In the tradition of such Oscar-winning epics as "Dances with Wolves," "The Last Emperor" and "Lawrence of Arabia," the medieval battlefield movie "Braveheart" won best picture at Monday night's 68th annual Academy Awards.
The film won five Oscars, including one for director Mel Gibson. The others were for makeup, sound effects editing and cinematography.
Four films won two Oscars each: "Pocahontas," "Apollo 13," "The Usual Suspects" and "Restoration." The sentimental favorites "Babe" and "The Postman (Il Postino)" each won one Oscar.
"Braveheart," the sweeping historical adventure set in 13th-century Scotland, chronicled legendary freedom fighter William Wallace as he marshaled a motley army of his people to battle the English king.
The three-hour, R-rated film focuses on a period of history that is little known to the average American filmgoer. But it embraces the age-old themes of courage, loyalty, honor and the brutality of war that have been the staples of many Oscar-winning movies.
Susan Sarandon won best actress for her role as a nun who becomes the spiritual advisor of a death row inmate in "Dead Man Walking," a film written and directed by her boyfriend, Tim Robbins. This was her fifth nomination.
Nicolas Cage, who previously had swept all of the major awards for his disturbing portrayal of an alcoholic spiraling toward suicide in "Leaving Las Vegas," was named best actor.
Mira Sorvino, who played a hooker with a heart of gold in the Woody Allen film "Mighty Aphrodite," walked away with the supporting actress Oscar, and Kevin Spacey won the supporting actor award for his role as a deceptive criminal in "The Usual Suspects."
Gibson, 40, became the third major screen star this decade to win the award for best director, following Kevin Costner at the 1991 ceremony and Clint Eastwood at the 1993 awards.
Gibson thanked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, producer Alan Ladd Jr. and screenwriter Randall Wallace for his directing award. "They had no problems giving the reins to a fiscal imbecile," Gibson said. "Every director I've ever worked with, they were my film school. Now that I'm a bona fide director with a golden boy [Oscar statue], well, like most directors, what I really want to do is act."
In what was considered a wide-open year for best picture contenders, "Braveheart" beat out an eclectic slate of films, including the astronaut-in-peril thriller "Apollo 13," the talking-pig fable "Babe," the Jane Austen romantic drama "Sense and Sensibility" and the Italian-language love story "The Postman (Il Postino)."
The awards came amid a political protest by African American activists led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, seeking greater minority representation in Hollywood.
Sarandon, 49, used her acceptance speech to thank Sister Helen Prejean, the nun who inspired the movie "Dead Man Walking," for "trusting us with your life and bringing your light and your love into all of our lives."
She also singled out co-star Sean Penn, a best actor nominee who appeared for the Oscar ceremonies. "A big thanks to Sean Penn," she said, "for your intelligence and your courage and your humor and your hairdo. It was a great dance."
To Robbins, the actress said: "This is yours as much as mine. Thank God we live together."
An excited Cage, clutching an Oscar statuette, exclaimed: "Oh boy--$3.5-million budget, some 16-millimeter stock footage thrown in, and I'm holding one of these!"
It was the first Academy Award for the 32-year-old actor, whose family is no stranger to Oscar gold. His grandfather Carmine won with Nino Rota for the best original dramatic score for "The Godfather Part II" in 1974, and his uncle Francis Ford Coppola won best director for the same film.
Emma Thompson made Academy history by winning for adapted screenplay--the first actress to accomplish that feat.
It was the British actress' first attempt at screenwriting and, coming into the Oscars, she had won virtually all of the major writing awards for the screenplay, including the Golden Globe. Thompson had previously won an Oscar for best actress in 1992 for "Howards End."
Thompson, 36, said she visited Austen's grave "to pay my respects and to tell her about the [movie's box office] grosses. I do hope she knows how big she is in Uruguay," Thompson quipped.
In a poignant moment, actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a riding accident last May, introduced clips from films that, over the years, had put social issues ahead of box office concerns--such as "The Grapes of Wrath," "In the Heat of the Night" and "Philadelphia."
Speaking from his wheelchair, Reeve quipped: "I left New York last September, and I just arrived here this morning." Then he added: "I'm glad I did, because I wouldn't have missed this kind of welcome for the world."
In a demonstration that cast a cloud of controversy over the Oscars, Jackson led a group of almost 100 supporters in a protest outside KABC-TV, Channel 7 in Hollywood, to protest the almost total absence of African American nominees.
Jackson said 25 similar demonstrations were taking place at ABC stations across the country. ABC broadcast the Oscars.
