Tuesday, March 25, 2003

'Pianist' leads Oscar surprises

War costs show some of traditional glitter

By David Germain
The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The best-picture Academy Award for the musical Chicago was one of the only predictable elements of a ceremony that included three key wins for the Holocaust drama The Pianist.

On a night when the war with Iraq set a somber tone, Adrien Brody took the best actor award and Roman Polanski earned the directing prize for The Pianist against higher-profile front-runners. Eminem took the best-song Oscar against a field that included Paul Simon and U2.

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The ceremony included an angry indictment of the Bush administration from documentary winner Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) and a tearful moment of empathy for war victims from Brody.

With six awards, Chicago was the main winner at a ceremony where pageantry took on greater solemnity because of the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Chicago became the first musical to win best picture since 1968's Oliver! Catherine Zeta-Jones, supporting-actress winner for Chicago, was the first performer to win an Oscar for a musical since 1972.

Nicole Kidman won for lead actress as author Virginia Woolf in the somber drama The Hours. Chris Cooper earned the supporting-actor Oscar for the twisted Hollywood tale Adaptation.

Kidman, Cooper and Zeta-Jones had been acting front-runners, but first-time nominee Brody was something of a longshot in the best-actor field, where each of the other contenders already had at least one Oscar. Jack Nicholson of About Schmidt and Daniel Day-Lewis of Gangs of New York had been viewed as best bets to win the lead-actor trophy.

The Pianist was based on the life of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who eluded the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. Brody told the Oscar crowd the film was a tribute to Szpilman, and he fought back tears as he said the role gave him a taste of the dehumanization that comes with war.

"It's just a very difficult thing to do, to celebrate when there is sadness and conflict in the world. Our achievements as artists and filmmakers and actors are valid, and we deserve to celebrate that," Brody said backstage. But "the timing for me is a little odd."

Polanski had been a longshot for director. Martin Scorsese was viewed as the likely winner for Gangs of New York through much of Oscar season, but Rob Marshall's triumph for Chicago at the Directors Guild of America awards made it look like a horse race between Scorsese and Marshall.

A Holocaust survivor himself, Polanski has been an exile from the United States since he fled 25 years ago to avoid sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

The Pianist also earned the adapted-screenplay award for Ronald Harwood.

Chicago came in with a leading 13 nominations, followed by the crime epic Gangs of New York with 10. But Gangs was shut out in every category.

Chicago was adapted from the Bob Fosse stage hit about two Jazz Age murderesses using their jailhouse celebrity to further their singing careers.

Musicals gradually fell out of favor in Hollywood after their critical peak in the early 1960s, when West Side Story, The Sound of Music and others won best picture. Chicago has become a huge box-office success with a domestic gross of $134 million and climbing.

Organizers scrapped much of the revelry in light of the war. A celebrity or two decided against attending, while some wore peace pins or drove to the ceremony in fuel-efficient vehicles to protest American reliance on overseas oil.

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