lot of people saw. . . . It makes me very, very happy that the Hollywood Foreign Press recognized our work when the American public dismissed us."
Williams was honored as best actor in a musical or comedy for his portrayal of a homeless man in "The Fisher King."
Best foreign language film was "Europa, Europa," a film from Germany that is ineligible for the Oscar competition as best movie from abroad, because German film officials did not choose to make it, or any other film, an official entry. The film tells the story of a Jewish boy who impersonates a Hitler youth in order to survive.
In the wake of the German decision, Orion Classics, the film's American distributor, has said it will seek Oscar recognition in other categories.
Best supporting actress in a film went to Mercedes Ruehl for "The Fisher King" and best supporting actor went to Jack Palance for his tough cowpoke role in "City Slickers."
Among the TV winners, CBS shows won a total of seven awards. That included best miniseries or made-for-TV movie, the Republic Pictures' production of "One Against the Wind" for Hallmark Hall of Fame, which starred Judy Davis. She played an aristocratic British woman living in occupied France, who helps British soldiers trapped in the country escape.
CBS' new sentimental series "Brooklyn Bridge" was named best musical or comedy series over such frequently nominated shows as "Cheers" and "The Golden Girls."
"Northern Exposure," another CBS series, was best television drama series, edging out longtime winner "L.A. Law."
Here is a complete list of winners:
* Drama: "Bugsy."
* Musical or comedy: "Beauty and the Beast."
* Actress, drama: Jodie Foster, "The Silence of the Lambs."
* Actor, drama: Nick Nolte, "The Prince of Tides."
* Actress, musical or comedy: Bette Midler, "For the Boys."
* Actor, musical or comedy: Robin Williams, "The Fisher King."
* Supporting actress: Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King."
* Supporting actor: Jack Palance, "City Slickers."
* Director: Oliver Stone, "JFK."
* Screenplay: Callie Khouri, "Thelma & Louise."
* Foreign-language film: "Europa, Europa" (Germany).
* Original score: Alan Menken, "Beauty and the Beast."
* Original song: "Beauty and the Beast" from "Beauty and the Beast," music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman.
* Cecil B. De Mille Award: Robert Mitchum.
* Drama series: "Northern Exposure."
* Actress, drama series: Angela Lansbury, "Murder, She Wrote."
* Actor, drama series: Scott Bakula, "Quantum Leap."
* Musical or comedy series: "Brooklyn Bridge."
* Actress, musical or comedy series: Candice Bergen, "Murphy Brown."
* Actor, musical or comedy series: Burt Reynolds, "Evening Shade."
* Miniseries or TV movie: "One Against the Wind," CBS.
* Actress, miniseries or TV movie: Judy Davis, "One Against the Wind."
* Actor, miniseries or TV movie: Beau Bridges, "Without Warning: The James Brady Story."
* Supporting actress, series, miniseries or TV movie: Amanda Donohoe, "L.A. Law."
* Supporting actor, series, miniseries or TV movie: Louis Gossett Jr., "The Josephine Baker Story."