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A & E
'Chicago' had it coming

Monday, March 24, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri and Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

HOLLYWOOD -- It was an Oscar night when no one could be sure what might happen, and the 75th annual Academy Awards lived up to the billing.

Steve Martin returned to the Oscar telecast this year, and his wit was finely honed. "Everyone has bee supporting my hosting this year except France and Germany." he joked. (Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press)


Review: Host Martin makes Oscars a great escape from grim reality

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"Lights! Glamour! Action!"


It featured three surprise wins in major categories for the movie "The Pianist": Best Actor for Adrien Brody, Best Original Screenplay for Ronald Harwood and Best Director for Roman Polanski, 69, who couldn't accept in person because he would have been arrested. He fled the country 25 years ago after being convicted of statutory rape.

But the biggest winner of the night came in just as expected. "Chicago," directed by Pittsburgh native Rob Marshall, took the award for Best Picture, one of its six Oscars. It was the first musical to take the top Oscar since the 1968 movie "Oliver!"

In the other major categories, Nicole Kidman won the Best Actress award "by a nose" for her role as Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," complete with a fake proboscis. Chris Cooper of "Adaptation" and Catherine Zeta-Jones of "Chicago" won the Supporting Actor and Actress awards.

Among the biggest surprises of all: Rap star Eminem won the Best Original Song Award for "Lose Yourself" from "8 Mile" and this was the shortest Oscar broadcast in recent memory clocking in at exactly 3 1/2 hours.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences removed the fan bleachers and truncated the red carpet along with some of the usual glitz because of the war in Iraq, but many of the stars still dressed to the nines.

Host Steve Martin assiduously avoided topical humor, resorting mostly to mocking the other actors in attendance and some of the nominated films.

But hourly ABC news cut-ins reminded viewers of the conflict going on half a world away, and so did the acceptance speeches of several winners,

Filmmaker Michael Moore brought the conflict to the forefront after winning the Best Documentary Feature award for his film "Bowling for Coumbine," a controversial examination of the American gun culture.

A liberal gadfly known for skewering corporate America and conservative politicians, Moore -- who got a standing ovation when his name was announced -- drew a mixture of boos and cheers when he attacked President Bush during his acceptance speech.

"We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or fiction of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up."

Soon afterward, host Steve Martin joked, "It was so sweet backstage. The Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."

Moore said backstage that he invited the other nominees to join him while walking up the aisle. He had warned them during the commercial break that the invite and the rant were coming.

He explained his remarks by saying simply, "I'm an American."

That's it?

"That's a lot," he replied. "You don't leave your citizenship when you enter the doors of the Kodak Theater."

Repeating many of the same comments he made at Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards, he said, "Our democracy was hijacked and there's a squatter on federal land at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

His remarks may have been the most controversial by an Oscar winner since Vanessa Redgrave, a supporter of Palestinian causes, referred to "a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums" during her acceptance speech for Best Actress for the 1977 movie "Julia."

Three of the four acting winners made some reference to the war in the speeches.

Cooper concluded his acceptance speech by saying, "In light of all the troubles in this world, I wish us all peace."

Brody, who beat out perceived frontrunners Jack Nicholson ("About Schmidt") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("Gangs of New York"), said winning the Oscar "fills me with great joy, but I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I am accepting an award at such a strange time."

His movie, "The Pianist," was the story of a Polish musician trying to survive the Holocaust.

"My experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war. And the repercussions of war. And whatever you believe in, if it's God or Allah, may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."

Kidman addressed the reasons why she would attend the Academy Awards in such a time of turmoil.

"Because art is important. Because you believe in what you do and you want to honor that and it is a tradition that needs to be upheld. At the same time, you say there are a lot of problems in the world. Since 9/11 there has been a lot of pain in terms of families losing people. And now with the war, families losing people.

"And I am standing here in front of my mother and my daughter. And my whole life, I've wanted to make my mother proud. And now I want to make my daughter proud."

Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones was less focused upon hearing her name called by presenter Sean Connery, her co-star in "Entrapment." The other nominees in the category included her "Chicago" co-star Queen Latifah.

"My hormones are just too way out of control to be dealing with this," whooped Zeta-Jones, who is eight months pregnant.

She is the first performer to win an acting Oscar for a musical since Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey for the 1972 film "Cabaret."

Zeta-Jones was the first performer cast in "Chicago" and it allowed her to stretch, both figuratively and literally as she executed splits and other energetic maneuvers in the role of Velma Kelly, the sexy star who goes to jail form killing her cheating sister and husband.

American audiences might have been surprised to see Zeta-Jones in a song and dance role. She was born in Wales but domestic audiences may have thought she was Spanish after her breakthrough role in "The Mask of Zorro" as Antonio Banderas' love interest. In 2000, she married Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, who is 25 years older. They both appeared in "Traffic," but had no scenes together.

In the United Kingdom, however, Zeta-Jones had been singing and dancing on stage since childhood. PBS viewers may remember seeing her on the British sitcom "Darling Buds of May," which made her a star in Great Britain.

Now she has an Best Supporting Actress Oscar to bookend the one Douglas won for the 1987 movie "Wall Street." And the pair is about to have their second child -- an ambulance was reportedly standing by in case Zeta-Jones went into labor. But she didn't let it stop her from performing the Oscar-nominated song "I Move On" from "Chicago" on the telecast.

