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Jewish Flavor at Oscar Awards, Often Strong, is Subtler This Year

March 1, 2005
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Jewish talent didn’t make the headlines at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards, but there was some consolation in the less-glamorous categories. Tom Rosenberg briefly shared the spotlight with Clint Eastwood as one of the three producers of best picture “Million Dollar Baby,” which also collected Oscars in the best director, actress and supporting actor categories.

Charlie Kaufman, the favorite, won the best original screenplay Oscar for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” After what he calls a “normal Jewish upbringing” on Long Island, Kaufman has become one of the hottest Hollywood writers, turning out scripts that tend to blur the line between fantasy and reality.

In the documentary feature category, often dominated by Holocaust-themed entries, the winner was “Born Into Brothels,” a story about the children of Calcutta prostitutes. Sharing the award were director Zana Briski, whose Iraqi Jewish mother now lives in Israel, according to, and her Jewish co-producer, Ross Kauffman.

Jorge Drexler, whose parents immigrated to Uruguay from Europe, earned the best original song Oscar for “Al Otro Lado Del R#237;o” from “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Drexler, who reportedly lived in Israel for a time, now lives in Spain.

African-American comedian Chris Rock, the evening’s host, turned down his normally edgy nightclub routine for the occasion. But he pricked up some ears in a bit about “The Passion of the Christ” when he observed that “A lot of Jewish people were offended” by the film. “They were mad about it.”

As a follow-up, Rock commented, “I can relate to that. I had to deal with a movie called ‘Soul Plane,’ ” — a lame comedy about a one-plane airline run by blacks that was panned for its black stereotypes.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” was nominated for its cinematography, makeup and original score, but failed to win a single Oscar.

Three Jewish veterans of the movie industry were honored by appreciative audiences.

Sidney Lumet, the director of such memorable films as “Twelve Angry Men,” “Network” and the Jewish-themed “The Pawnbroker” and “Bye Bye Braverman,” accepted a lifetime achievement award.

The son of Yiddish actors Baruch Lumet and Eugenia Wermus, Lumet, 80, made his stage debut as a five-year-old at New York’s Yiddish Art Theatre.

Veteran film and television executive Roger Mayer received the Jean Hershholt Humanitarian Award for his work on behalf of film preservation and the motion picture retirement home.

British film veteran David Samuelson appeared via video to accept a technical award for his invention, a revolutionary camera-mounting device.

Jewish hopes for an acting award rode on the best supporting actress category. Among the five finalists were Natalie Portman for “Closer” and Sophie Okonedo for “Hotel Rwanda.”

Portman, born in Jerusalem and equally fluent in English and Hebrew, has just completed a semester at the Hebrew University and is now before the cameras in the Israeli film “Free Zone” by Amos Gitai.

Okonedo, a well-known British actress, is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Nigerian father.

Both women were trumped by Cate Blanchett, who portrayed Katherine Hepburn in “The Aviator.”

Among the last to appear on the stage at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, showing up in the final moments of the broadcast, which ran slightly over three hours, were Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.

The two stars, who play a free-spirited Jewish couple in the comedy “Meet the Fockers,” introduced the best picture nominees and winner in an oddly absent-minded and ditzy shtick.

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