Coens' 'Country' wins best picture

Jon Stewart opened the ceremonies with a Jewish gag, noting that the movie Atonement caught "the raw passion and sexuality of Yom Kippur."

Coen Bros 88 224 (photo credit: )
Coen Bros 88 224
(photo credit: )
Europeans monopolize top acting awards and Jewish creative talent prove their worth at Sunday's Academy Awards Though Israel's foreign language film entry failed to take home a statuette Sunday night, several Jewish winners took home top awards at the 80th Academy Awards. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen were the big winners of the evening, completing their journey from the fringes to Hollywood's mainstream by winning three Academy Awards for their crime saga, No Country for Old Men. Accepting the directing honor, Joel Coen noted that he and his brother have been making films since childhood, including one at the Minneapolis airport called Henry Kissinger: Man on the Go. "What we do now doesn't feel that much different from what we were doing then," Joel Coen said. "We're very thankful to all of you out there for continuing to let us play in our corner of the sandbox." British actor Daniel Day-Lewis also won for his portrayal of a greedy oil prospector in There Will Be Blood. Day-Lewis is the son of Jewish actress Jill Balcon and in his acceptance speech he thanked his grandfather, British film pioneer Sir Michael Balcon, as well as his wife Rebecca, the daughter of the late Jewish playwright Arthur Miller. The evening's host, Jon Stewart, characteristically opened the ceremonies with a Jewish gag, noting that the Oscar contending movie Atonement caught "the raw passion and sexuality of Yom Kippur." When the remark was greeted with applause, Stewart quipped, "Now we know where the Jews are in the audience." All four top acting prizes went to Europeans. Frenchwoman Marion Cotillard was a surprise winner for best actress, riding the spirit of Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose to Oscar triumph over Julie Christie, who had been expected to win for Away From Her. Spaniard Javier Bardem won best-supporting actor for his role in No Country for Old Men, and actress Tilda Swinton joined fellow Brit Day-Lewis with an award for her supporting-actress role in Michael Clayton. The only other time in the Oscars' 80-year history that all four acting winners were foreign born was 1964, when the recipients were Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov and Lila Kedrova. The Coens missed out on a chance to make Oscar history - four wins for a single film - when they lost the editing prize, for which they were nominated under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. Past winners for their screenplay to 1996's Fargo, the Coens joined an elite list of filmmakers to win three Oscars in a single night, including Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Part II), James Cameron (Titanic) and Billy Wilder (The Apartment). With $64 million domestically, No Country is the biggest box-office hit for the Coens, whose tales often are an acquired taste appealing to narrow crowds. Their films include the modest hits O Brother, Where Art Thou? and such lesser-known yarns as The Hudsucker Proxy and The Man Who Wasn't There. Cotillard, the first winner ever for a French-language performance, tearfully thanked her director, Olivier Dahan. "Maestro Olivier, you rocked my life. You have truly rocked my life," said Cotillard, a French beauty who is a dynamo as Piaf, playing the warbling chanteuse through three decades, from raw late teens as a singer rising from the gutter through international stardom and her final days in her frail 40s. "Thank you, life; thank you, love. And it is true there (are) some angels in this city." A relatively fresh face in Hollywood, Cotillard has US credits that include Big Fish, A Good Year and the upcoming Public Enemies, featuring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. APART FROM going to foreigners, the acting prizes also seemed reserved for heavy roles. Along with Day-Lewis' greedy oilman, Bardem played an unshakable executioner in No Country and Swinton played a malevolent attorney in Michael Clayton. Bardem, referring to the sinister variation of a page-boy bob his character sported, said: "Thank you to the Coens for being crazy enough to think I could do that and for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history over my head." Host Jon Stewart joked that Bardem's haircut in the film combined "Hannibal Lecter's murderousness with Dorothy Hamill's wedge-cut." Mickey Mouse gained a rival as Hollywood's favorite rodent as the rat tale Ratatouille was named best animated film, the second Oscar win in the category for director Brad Bird. Bird thanked his junior-high guidance counselor, who expressed repeated skepticism over his desire to become a filmmaker. The ceremony's annual montage of photos and film clips of stars, filmmakers and others in cinema who died in the past year ended with a scene from Brokeback Mountain featuring Heath Ledger, who died of a prescription drug overdose last month. Michael Moore, who assailed President Bush over the Iraq War in his Oscar speech for documentary winner Bowling for Columbine five years ago, missed out on a chance to take the podium again. His health-care study Sicko lost the documentary prize to Taxi to the Dark Side, a war-on-terror chronicle that centers on an innocent Afghan cab driver killed while in detention. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.