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Oscars to go on amid uncertainty

Hollywood was poised to fete Oscar's diamond jubilee Sunday in war-muted style and under unprecedented security amid fears that cinema's top honours could still be derailed by conflict in Iraq.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2003 13:32 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

But while war may have stolen some of the Oscars' thunder, Tinseltown remained fixated on its big night, with the steamy musical Chicago tipped to dominate the show by transforming many of its 13 nominations into gold.

Oscar bosses have vowed that the 75th anniversary show will go on, although the glitz and glamour of the ceremony has been dramatically toned down to reflect the sombre war mood.

Security for the event has also been hugely boosted to ward off potential terror attacks. The only certainty was that the Oscars' focus has shifted from whether Chicago will dance off with the lion's share of honours to whether Hollywood's biggest night will take place at all.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Frank Pierson said he would "be watching what's happening hour by hour" in Iraq and that he and his aides would "keep our options open and be flexible."

Nerves were the order of the day as organisers conceded that events in the Gulf could still force a last-minute delay or interruption of the telecast seen by up to a billion viewers around the world. The Oscars have never been cancelled and have been delayed only three times: by a day in 1981 when then president Ronald Reagan was shot, by two days when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968 and by a week when floods hit Los Angeles in 1938.

Despite the jitters, rehearsals were under way on Saturday at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre as producer Gil Cates shrugged off rumours that a constellation of stars were considering not turning up at the event amid fears it could appear frivolous.

Even with a decision last week to forgo the traditional photo-and-sound-bite opportunity on the red carpet outside the venue, and with a more subdued dress code prevailing, some stars such as Will Smith and Angelina Jolie still feel it would be unseemly to show up at a black-tie gala while troops and civilians were dying in Iraq.

Some of the celebrities who will attend are expected to use their time at the winners' microphone to denounce the US-led war, which is deeply unpopular among many stars including Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis.

The war has also forced Oscar to don his tightest security blanket ever, including the deployment of a special national guard laboratory to test for chemical or biological warfare agents in the Hollywood air. In addition, thousands of police, security guards and national guardsmen will be out in force, while a no-fly zone has been declared over Hollywood and manhole covers in the area have been welded shut.

"This will be one of the safest places in the world on Sunday," pledged Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. But it was director Rob Marshall's exuberant yet darkly satirical "Chicago" that looked set to snatch victory from the jaws of war. "It's Chicago's year," said awards pundit Tom O'Neil. "The mobsters' molls will steal eight or nine statuettes – it's a clear hold-up."

The picture is tipped by bookies and experts as favourite for best picture and is also expected to take best actress for Renee Zellweger, best supporting actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and best director for Marshall. But it faces an unusually strong crop of nominated movies this year.

They include Stephen Daldry's Bloomsbury drama The Hours, which has nine nods, Roman Polanksi's Holocaust story The Pianist, Martin Scorsese's 10-times nominated epic Gangs of New York and Peter Jackson's fantasy spectacular The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

While Zellweger is favourite for best actress, she goes head-to-head with new Hollywood force Nicole Kidman – nominated for her role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

Day-Lewis is strongly tipped for best actor for his role as villainous Bill the Butcher in Gangs, but he faces tough competition from Adrien Brody's role as a pianist struggling to survive the Holocaust in The Pianist.

If Brody wins, the 29-year-old will make history as the youngest ever actor to win an Oscar, as well as the first to snatch it from four competing previous Oscar winners – Day-Lewis, Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt, Michael Caine for The Quiet American, and Nicolas Cage for Adaptation.

First Published: Mar 23, 2003 13:32 IST