The protests were being billed as a launching pad in a campaign spearheaded by Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition to fight what he called "race exclusion and cultural violence" within the motion picture industry. He said Hollywood continues to resist employing people of color in influential decision-making positions and that it hides behind the terms of "creativity and artistic license" to resist diversity.
"We are raising the consciousness of the decision makers in Hollywood tonight," said Jackson, who said he chose not to hold the protest at the Music Center, the site of the Oscars, out of respect to producer Quincy Jones and host Whoopi Goldberg.
Jackson asked attendees at the ceremony to wear rainbow-colored ribbons to show solidarity with the campaign, but few were in evidence. Among those wearing the ribbons were Jones and Dianne Houston, the sole African American nominee, for live-action short.
Goldberg, hosting the Oscars for the second time in three years, took a swipe at Jackson in her opening remarks, joking about all the ribbons that different advocacy groups had wanted her to wear.
Then, in barbed comments, she added: "Jesse Jackson asked me to wear a ribbon. I got it. But I had something I might want to say to Jesse right here, but he's not watching, so why bother?"
Responding to Goldberg's quip, Jackson said: "I don't want to focus on her private opinion. This is about the studios and the industry and the policies of exclusion. To get involved with a duel would distract us from our mission, which is to open closed doors."
The political overtones of the evening failed to overshadow the awards themselves.
Sorvino appeared nervous and emotional as she accepted her best supporting actress Oscar for her role as the dumb but sweet hooker in the Woody Allen film.
"Oh, my God," exclaimed Sorvino, a 25-year-old graduate of Harvard University. "Thank you very much to Woody Allen for writing this beautiful character and for seeing fit to cast me in this beautiful film."
As she spoke, her father, actor Paul Sorvino, sat in the audience visibly moved.
In accepting the best supporting actor award for his role in "The Usual Suspects," Spacey, 36, said winning an Oscar was something "I dreamed about . . . all my life." Then addressing his mother, who was seated in the audience, he added: "I'm so proud you can be here tonight. Thanks, Mom, for driving me to all those acting classes on Ventura Boulevard when I was 16."
"Pocahontas" composer Alan Menken won his seventh and eighth Oscars, for best song and best comedy or musical score. He was honored with lyricist Stephen Schwartz.
The best original screenplay award went to Christopher McQuarrie for "The Usual Suspects."
The best foreign language film went to writer-director Marleen Gorris' "Antonia's Line," which was submitted by the Netherlands.
Two films dealing with the Holocaust won the documentary categories. "Anne Frank Remembered" received the feature award, and "One Survivor Remembers" won for short subject.
Director Steven Spielberg presented an honorary award to Kirk Douglas for "50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community."
Douglas, a three-time best actor nominee who broke the Hollywood blacklist by hiring screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for "Spartacus" in 1960, gave a heartfelt speech that earned a standing ovation. Douglas, 79, suffered a stroke recently and spoke with some difficulty.
With his wife, Anne, and four sons seated in the audience--Michael, Joel, Peter and Eric--Douglas clasped the Oscar in his hands and pointed toward them.
"I see my four sons," he said haltingly. "They are proud of the old man. I am proud, too. Proud to be a part of Hollywood for 50 years. But this is for my wife, Anne. I love you. And, tonight, I love all of you and I thank all of you for 50 wonderful years."
The Academy Award for best dramatic score went to "The Postman (Il Postino)" even though presenters Sharon Stone and Quincy Jones were not given the envelope. As Stone joked about the audience having "a psychic moment," Jones walked offstage and came back to whisper the winner's name in Stone's ear.
Flanked by supermodels Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell, actor Pierce Brosnan presented the evening's first Oscar, for costume design, to James Acheson for "Restoration," a period drama of King Charles II. A highlight of the presentation came when 16 models walked down a runway displaying the costumes from the five nominees. "Restoration" also won for art direction.
Another animator, John Lasseter, was given a special achievement award for creating the computer-animated Disney film "Toy Story," which ushered in an innovative new era in animation.
The 3-hour, 39-minute telecast was an Oscars record, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Times staff writers Greg Braxton and Susan King contributed to this story.
* ANALYZING OSCAR: Sorry, "Babe"--it's business as usual for the academy. F1
* MORE ON OSCARS: F1-F5
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
ACTRESS: Susan Sarandon "Dead Man Walking"
ACTOR: Nicholas Cage "Leaving Las Vegas"
BEST PICTURE: "Braveheart"
DIRECTOR: Mel Gibson "Braveheart"
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mira Sorvino "Mighty Aphrodite"
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Kevin Spacey "The Usual Suspects"