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Oscars: Up, close and personal

The champagne has been put on ice, the gowns fitted, the hair perfectly coiffed and the limos polished up. Hollywood's racing on all cylinders for its 76th Annual Oscars.

india Updated: Feb 29, 2004 21:46 IST
Arthur Spiegelman (Reuters)
Arthur Spiegelman (Reuters)

The champagne has been put on ice, the gowns have been fitted, the hair perfectly coiffed and the limos - SUVs and politically correct, gas-saving hybrid cars - have been polished up. Hollywood was racing on all cylinders on Sunday for its big day: the 76th annual Oscars.

Security was as tight as technologically and humanly possible at the Kodak theater, where Hollywood's highest honors are being held for the third year in a row, with practically a police officer in every corner and with the 500 fans sitting in the bleachers to view the red carpet entrance of the stars carefully screened, selected and searched.

Security will be tight on stage as well as for the first time. The usually live show, produced for the first time by former Disney studio head Joe Roth, will be broadcast around the world with a five-second tape delay, just in case some star decides to bare a breast or make some other untoward gesture a la Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl half-time show.

The producers have promised the delay will not be used to censor political statements by Academy Award winners or presenters and that most likely will be put to the test. Handing out awards this year will be some of Hollywood's most outspoken political partisans, including supporting-actor nominees Alec Baldwin and Tim Robbins, and Robbins' wife, Susan Sarandon, while Iraq war opponent Sean Penn may take the stage if he wins best actor in "Mystic River."

"The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King," the third and final installment of Peter Jackson's long and faithful adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic books, complete with songs sung in Elvish and a cast of thousands, is expected to swallow up the main prize -- best picture -- and a good number of other ones as well in a manner befitting a box-office behemoth that has already brought in a billion dollars worldwide.

Hail to the Hobbits seems to be the refrain this year. Even though a fantasy film has never won a best picture award - that's right, E.T. went home without one - "Lord of the Rings" has a lot going for it as it heads into Oscar night.

Oscar historian Robert Osborne said once every few years a movie comes along that overwhelms voters with both its popularity and filmmaking prowess. The last time that happened was the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic," a winner of 11 Oscars that, like "Rings," earned most of its nominations in technical categories.

"Rings" also has a shortened Oscar season, aiding it and the fact that for the first time in 11 years, hard-driving Miramax does not have a film in the best picture category. Miramax is the master at Oscar campaigns and clever marketing aimed at the 5,800 Oscar voters helped its "Shakespeare in Love" beat "Saving Private Ryan."

Part of the reason that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the Oscars up to February 29 from its traditional late March date was to cut down on the campaigns that have come to resemble free-spending presidential primaries.

Experts think the battle for best actor is the night's only real cliffhanger since South African-born Charlize Theron is considered to have a lock on best actress for her persona and shape-shifting performance as a haggard serial killer in "Monster."

Comedian Bill Murray, who plays a man who has run out of jokes in "Lost in Translation," is in a three-way battle for best actor with Johnny Depp for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and Sean Penn for "Mystic River."

Murray and Sofia Coppola, who directed "Lost in Translation," won top prizes at the Independent Spirit Awards, the arthouse world's equivalent of the Oscars, on Saturday. "Lost in Translation," 32-year-old Coppola's second film, won all four categories in which it was nominated: best feature, director, screenplay and male lead (Murray).

"Our little kid has so blossomed," Francis Ford Coppola, famed for the "Godfather" films, told Reuters after the event. Theron won the Spirit award for best actress for "Monster." For his part, Murray seemed to be dreading the Academy Awards. "I just know it's gonna be a long time sitting in a monkey suit," he told reporters. "It's gonna be sitting in a car for a long time, sitting in a theater for a long time, sitting at a banquet with some maybe edible food for a long time, and then sitting in a car again for a long time. And then I'll have to figure out what happened."

First Published: Feb 29, 2004 21:32 IST

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