los angeles | “Munich” and “Paradise Now,” two films that caused considerable controversy in the American Jewish community and Israel, came up empty-handed at this year’s Academy Awards.
Less controversial was the selection of Rachel Weisz as best supporting actress in “The Constant Gardener,” in which she played a passionate activist fighting an international pharmaceutical company.
Weisz was born in London, after her father and mother came to England as Jewish refugees in the 1930s, from Hungary and Austria respectively.
Weisz is in her third trimester of pregnancy, but in a backstage interview declined a suggestion that she and her fiancé, Jewish director Darren Aronofsky, name the baby Oscar.
Host Jon Stewart left no doubt about his ethnic heritage in his opening monologue. After pointing to Steven Spielberg sitting in the audience, Stewart mentioned the director’s films “Schindler’s List” and “Munich,” and then cracked, “I speak for all Jews when I say I can’t wait for what happens to us next.”
“Munich,” Spielberg’s take on the Israeli hunt for the Palestinian killers of its athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games, struck out on all of its five nominations, including best picture and best director.
The film has been criticized, particularly in Israel, for allegedly drawing a moral equivalence between the terrorists and the pursuing Mossad agents, as well as for historical inaccuracy.
“Paradise Now,” an entry in the foreign-language film category, has drawn even more heat from a small but vocal Jewish community segment, which charged that the film “humanized” two suicide bombers on a mission to blow up a Tel Aviv bus.
Last Friday, the Israel Project organization denounced “Paradise Now” at a press conference and presented a petition to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with 36,000 signatures protesting the nomination.
In addition, the film had originally been listed as coming from the non-existent country of “Palestine,” though it was made by an Israeli Arab. At Sunday evening’s award show, its provenance was given as the “Palestinian territories.”
“Paradise Now,” which had been considered the frontrunner, as well as the German entry “Sophie Scholl — The Final Days,” about an anti-Hitler resistance fighter, lost to the South African entry “Tsotsi.”
Violinist Itzhak Perlman made a surprise appearance, performing music from five movies nominated for their original scores.
Pitting Perlman against the Three 6 Mafia rap group, which won for best original song, Stewart suggested that they engage in a “dreidel-off.”
Stewart, apparently trying to beat previous Oscar host Billy Crystal in the Jewish gag category, also took note of presenter Ben Stiller, who appeared onstage in a green unitard that covered his body from head to toe.
“It’s nice to have proof he’s really Jewish,” Stewart cracked.
In the documentary short subject category, the Oscar went to “A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin,” celebrating the 95-year old Jewish writer noted for his inspiring radio dramas.