Musical ‘Chicago’ Wins Best-Picture Oscar
LOS ANGELES – The razzle-dazzle musical satire “Chicago” won the Academy Award as best picture Sunday, while top acting honors struck a more somber note: Adrien Brody as a Holocaust survivor in “The Pianist” and Nicole Kidman as suicidal novelist Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”
In a ceremony overshadowed by the U.S.-led war in Iraq, “Chicago” became the first musical since 1968’s “Oliver!” to win the top Oscar and also took home the most trophies, six. Its other awards were supporting actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones, and four technical honors including costume design and art direction.
Veteran character actor Chris Cooper won as best supporting actor for his role as scraggly- haired, toothless horticultural poacher in “Adaptation.”
Brody’s victory was something of a surprise, as was the awarding of the best-director Oscar went to Roman Polanski, also for “The Pianist.” Polanski has been an exile from the United States since fleeing 25 years ago to avoid sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
“The Pianist” 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.”
“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.
Once a Hollywood staple, musicals hit a critical peak 40 years ago with best-picture Oscar winners that included “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady” and “The Sound of Music.” Musicals gradually fell out of favor since the late 1960s as moviegoers grew more sophisticated and studios became convinced that audiences would no longer abide characters who burst into song.
“Moulin Rouge,” a best-picture nominee a year ago, whetted the public’s appetite for musicals, and “Chicago” has packed theaters, with its domestic haul at $134 million and climbing.
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.
Due to deliver her second child with husband and Oscar winner Michael Douglas in a few weeks, Zeta-Jones joined co-star and fellow supporting-actress nominee Queen Latifah in the Oscar performance of “I Move On,” the best-song nominee from “Chicago.”
“My hormones are too way out of control to be dealing with this,” Zeta-Jones said.
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.
“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.
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.
Her Oscar win was a Hollywood ending for Kidman 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 said. “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 man 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.
“Lose Yourself,” from the film “8 Mile” starring Eminem, won the best-song Oscar for the rap star and his co-writers, Jeff Bass and Luis Resto.
“I think he’s going to feel great about the Oscar,” Resto said backstage, after accepting the award for the absent Eminem. “He’s very proud about the song.”
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.”
ABC News twice offered a brief war update, then switched back to the Oscars.
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.”
After a few initial references to the war and its effects on the Oscars, Martin’s opening monologue stuck to mocking nominees, other celebrities and Hollywood at large.