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Oscar Contest Winner Claims Forrest’s Dumb Luck

Oscar didn’t do any favors for those 1,108 readers who entered this year’s Spokesman-Review Oscar contest.

But Tom Giovanelli isn’t complaining.

Despite having seen only two of the five Best Picture nominees, Giovanelli was the grand-prize winner courtesy of his 17 correct picks. The Coeur d’Alene man won over Spokane resident Stormy Mauer by correctly predicting that “Forrest Gump” would win the most Oscars with six.

Six other entrants tied at 16, but only four received the third-place prize because of the tie-breaker.

Giovanelli, 33, who typically sees more movies on video than he does in the theaters, is as surprised as anyone by his victory.

“I honestly didn’t think I could win it,” he said. “I tried it a couple of years ago, and you only had a hundred or so people entered. I thought, ‘Well, this year with a thousand you’re going to have to get every one to win.”’

Not hardly. Upset wins by obscure nominees was the night’s big theme. Like most contest entrants, Giovanelli missed the Best Foreign Language winner, Russia’s “Burnt By the Sun” (which attracted only 198 guesses).

“That one surprised me,” he said. “Because out of all five, that was the only one that I hadn’t heard of.”

He struck gold in the categories that trip up even the most knowledgeable of Oscar prognosticators: documentary, live and animated shorts.

“A lot of it was just guessing,” Giovanelli said. “I couldn’t believe it when I started seeing that a bunch of them were actually winning.”

The four third-place winners were Spokane residents Kelly Tormey and Joan Wilson, Steven Cevera of Newman Lake and Darell Jones of Walla Walla.

Giovanelli won $100 for his efforts, Maurer $50 and the others $25 apiece.

All six managed to make The Spokesman-Review’s resident reviewer look like a film-going rookie, thank you very much. After boasting 18 correct picks in last year’s contest, I guessed right in only 11 of the 23 categories this year. I was, however, a perfect six-for-six for the major awards.

Interestingly enough, the reader consensus, too, was fairly pathetic: 11 of 23, with such notable misses as Best Actress (the consensus was Jody Foster for “Nell” instead of eventual winner Jessica Lange for “Blue Sky”) and Best Supporting Actress (Uma Thurman for “Pulp Fiction” instead of winner Diane Wiest for “Bullets Over Broadway”).

But that just goes to show you what kind of a year it was.

As Giovanelli said in explanation of his win, “Well, in the year of ‘Forrest Gump,’ it can only be dumb luck, I guess.”

Documentary dreams

One of the harder-to-accept moments of Monday’s Oscar telecast was Frieda Lee Mock’s winning of the Best Documentary feature for her film “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.”

I was fortunate to see Mock’s film a few weeks ago at a festival of Asian films in San Francisco. And, yes, it does have its moments.

Lin, if you don’t recall, is the architect-artist who in 1981 at the tender age of 21 won a national contest to design the Washingtonbased Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Mature far beyond her years, Lin explained that her simple design - the watercolor visualization of which amounted to a mere slash of black on a green field - was her attempt “to create a journey into the earth that would make you experience death, be an observer. I knew it wasn’t something that would say, ‘It’s all right, it’s all over.’ Because it’s not.”

Mock follows the ensuing firestorm of protest by various groups, including veterans aligned with H. Ross Perot (who branded the design “a tombstone”). Throughout the painful process, Lin maintains a dignity that is profoundly admirable - even when she is being insulted, to her face, in public forums.

But once the film gets away from the Vietnam memorial, it begins to lose focus. We learn some about Lin’s personal life - that she grew up in Ohio, the daughter of college professors, attended Yale, has a brother, etc. - and we see some of her later architectural works - a civil rights memorial, an African-American museum, a private home, etc.

But it’s a curiously incomplete concoction, filled with as much political statement about the issues Lin’s work is attempting to memorialize as information about Lin herself. The result is a heartfelt but confusing viewing experience, one from which the main figure fails to emerge in clear focus.

