- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

The curtain went up on the 81st annual Academy Awards Sunday night with Penelope Cruz winning the nomination for best supporting actress in her role in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.”

“This ceremony was a moment of unity for the world,” she said, clutching the Oscar. “We should do everything we can to protect its survival.”

A production number by host Hugh Jackman, voted People magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year late last year, opened the Academy Award performance in the Kodak Theater.

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Dustin Lance Black won best original screenplay for “Milk.”

“La Maison de Petits Cubes” won best animated short film.

Simon Beaufoy won best adapted screenplay for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” won for best art direction.

Earlier, the red carpet served as the prelude to the opening of the Oscars, with hots Tim Gunn and Robin Roberts, mikes in hand, intercepting the stars as they walked into the theater, fans shouting and held back behind red barriers.

“It’s been a great couple of years,” said Josh Brolin, who has been nominated for best supporting actor in “Milk.”

Taraji P. Henson, nominated for best supporting actress in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” laughing and smiling, said she’s had “dresses thrown at me” when it came to deciding what to wear.

Best actress nominee Anne Hathaway, for “Rachel Getting Married,” said of the red carpet, “This is not someplace I thoiught I would be.”

Penelope Cruz, an early winner as best supporting actress for “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” said she was “very excited” and wore a gown that she said is 60 years old, one that “I found years ago. I’m very excited to have many members of my family here.”

Richard Jenkins said he “was both surprised and excited” to be nominated for best actor in “The Visitor.”

Marisa Tomei, nominated as best supporting actress for “The Wrestler,” wore a Versace gown that she said “only arrived this morning.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences already has announced some awards — and already has produced controversy.

Jerry Lewis, the longtime spokesman and fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on Sunday evening for his tireless efforts on behalf of the group. During his 43 years as host of the group’s Labor Day telethon, the organization has taken in almost $2 billion.

“The Telethon is the most effective philanthropic event of its kind,” said MDA President and CEO Gerald C. Weinberg in a statement. “So it’s appropriate that the man who makes it all possible has been singled out for his matchless compassion.”

Still, some weren’t thrilled with the academy’s selection.

Mr. Lewis got into hot water during the 2007 telethon when he made a joke involving the term “illiterate faggot.” Though he apologized profusely, he tripped up again in 2008 when he called cricket a “fag game.”

Hollywood insider Nikki Finke took to her popular blog “Deadline Hollywood Daily” to rail against Mr. Lewis’ receiving the award.

“Despite Lewis’ laudatory 42 years of raising money for MDA,” she wrote, “his publicly demonstrated debasement of gays doesn’t make him a humanitarian in my eyes.”

Another, somewhat surprising group has arisen to protest Mr. Lewis’ win as well: Some with muscular dystrophy think that his treatment of those with the disease is patronizing.

Jerry Lewis and the telethon actively promote pity as a fundraising strategy,” noted the authors of a petition calling for rescinding the award. “Disabled people want respect and rights, not pity and charity.”

Not all of the awards announced beforehand were subject to such controversy.

The scientific and technical awards, given out in a ceremony presided over by actress Jessica Biel on Feb. 7, rewarded those whose innovations have helped improve the art of filmmaking.

“It’s where science meets art,” said Sid Ganis, president of the academy. Ed Catmullone, one of the co-founders of Pixar and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, took the evening’s biggest prize, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his lifetime of work in the field of computer animation.

“I do feel that this industry was born out of the technical revolution, when they invented film,” Mr. Catmull said during the ceremony. Mark Kimball won the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation for work in such films as “Tron,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” He also won a Scientific Engineering Award in 1991 for his contribution to the development of the Computer Animation Production System made by Walt Disney Co.

Steve Hylen won a technical achievement award for developing the Hylen Lens System, a device that shows a variety of optical effects in real time on the set.

In the scientific and engineering awards, Erwin Melzner, Volker Schumacher, and Timo Muller shared an award for the Arrimax 18/12 lighting fixture, a machine that puts out up to 18,000 watts of light and stays cool to the touch. Jacques Delacoux and Alexandre Leuchter were rewarded for the design of superior video monitors that allow directors to see what they’re filming on a screen instead of through the viewfinder.

Bruno Coumert, Jacques Debize, Dominique Chervin and Christophe Reboulet took home an award for a pair of zoom lenses designed to ease the use of hand-held cameras and make them more versatile.

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