“Memoirs of a Geisha”
Perhaps Dion Beebe’s toughest job as the cinematographer on “Memoirs of a Geisha” was depicting delicate Japanese lighting and seasons in the harsh Southern California sunlight (most of the movie was filmed in Thousand Oaks rather than in 1930s Tokyo).
So Beebe redid the sky. He hung a massive layer of silk over an entire five-block “town,” even fashioning controls to alter the amount of light let in. The result was a movie almost universally praised by critics for its technical prowess and visual delicacy, so it comes as no surprise that Beebe was rewarded with an Oscar. He was previously nominated for another massive production, “Chicago.”
The level of thought that went into setting the right light and visual tone in “Memoirs of a Geisha” is perhaps rarer these days than it once was; the cost of transferring film to digital stock, then altering characteristics such as color in post-production before transferring it back to film, has become cheaper in recent years.
But as with much modern filmmaking, “Geisha’s” creators employed both the craftiness of old and the new technology. Even after the shoot was finished and Beebe was on to his new film project, “Miami Vice,” he flew back at various intervals to check on the final product, which went through several stages of digital post-production.
Beebe received top honors for “Memoirs of a Geisha” from the American Society of Cinematographers, and this is only the seventh time in the last 20 years that the cinematographers society has agreed with the academy.
“What an amazing feeling,” Beebe said when he received the Oscar. “Terrifying, but amazing.
“Mom, I know you’re up there somewhere,” he said, gazing toward the Kodak Theatre’s ceiling.
“March of the Penguins”
Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau
In the end, it’s still about the penguins.
The heartwarming documentary that swept the nation and became the most popular love story of the year took home the Oscar for best documentary.
Holding large, stuffed penguins onstage and backstage, director Luc Jacquet and producer Yves Darondeau accepted their first Oscars with a whistle from Jacquet, which he said meant “thank you in penguin.”
Asked backstage what it meant that one of the year’s most successful movies did not involve humans, Darondeau said: “It’s not a question of humans or animals. It’s a question of good stories.
“A small documentary can touch the hearts of millions of people. You don’t need special effects or naked women. People are not stupid. They look for good things they are interested in.”
“A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin”
Corinne Marrinan and Eric Simonson
The filmmakers behind “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin,” Corinne Marrinan and Eric Simonson won for their film about a “poet of the airwaves” who inspired Americans in the 1930s and ‘40s with weekly radio dramas that were patriotic without being reactionary or isolationist.
The film’s title comes from Corwin’s most famous broadcast, heard by 60 million Americans on V-E Day. “Brotherhood,” Corwin said on that night, “is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.”
The award provoked Marrinan to thank the academy for sitting her next to George Clooney at the nomination luncheon. Cut to Clooney looking at the camera with a suspicious sidelong glance.
“Hustle & Flow”
Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and
“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was the one nominee that could not be played on television without bleeping, even though rap group Three 6 Mafia edited its lyrics to meet broadcast standards.
Not even an off-key note hit by actress Taraji P. Henson during the song’s finale could dim the excitement of the winners, who strayed far from black tie with loose gear, baseball hats and “grilles” over their teeth. Clearly surprised, they leaped all over the stage and were so jubilant that even host Jon Stewart marveled, calling them the most excited people in the auditorium.
The win marked the second time in two years that a rap-flavored nominee triumphed over more traditional songs. Eminem in 2004 won an Oscar for “Lose Yourself,” from the gritty semiautobiographical drama “8 Mile.”
Joe Letteri, Brian Van’t Hul, Christian Rivers, Richard Taylor
The win brought at least one bright spot for the big-budget epic, which attracted respectable box office numbers but fell far short of the blockbuster that Hollywood had been hopefully anticipating.
In the retelling of “King Kong,” the visual artists had to create not only a realistic New York landscape but also countless creatures that did battle with the giant ape. The ape also had to fall in love convincingly with female lead Naomi Watts’ character.
