It began with a tribute to the Best Picture nominees that included host Billy Crystal dressed as a number of characters from the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. And it ended, four hours later, with that movie taking the crown for Best Picture of the year at the 76th Annual Academy Awards.
"I'm so honored and relieved that the academy and the members of the academy that have supported us have seen past the trolls and the wizards and the hobbits in recognizing fantasy this year," said director/producer Peter Jackson.
But the epic finale to the trilogy didn't just pick up a few awards here and there. As befits a motion picture of its standard, it swept every category it was nominated in for a total of 11 wins by the end of the night, including a deserved win for Jackson as Best Director. In doing so, Return of the King matched the record 11 Oscar wins of Titanic and Ben-Hur. It also became only the third movie to sweep every category in which it was nominated, though the others--Gigi and The Last Emperor--only went nine for nine.
As Rings continued to tally up the Oscars, Crystal quipped, "It's now official. There is nobody left in New Zealand to thank." This joke was echoed by others onstage.
Accepting her win as Best Actress for her role in Monster, Charlize Theron said, "I know everybody in New Zealand's been thanked, so I'm going to thank everybody in South Africa, my home country." Theron, who won for her unglamorous portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, tearfully thanked her mother, saying, ''You have sacrificed so much for me to be able to live here and make my dreams come true."
The entire quartet of top acting winners, including Theron, were all first-time Oscar winners. After losing the Best Actress title to Nicole Kidman last year, it seems as though Kidman's good luck rubbed off on Cold Mountain co-star Renee Zellweger, who finally took home an Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as tough-as-nails Ruby.
And though he's been nominated for directing, this was Best Actor Tim Robbin's first win. In reference to his Mystic River character's abusive childhood, the normally political Robbins instead took time to offer a message to victims of ''abuse and violence'': ''There is no shame in seeking help and counseling.''
His Mystic River co-star Sean Penn picked up the political reins instead, during his win for Best Actor, when he joked, "If there's one thing actors know -- other than that there weren't any WMDs [Weapons of Mass Destruction]-- is that there is no such thing as best in acting." He then waxed philosophical in saying that the others in his category were just as deserving, as were all the others not nominated for wonderful roles during the last year.
Aside from Mystic River with its two acting nods, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was the only other multiple winner, with awards for cinematography and sound editing--out of the ten it was nominated for.
And while she lost in the directing category, Sofia Coppola still managed to make the Coppolas the second three-generation Oscar family, with her win for Best Original Screenplay for Lost In Translation. Both her father, director Francis Ford Coppola, and his father, Carmine Coppola, were also Oscar winners -- the latter for composing the Godfather score.
Midway through the show, Jim Carrey presented an Honorary Academy Award to Blake Edwards for his work on films like the Pink Panther series, 10 and Victor/Victoria. What started with a somewhat funny skit, got bogged down in a story Edwards told that really didn't seem to have much relevance until the end 20 seconds. Actress Julia Roberts also led a tribute to the late actress Katherine Hepburn, who she said influenced her career. A short montage of other industry members who passed away this last year followed. But those were really the only somber moments of the broadcast, as most of the energy was upbeat and jovial.
Adrian Brody, announcing the Best Actress category, paused for a shot of Binaca--a joke in reference to his win last year in the Best Actor category, where in his excitement, he laid a huge kiss upon a startled Halle Berry. And Robin Williams, tried almost unsuccessfully to rein in his many comedic alter-egos in presenting the award for Best Animated Film to Finding Nemo. But for me, the comedic highlight of the night was when Jack Black and Will Ferrell sang the "forgotten words" to the musical cue played to alert winners it's time to leave the stage. Who knew that Del Taco was what it was all about?
A surprise finale involved the "class of 2004 Academy Award winners" gathering onstage for the last applause of the evening.
As for fashion, the majority of stars went retro-glam with vintage clothing and hair to match. Best dressed couple of the evening had to be Charlize Theron and her boyfriend, actor Stuart Townshend. He in a white suit jacket with black bowtie and pants perfectly complimented Theron's nude beaded Gucci gown by Tom Ford. Together, the two were stunning.
Fellow Best Actress nominee Naomi Watts also went nude--colored, that is, in a Versace dress adorned with huge teardrop-shaped crystals. In contrast, she wore her hair in an updo and simple, dewy makeup. "It's the Oscars and there's so much tradition, I wanted to go old-school glamour," said Watts to reporters on the Red Carpet.
Renee Zellweger looked very much the ingenue in a Carolina Herrera-designed white strapless column gown with a draped bodice and back bow. To accessorize, she was draped in almost $1 million worth of Cartier jewels, including a 73-carat oval and pear-shaped diamond necklace with a 35-carat diamond bracelet.
Other outstanding looks were the always stunning Catherine Zeta-Jones in a fiery red vintage Versace scoop-neck gown and Julia Roberts, whose newly blonde and long-feathered hair perfectly accented her bronze Giorgio Armani gown with a deep V-neck and a gathered waist decorated with a jewel. For the men, top honors would have to go to a newly shorn Johnny Depp, who looked as young as he did on 21 Jump Street, and Pierce Brosnan, who looked very dashing in a black velvet suit jacket.
And now the moment you've all been waiting for...the envelope please:
List of winners for the 76th Annual Academy Awards
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) A Wingnut Films Production Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Producers
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Peter Jackson
Sean Penn in “Mystic River” (Warner Bros.)
Tim Robbins in “Mystic River” (Warner Bros.)
Charlize Theron in “Monster” (Newmarket Films)
Renée Zellweger in “Cold Mountain” (Miramax)
“Finding Nemo” (Buena Vista) Andrew Stanton
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
“Lost in Translation” (Focus Features) Written by Sofia Coppola
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Art Direction: Grant Major Set Decoration: Dan Hennah and Alan Lee
“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (20th Century Fox) Russell Boyd
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor
“The Fog of War” (Sony Pictures Classics) A Globe Department Store Production Errol Morris and Michael Williams
“Chernobyl Heart” A Downtown TV Documentaries Production Maryann DeLeo
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Jamie Selkirk
“The Barbarian Invasions” A Cinémaginaire Inc. Production Canada
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Richard Taylor and Peter King
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Howard Shore
“Into the West” from “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Music and Lyric by Fran Walsh and Howard Shore and Annie Lennox
“Harvie Krumpet” A Melodrama Pictures Production Adam Elliot
“Two Soldiers” A Shoe Clerk Picture Company Production Aaron Schneider and Andrew J. Sacks
“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” (20th Century Fox) Richard King
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek
“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (New Line) Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook and Alex Funke