So I’ll type this one more time before finally letting the issue go, I hope, for good: To say that this film is superior to “Hoop Dreams” is not only wrong but wrong-headed.

A Hanks thanks

The night wasn’t hours old before the first cynical remarks about Best Actor Tom Hanks’ emotional acceptance speech appeared on the wire.

In 1994, Hanks - Best Actor winner for the AIDS-themed film “Philadelphia” - gave a moving speech about tolerance. He offered thanks to his gay high-school drama teacher for helping him find the path that would lead to Oscar.

This time his most poignant remarks were directed at his wife, actress Rita Wilson, and the love he feels for her. And, yes, it might have been his version of a Sally Fields-type “You like me, you really like me” speech.

But no one in Hollywood could have pulled it off with more dignity.

As for the host

David Letterman’s first appearance as the Oscar emcee received mixed reviews. Some critics, such as Jack Matthews of the Los Angeles Times, complained that the late-night talk-show host’s performance was too much Letterman, too little movies.

Others would say that was a definite improvement over many past Oscar telecasts.

The highs included Letterman’s “impression” of a golf-club-swinging Jack Nicholson (which reportedly miffed the multiple Oscar-winning actor), the collection of clips purporting to be an audition tape for the cameo role Letterman filled in “Cabin Boy” (“You wanna buy a monkey?”) and his crack about the Foreign Language Film nominee “Eat Drink Man Woman” (that it was the pick-up line that Arnold Schwarzenegger used on Maria Shriver).

The lows? “Oprah? Uma! Oprah? Uma! Oprah? Uma!”

Poor Martin

Considering how much wasted time there was to the 3 1/2-hour-plus Oscar telecast, would it have hurt the executives in charge of the show to let Best Supporting Actor winner Martin Landau (“Ed Wood”) ramble on a bit more?

It was the crowning moment of his career, and it came courtesy of a fine performance (unlike some others we could mention). So what’s the big deal? Cut one of those stupid musical numbers and let the man have his say.

Fashion sense

Worst gown? Diane Wiest. “It made her like a beached whale,” said one of my woman colleagues. Best gown? Jodie Foster, said that same self-appointed pop culture critic.

Worst hair? Rene Russo, Keanu Reeves (in his “Hamlet” look). Best hair? Holly Hunter, John Travolta.

The end of trend

Worst trend? Voice-over introductions (saying the camera has a “Love Affair” with Annette Bening, for example, is a bit much). Best trend? The spinning dog.

Worst presenters? Sylvester Stallone, Keanu Reeves, Paul Newman (failing to name four nominees), Sharon Stone, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro (who apparently forgot his glasses) and Steven Seagal (what was he doing here?). Best presenters? Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon (for graciously being the butt of Letterman’s joke about their political activism).

Finally, here are a few nominations of presenters who could have given the evening a much-needed lift: Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Rosie O’Donnell, Janeane Garofalo, Chris Farley, Martin Short, Jerry Lewis, Tracey Ullman, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Michael Palin.

Maybe one or two will be in attendance next year.

MEMO: This is a sidebar which appeared with story: Contest winners A record 1,108 ballots were sent in by readers to IN Life’s Oscar contest. Here are the winners:

1st place Thomas Giovanelli, Coeur d’Alene

Second place Stormy Mauer, Spokane

Third place (tie) Steven Cevera, Newman Lake Kelly Tormey, Spokane Joan Wilson, Spokane Darrell Jones, Walla Walla

NOTE: The photo that ran with this story was of Tom Hanks holding his award. The caption was incorrect.

This is a sidebar which appeared with story: Contest winners A record 1,108 ballots were sent in by readers to IN Life’s Oscar contest. Here are the winners:

1st place Thomas Giovanelli, Coeur d’Alene

Second place Stormy Mauer, Spokane

Third place (tie) Steven Cevera, Newman Lake Kelly Tormey, Spokane Joan Wilson, Spokane Darrell Jones, Walla Walla

NOTE: The photo that ran with this story was of Tom Hanks holding his award. The caption was incorrect.

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