In addition to thanking “King Kong” director Peter Jackson and other key “Kong” makers, the winners paid tribute to Andy Serkis, the actor who provided motion-captured modeling for the CGI animation that brought Kong to life as well as the expressions that registered anger, laughter, joy and heartbreak when he sacrificed himself for his soul mate.
The native of Argentina picked up his first Academy Award for his haunting, guitar-driven score for the melancholy western romance. He said in his acceptance speech that “Brokeback Mountain” showed that “love is what makes us so similar.”
Once a hippie, Gustavo Santaolalla is credited with inventing and dominating the field of rock en espanol over the last three decades as a bandleader, guitarist, songwriter and producer. He previously supplied the scores of “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.”
The scoring gig for “Brokeback Mountain” began two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival when after a screening of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” film music supervisor Kathy Nelson suggested that Santaolalla meet director Ang Lee. He was told simply that Lee was preparing a new western.
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh struck gold with his film directing debut, “Six Shooter.” A dark comedy about a grieving man (Brendan Gleeson) who encounters a disturbed lad (Ruaidhri Conroy) on a train, it shares some of the macabre traits and menacingly lyrical language of the filmmaker’s plays.
Thanking his cast, McDonagh wished Conroy could have attended. Implying visa problems, he said, “I hope next time they let you into the country.” Other nominees were “Ausreisser (The Runaway)” by Ulrike Grote, “Cashback” by Sean Ellis and Lene Bausager, “The Last Farm” by Runar Runarsson and Thor S. Sigurjonsson and “Our Time Is Up” by Rob Pearlstein and Pia Clemente.
Hughes Winborne, 53, bounded to the stage wearing black tie and an effervescent grin. He’s a long way from his days as a paralegal and house painter. He wished his father a happy birthday, thanked some pals -- “Donna, Bruce, Bob, Leslie and my girlfriend Lulu, who has gotten me through the last three weeks, and I’ve been a bull” -- and then vacated the stage, just barely dueling with the orchestra. Classy.
Director Paul Haggis wrapped shooting on “Crash” in just 35 days, but Winborne spent nine long months splicing together the movie’s many story lines into a cohesive meditation on race relations, loneliness and urban disconnect.
“Crash” was shot on a tight budget ($7.5 million), and Haggis employed multiple cameras to save time, which left Winborne, whose credits include “Sling Blade” and “Stark Raving Mad,” a massive amount of footage to sort through. But his effort netted him an Oscar on his first nomination.
Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn
And the loudest voice belongs to ... King Kong!
Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn took home the Oscar for achievement in sound editing, a job that pieces together all the elements of the soundtrack, including dialogue, effects, background noise and music. The editor syncs up the sounds and the images.
But the ingredients that garner the most attention typically are sound effects.
And this year, nobody could beat King Kong’s “RAHHH”! Not even the adorably shrieking Dakota Fanning in “War of the Worlds.”
Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek
Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek -- the team that won for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” -- returned to the podium for Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.” Boyes won previous Oscars for “Pearl Harbor” and “Titanic.”
Hedges said backstage the hardest part of the job was “finishing.... There were so many different shots coming in at a late stage.” Jackson “gave us the time, finally, to get the soundtrack right.”
“Memoirs of a Geisha”
Colleen Atwood thanked “the people of Japan who gave me so much knowledge and grace” and described work on “Geisha” as “an effort that circled the globe and came together in Los Angeles.”
Based on Arthur Golden’s bestselling novel, “Geisha” revolves around a young girl from a fishing village who becomes one of the top geishas in Japan before World War II. For the romantic drama, Atwood created visually enthralling kimonos worn by the geishas in Japan, snappy, dapper suits worn by the wealthy businessmen who frequented the geisha houses, as well as drab, threadbare clothing for the economically devastated village’s inhabitants.
Atwood is no stranger to the Academy Awards: She’s been nominated six times and won three years ago for “Chicago.” She reunited with “Chicago” director Rob Marshall for “Geisha.”
