Monday night's 67th annual Academy Awards may have been one of the most predictable horse races in movie history, but it was nonetheless an emotionally charged evening that saw Robert Zemeckis' moralistic parable, "Forrest Gump," dominate Hollywood's biggest derby.
The film, whose quirky story about an optimistic simpleton who makes good has captured the hearts of movie fans worldwide, won six Oscars: for picture, director, actor, adapted screenplay, visual effects and film editing.
Gump's windfall brought a first director win to Zemeckis, who next to Steven Spielberg is the most bankable filmmaker in Hollywood, and the second best actor win in two years for Tom Hanks. Spencer Tracy was the only other actor to achieve that back-to-back distinction, with 1937's "Captains Courageous" and 1938's "Boys Town."
Jessica Lange won the best actress award for her role as the unstable and seductive wife of a military officer in "Blue Sky."
The best supporting actor and actress Oscars went, as expected, to Martin Landau for his role as the drug-addicted "Dracula" star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood," and Dianne Wiest as the over-the-hill Broadway diva in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway."
Zemeckis' win marks the second consecutive year that one of the world's most commercially successful filmmakers veered from his standard mainstream fare to make an unconventional movie that would lead to first-time Oscar acclaim. As his predecessor Spielberg did with his chilling Holocaust drama, "Schindler's List," Zemeckis took a risk on a chancy movie idea.
To everyone's surprise, "Gump" has become the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time, with more than $300 million in U.S. ticket sales and an equal amount overseas.
Zemeckis, who directed such box-office smashes as the "Back to the Future" series, paid tribute to Spielberg, who presented him the award.
"Thank you, Steven, for believing in me, giving me my start and being a great friend," said Zemeckis, who made his directorial bow with 1978's "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and directed "Romancing the Stone" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
Gump is the highest-grossing movie to ever win a best picture Oscar, leading 1939's "Gone With the Wind," 1988's "Rain Man" and 1990's "Dances With Wolves." Such blockbusters as "E.T." and "Star Wars" lost out to less commercial movies in their years.
Like many Hollywood movies, "Gump" had a long, treacherous trek to the big screen, enduring years of rejection from talent and studios from the time producer Wendy Finerman first bought the rights to Winston Groom's 1986 book.
"Nine years ago, I met a very special man," Finerman said, referring to the Gump character. Screenwriter "Eric Roth gave Forrest a soul, Tom Hanks gave Forrest a heart and Robert Zemeckis gave Forrest a vision."
Hanks, whose convincing performance as a slow-witted Alabama boy who overcomes the odds against him, contributed much to the film's success.
A tearful Hanks paid tribute to his fellow nominees and thanked the "army of people" behind "Gump," including Zemeckis, saying, "I feel like I'm standing on magic legs."
The 38-year-old actor won the Oscar last year for his portrayal of an attorney dying of AIDS in "Philadelphia." He was also nominated for 1988's "Big."
Picking up the Oscar for best actress, Lange, who has been nominated five times in that category and won for best supporting actress for 1982's "Tootsie," honored her "Blue Sky" director, who has since died: "This is really a tribute to Tony Richardson. He loved actors."
With her role, Lange said, Richardson gave her the "nudge over the edge, everything I needed." The film was in cold storage for about four years because of distributor Orion Pictures' financial problems.
The first award of the evening was the best supporting win for Wiest, who took home her second Oscar under Allen's direction. She previously won for his 1986 comedy, "Hannah and Her Sisters." It marks the first time any actor or actress has won two Oscars for pictures directed by the same person.
Wiest, who began her career on the stage, said, "This is as surprising and marvelous as it was the first time--only this time I need glasses."
Last year's best supporting actress, Anna Paquin ("The Piano") handed Landau his best supporting actor award, the first ever for the veteran actor. Landau, who swept all the critics awards and the Golden Globes, has been nominated twice before, for 1988's "Tucker: A Man and His Dream" and 1989's "Crimes and Misdemeanors."
The only award for "Pulp Fiction" went to Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary for best original screenplay. The writers didn't qualify for a Writers Guild of America award because the film's production company was not a signatory to the union's contract, though they won the Golden Globe and swept the main critics awards.
"This has been a very strange year," said an exuberant Tarantino, conceding that it was probably the "only award I'm going to win here tonight."
WGA winner Eric Roth won best screenplay adaptation for "Gump," based on Groom's book.
First-time host David Letterman, who succeeded last year's host, Whoopi Goldberg, was his usual sarcastic self, taking swipes at the academy for excluding "Hoop Dreams" from the best documentary category, and at the overhyped studio DreamWorks, the enterprise formed by Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
"This (the Oscar show) is as important as a DreamWorks press conference," said Letterman.
The cinematography award went to John Toll for "Legends of the Fall," a pioneer family epic based on a Jim Harrison novella.
The evening's only tie--a rarity in Oscar history--came in the live-action short category between "Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life" and "Trevor."
Tim Robbins and longtime companion Susan Sarandon surprised an audience expecting a political statement from them when they immediately announced the nominees for the art direction award. The winner was "The Madness of King George," the British film's only award of the evening.
"Gump," whose cutting-edge computer-generated special effects seamlessly had Forrest hobnobbing with Elvis Presley and President John F. Kennedy, among others, won the Oscar for visual effects.
The best feature documentary Oscar went to Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders' "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision," about the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Civil Rights Memorial.
The omission of the highly acclaimed basketball-themed "Hoop Dreams" from this category raised questions anew about the selection process of the documentary committee for shunning popular films.
Best original music score went to Hans Zimmer for "The Lion King," Disney's blockbuster animated movie.
Elton John and Tim Rice took the best original song award for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King." John dedicated the award to his grandmother, who died last week.
Russia's "Burnt by the Sun," a drama set in 1936 about the Stalinist purges that was directed by Nikita Milalkov, won for best foreign film.
Oprah Winfrey presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to composer-producer Quincy Jones, 62, who began his career at 17 as a trumpeter and arranger for Lionel Hampton. Jones, who has had seven Oscar nominations, including three for "The Color Purple" and one for "In Cold Blood" and has scored more than 35 films, said, "It's nice to feel important. I think it's more important to feel nice."
Jack Nicholson presented a special Honorary Award to 82-year-old director Michelangelo Antonioni, who was an 1966 Oscar nominee for directing and writing "Blow Up" and is widely regarded as a master of visual style. Antonioni began his career in the early '40s as an assistant director to Marcel Carne and has been impaired by a stroke in recent years.
In one of the evening's most emotional moments, a frail and quiet Antonioni stood tearfully as his wife said, "Michelangelo always went beyond words to meet silence, the mystery and the power of the silence."
Box-office titan Arnold Schwarzenegger awarded Clint Eastwood, 64, the Irving G. Thalberg award. The enormously popular director and star won multiple Oscars for 1992's "Unforgiven."
Times staff writer Susan King and free-lance writer Judy Brennan also contributed to this article.
* OSCAR COVERAGE: Related Academy Awards pictures and stories. F1-F4.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The Top Oscars
ACTRESS: Jessica Lange "Blue Sky"
BEST PICTURE: "Forrest Gump"
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis "Forrest Gump"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Dianne Wiest "Bullets Over Broadway"
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Martin Landau "Ed Wood"