Cooper won his Oscar for his role in "Adaptation" as a skinny, toothless hick named John Laroche who proves far more complex than anyone could imagine from looking at him. He knows everything about orchids, including that he shouldn't be stealing them from federal reserves. Life keeps dealing him horrible setbacks, but he perseveres.

He thanked everyone "from the Academy to the womb that bore me." He said working with "the fabulous, beautiful wonderful Meryl Streep," his co-star and fellow nominee, was "like making great jazz."

The 51-year-old actor made his movie debut in 1987 in John Sayles' "Matewan," a drama about striking coal miners. He worked for Sayles again as a Texas sheriff in "Lone Star," and returned to the coal fields in "October Sky." In the TV western miniseries "Lonesome Dove" he played the sheriff looking for his missing wife.

These roles may have come naturally to the Kansas City native, who worked on his father's cattle ranch when he wasn't acting with local theater troupes. He took up the craft, he told one interviewer, to keep from getting into trouble with his unruly friends.

Backstage, he told reporters of a comment he heard a few days ago "that one person thought my being so unrecognizable in playing characters might be a career suicide. I took it only as the highest compliment. There's this little phrase among actors that the actor is a chameleon. In some respects I may have taken it to new heights."

He credited his wife, Marianne, with urging him to take the part, telling him, "Chances are when you shy away from roles, you better pursue them. That's been the case several times, and that's been the case in characters and roles that have been the most helpful in my career."

Brody, 29, became the youngest man to win Best Actor honors, displacing Richard Dreyfuss, who was 30 when he became a golden boy for "The Goodbye Girl."

To portray pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Warsaw pianist whose goes into hiding after losing his cultured family to the Nazi death camps, the actor shed 30 pounds, learned to play Chopin from memory and isolated himself during shooting to mimic the loneliness the musician endured.

The real Szpilman's instinct to survive was tested by hatred, despair, homelessness, starvation and silence. Some observers thought the 25-year-old sexual scandal that continues to haunt director Polanski would doom Brody's chances. Polanski, who risked arrest if he returned to this country, couldn't make the rounds of parties and talk shows but Brody triumphed in a field that included four previous Oscar winners with seven statuettes among them.

Australian actress Nicole Kidman and British actress Catherine Zeta-Jones pose with the Oscars they won at the 75th annual Academy Awards last night. Kidman won for best actress for her role in "The Hours" and Zeta-Jones won best supporting actress for her role in "Chicago." (Reed Saxon, Associated Press)

Host Martin's monologue took aim at his fellow actors and the nominated movies. He called Mickey Rooney "the same age as Earth," suggested Kidman wore a fake nose in every movie except "The Hours" and even told a few gay jokes. He said Miramax stopped at nothing to make sure "Chicago" got nominated by making "a real good movie that everybody liked."

"Well, I'm glad they cut back on the glitz," he quipped at the show's start. "You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight. That'll send them a message."

Demonstrators on both sides of the war issue marched near the Kodak Theater, but not within sight of television cameras. Security included a National Guard mobile lab to test suspicious substances and police sharpshooters stationed on a building across the street.

Before the show, red-carpet kibitzers Melissa and Joan Rivers moved their act for the E! cable channel to a vantage point in front of a picture window overlooking a side street. But a long stretch of carpet still stretched down Hollywood Boulevard, and it was clear that many of the stars were not playing down the glitz as they posed in the tuxedos and gowns.

In a glamorous black and white gown, Salma Hayek looked little like the Frida of her film. Denzel Washington's wife, Paulette, was in white, while Renee Zellweger was radiant in a red that nearly matched the carpet beneath her high heels outside the Kodak Theatre. Nia Vardalos was in black, while previous winner Marcia Gay Harden was in blue, Diane Lane went strapless and Halle Berry chose a glittery dress hugging one shoulder. Much of ABC's pre-show was devoted to the fashions of the stars, complete with the announcers urging viewers to vote for their favorite on the Oscar web site. A film shown during the preshow celebrated themes that resonated with America, including diversity, family, home country, courage and pride. Of course it was then followed by a new commercial with Sharon Stone plugging AOL Broadband.

Inside the press room, outfitted with banks of rectangular banquet tables covered with blue tablecloths and padded chairs for reporters from around the world, the TV was tuned to CNN in mid-afternoon, casting a literal and figurative pall over the proceedings until someone changed the channel to auto racing and then a special with critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper and back to news with ABC's Peter Jennings. It finally switched to an Oscar preview an hour before the ceremony began.

Outside, Hollywood Boulevard was blocked off to traffic, and chain link fences erected and reinforced with a mesh screen. Tourists trying to take pictures from the opposite sidewalk were thwarted, unless they could get up high enough for a clear view. They were prevented from sneaking onto the street by interlocking metal barriers. Just getting to the hotel housing the interview rooms was a challenge, with metal detectors on sidewalks, LAPD on foot and bicycle and private security guards stopping pedestrians at every corner and telling them something different. As one of the LAPD officers, trying to accommodate an increasingly frustrated reporter in heels toting her equipment said, "Lord have mercy." Guards at one corner sent people to the next, who sent them back and around and around. It was, like "Willard" (a movie that won't earn any Oscar nominations), a rat's maze and the gold at the end was a room connected to the Kodak Theatre. But the weather was picture-perfect: 70 degrees and blue skies. At last, something was going according to plan.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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