She began her career as an assistant to production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein on 1981’s “Ragtime.” She received her first solo credit as costume designer on Michael Apted’s 1984 film, “Firstborn,” and has worked with several major directors.
Atwood previously was nominated for “Little Women,” “Beloved,” “Sleepy Hollow” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco
In a night that turned out better than expected for “Crash,” the often bitter ensemble drama about racism set in a tense Los Angeles, the film’s writers took the best original screenplay award.
Paul Haggis, a former TV writer who adapted the screenplay to Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” quoted German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who said that art was not a mirror to hold up to society but a hammer with which to shape it.
And the Canadian-born Haggis saluted “people who take big risks in their daily lives when there aren’t cameras rolling.”
Though the film and its script were controversial, and several major papers, including the Los Angeles Times, ran disapproving reviews, the screenplay’s victory Sunday night was no surprise. Even before the award, Haggis’ career had caught fire, and he’s working on a project with Steven Spielberg and recently adapted “Flags of Our Fathers,” a film about Iwo Jima, for Eastwood.
“Memoirs of a Geisha”
John Myhre and Gretchen Rau
Three years ago, art director John Myhre won in this category for Rob Marshall’s “Chicago.” He picks up his second Academy Award for Marshall’s lavish adaptation of Arthur Golden’s novel set in pre-World War II Japan.
Myhre accepted the award alone. Set decorator Gretchen Rau was not able to attend because of serious health issues, he said backstage. In his speech he said that she “was in our thoughts and prayers.” He began as an art director 19 years ago and worked on such films as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Ali.”
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Howard Berger and Tami Lane
Howard Berger and Tami Lane won their first Oscars for their prosthetics and animatronics, which brought C.S. Lewis’ legendary characters to life.
Berger is no stranger to the creature world -- he said he wanted to go “live with the monsters” after his mother read him “Where the Wild Things Are.” He began his career on 1985’s “Ghoulies.” Lane worked on the makeup for the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies.
Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana
Clad in jeans and black jacket, Texas novelist Larry McMurtry thanked the nation’s booksellers Sunday night and took the opportunity to point out that “ ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was a book before it was a movie.” He was referring to the film’s origins in author Annie Proulx’s short story. And he put in a kind word for “the survival of the culture of the book.”
It was the second nomination but the first Oscar for McMurtry, who is probably best known for the novel “Lonesome Dove.”
“I’ve had four movies nominated,” he said. “The three that were rural lost. The one that was urban won [‘Terms of Endearment’]. Most of the people voting are urban people. It’s not easy getting a rural picture made.”
McMurtry’s writing partner Diana Ossana, who also was a producer of the film, thanked the friend who first gave her the New Yorker issue with Proulx’s story.
“The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation”
John Canemaker and Peggy Stern
Mining a painful childhood, John Canemaker created an intimate animated memoir with “The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation.” With photographs and whimsical drawings, Canemaker constructed dialogue detailing his acrimonious relationship with his late father. Peggy Stern was the producer.
“Wallace & Gromit: The Curse
of the Were-Rabbit”
Steve Box and Nick Park
Helena Bonham Carter was a torn woman Sunday. She provided voices for two of the three nominees.
So there appeared to be a bit of Carter awkwardness when “Wallace” beat “Corpse Bride,” directed by her fiance, Tim Burton. She was sitting in front of the two winners, who kissed her, and beside her partner, whom she smiled at consolingly as Steve Box and Nick Park ran up on stage.
The film’s Oscar brought a happy ending to tragedy suffered in October by Aardman Animations in Bristol, Britain, when fire destroyed the studio’s props, sets and models just hours after the company learned that “Wallace & Gromit” had topped the U.S. box office in its opening weekend. The fire was not expected to affect future productions.
The disaster seemed a distant memory for the two Sunday, who wore huge comic bowties. They put mini versions on their statuettes.
-- Compiled by Steven Barrie-Anthony, Greg Braxton, Kevin Crust, Maria Elena Fernandez, Susan King and Scott Timberg