Oscar Fever – The Oscar favorites for this year

Chicago led the Academy Awards with six trophies, including best picture, at a ceremony Sunday that allowed Hollywood to exalt itself while muting the Oscar pageantry because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The Academy Awards ceremony took place on Sunday allowed Hollywood to exalt itself while muting the Oscar pageantry because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, was taken away by the Chicago who led the Academy Awards with six trophies, including best picture.

The razzle-dazzle satire Chicago became the first musical since 1968’s Oliver! to win the top Oscar. The other awards were given to Catherine Zeta-Jones for best supporting actress, and four technical honors including costume design and art direction.

Adrien Brody won the best-actor award for the Holocaust saga The Pianist, Nicole Kidman took best actress for the somber drama The Hours and Chris Cooper was picked as supporting actor for the twisted Hollywood tale Adaptation.

The best-director Oscar went to Roman Polanski for The Pianist. It also won the adapted-screenplay award for Ronald Harwood,” giving it a total of three, while Pedro Almodovar earned the original-screenplay prize for Talk to Her.

World events sparked several emotional highlights, including Brody’s tearful speech and an attack on President Bush by filmmaker Michael Moore, winner of the best-documentary Oscar for Bowling for Columbine.

Brody played the title character in The Pianist, based on the real-life story of musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who lived through World War II by hiding from the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. The Pianist was directed by Polanski, a Holocaust survivor himself.

Brody was the only best-actor nominee who won the Oscar with his first nomination. Over a 15-year career, Brody has focused on provocative films over commercial ones, among them The Thin Red Line and Summer of Sam.

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound Brody lost 30 pounds in six weeks to capture Szpilman’s gauntness after years of deprivation in the Warsaw ghetto.

“This film would not be possible without the blueprint provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman,” Brody said. “This film is a tribute to his survival.”

“My experience making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people in times of war, and the repercussions of war. And whether you believe in God or Allah, may he watch over you, and let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution,” Brody said, fighting back tears and drawing a standing ovation.

Zeta-Jones was the first performer to win an acting Oscar for a musical since Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey for 1972’s Cabaret. In Chicago, Zeta-Jones played a jailed vaudeville scamp scheming for celebrity after slaying her husband and sister.

Documentary winner Bowling for Columbine is Moore’s alternately hilarious and horrifying examination of gun violence in America.

Moore, a harsh critic of the Bush administration, received a standing ovation. He invited his fellow documentary nominees on stage, saying they were there in “solidarity with me, because we like non-fiction, and we are living in fictitious times … We live in a time where we have a man who’s sending us to war for fictitious reasons.

“We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you,” Moore said, amid a mix of boos and applause from the crowd.

Kidman’s Oscar win was a Hollywood ending after a turbulent couple of years. She had a miscarriage in 2001 and broke up with husband Tom Cruise, in whose shadow she had lingered throughout their 11-year relationship.

Kidman emerged as a big star in her own right later that year with Moulin Rouge, which earned her a best-actress Oscar nomination, and the horror hit The Others. In The Hours, Kidman played suicidal author Virginia Woolf, wearing a fake nose to capture the writer’s plain features.

“Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil?,” Kidman asked. “Because art is important. And because you believe in what you do and you want to honor that, and it is a tradition that needs to be upheld.”

Cooper, a veteran character actor whose credits include American Beauty and Lone Star, played a scraggly haired, toothless horticultural poacher on a mission to preserve rare orchids in the film loosely based on author Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief.

“In light of all the troubles in this world, I wish us all peace,” Cooper said as he received his award.

Cooper thanked his Adaptation collaborators, especially Meryl Streep. “Working with this woman was like making great jazz,” he said.

The Oscar for foreign-language film went to the German drama Nowhere in Africa, about a family of Jews who leave Germany before World War II and settle on a farm in Kenya.

The Japanese fantasy Spirited Away won the award for animated feature film. The movie, which had a limited U.S. release last fall and grossed a modest $5.5 million, was a surprise winner against a field of nominees that included $100 million Hollywood hits Ice Age and Lilo & Stitch.

Chicago won the film editing, sound, art-direction and costume-design prizes. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers won the sound-editing and visual-effects awards, while Frida took the makeup and original score statuettes.

Earlier, demonstrators on both sides of the war issue gathered near the Kodak Theatre, site of the Oscars.

Anti-war protesters held signs such as “Bush Betrays USA,” “Bush: Dumb and Dangerous” and “Oscar for Peace.” Half a block from the area where stars arrived, supporters of U.S. troops in Iraq chanted “USA, USA” and held a banner reading “God Bless America.”

Planners scrapped the glitzy red-carpet arrival festivities. And some celebrities opposed to the war wore peace pins. A few, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins among them, showed up in fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles instead of limousines as a statement against U.S. dependence on overseas oil.

“Well, I’m glad they cut back on the glitz,” host Steve Martin quipped at the show’s start. “You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight. That’ll send them a message.”

A few stars and filmmakers backed out of the 75th annual Oscars, either in protest of the war or because they felt uncomfortable making merry when people were dying in Iraq.

Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, said it was especially important to carry on with a cultural event such as the Oscars at a time when American values were being questioned around the world.

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