LOS ANGELES - Musical "Chicago" swept through the Oscars on Sunday with six awards, including best film, but Holocaust drama "The Pianist" dazzled audiences with two big upset victories for director Roman Polanski and actor Adrien Brody in a ceremony overshadowed by the Iraq war.
For much of this year's awards season in Hollywood, "Chicago" had been a front-runner, and coming into the Oscars it was an odds-on favorite in many top categories with 13 nominations, more than any other film. It took the most honors, but many of those six awards were in minor categories. When "Chicago" star Renee Zellweger lost best actress to a tearful Nicole Kidman in drama "The Hours," the curtain finally came down on the musical about a pair of murdering showgirls and the media who made them stars.
Still, producer Martin Richards was ecstatic with his victory after shepherding the movie through dozens of writers, directors, actors, and actresses for more than 25 years.
"I hadn't believed I would win this from the very, very beginning," he told reporters backstage. "To me, it's been unbelievable. It's been a trip."
Along with best film, "Chicago" put Catherine Zeta-Jones in the winner category for best supporting actress, and it earned Oscars in art direction, sound, costume design and editing.
Brody, 29, who portrays Holocaust survivor and piano player Wladyslaw Szpilman in "The Pianist," gave the audience its biggest surprise with a best actor Oscar over heavily favored Daniel Day-Lewis of "Gangs of New York" and Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt," among rivals.
He became the youngest man ever to win the best actor Oscar, claiming that distinction from Richard Dreyfuss, who was 30 when he won.
Brody took the stage and gave last year's best actress winner Halle Berry a long, deep kiss on the mouth. "That was better than the gift bag," he said, referring to the bags that that are full of expensive products for the winners.
Backstage, he was asked if Berry kissed back, and he replied, "Oh yeah."
But accepting his award, his jovial attitude turned to tears as he remembered making the film and thought about the war in Iraq. He said his experiences had made him "very aware of the sadness" war causes.
"Let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution," he said, which brought the audience to its feet.
Polanski's victory, too, was a shocker because the director fled the United States in 1978 after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He faces a long prison term if he returns and he, obviously, was a no-show. Some Hollywood insiders have mixed feelings about him. For one, Martin Scorsese, whom he beat, considers him a film-making master.
Kidman, however, was far less an upset because she and Zellweger had come into the night's ceremony neck-and-neck in the race for best actress.
"Russell Crowe said, 'Don't cry if you get up there,' and now I'm crying," she said before turning her back on the audience. When she turned around, she apologized: "Sorry."
The Australian-raised beauty also put words to the reason why many celebrities decided to turn up at the glitzy awards show at a time when war rages on in Iraq.
"Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is at war?" she asked, rhetorically. "Because art is important and because you believe in what you do ... it is a tradition that needs to be upheld."
Through the first part of the show, the stars and even show host Steve Martin shied away from mentions of the war in Iraq, but when Michael Moore took to the podium as the winner for a best documentary feature, his anti-gun movie "Bowling for Columbine," all that changed.
"We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it is the fiction of duct tape or the fiction of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush!"
His statements set off a round of boos in the audience, which was met with some cheering, then more boos. The theater became so loud, Moore could not be heard finishing his speech.
Among other winners, Chris Cooper took the Oscar for best supporting actor in "Adaptation," playing a poacher of exotic orchids from the swamps of Florida.
In two other surprises, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar claimed the Oscar for best original screenplay, and Ronald Harwood won the best adapted screenplay award for "Pianist."
An outspoken war critic, Almodovar dedicated his Oscar "to all the people who are raising their voices in favor of peace."
Martin was ready for Walt Disney Co.-owned TV network ABC to preempt the show, but it cut in only twice with brief war reports in what appeared to be planned events.
Early awards went to "Spirited Away" from legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, which was named the best animated feature. Popular fantasy film "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" won the Oscar for best visual effects.
Ahead of the show, the stars paraded into the Kodak Theatre in downtown Hollywood along with what had been billed as a scaled-back red carpet that was absent all the glitz, glamour, reporters and cameras that normally line the entry.
As expected, the men wore mostly basic black tuxedos, and the women toned down their gowns in terms of style with simple sheaths, exposed shoulders and loosened hair. Colors ranged from pale fuchsias and blues, to beige and midnight black - the color chosen by Kidman.
Several stars, such as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, flashed peace signs, and a few like Julianne Moore displayed pale blue peace sign pins - Moore's on her purse.
The Oscars are the U.S. film industry's top honors given out each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. They are broadcast live and seen by an estimated 1 billion people around the globe.
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