Host Billy Crystal might have put it best when just halfway into Sunday's 76th annual Academy Awards, he said, "It's now official — there's nobody left in New Zealand to thank." With the night's biggest awards yet to be presented, it already seemed like director Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" ruled the day.
As it turned out, the final installation of the fantasy trilogy — shot in New Zealand and based on J.R.R. Tolkien's novels — did reign supreme, sweeping the 11 categories in which it was nominated and tying "Titanic" and "Ben Hur" for the most Oscar wins.
Most notably, "The Return of the King" took the prizes for best picture, directing and adapted screenplay. "This is just unbelievable," Jackson gushed, flanked by the film's cast as he accepted the evening's final award for best picture. "And I'm so honored, touched and relieved that [the academy has] seen past the wizards and the trolls and the hobbits [to recognize] fantasy this year."
Crystal kicked off the night with a parody montage of this year's films, appearing shirtless more times than might have been tasteful and serenading Clint Eastwood and Sofia Coppola, among others, with revamped show tunes. And if that didn't meet the quota for new lyrics on age-old songs, Will Ferrell and Jack Black took it upon themselves to improvise a few bars of the infamous music that has shooed so many long-winded, tongue-tied winners off the stage. "This is it/ Your time is through/ You're boring/ You're rambling on/ No end in sight/ You're boring!"
Coppola, daughter of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, became the first American woman to be nominated for best director, for "Lost in Translation." Although she didn't take home that Oscar, she won for best original screenplay. And Eastwood's "Mystic River" brought Tim Robbins a victory for best supporting actor. Robbins, Charlize Theron (winner for best actress) and Renée Zellweger (best supporting actress) were all considered front-runners, and the Oscars didn't disappoint.
The war in Iraq also received a fair amount of airtime, from shout-outs to the servicemen and women abroad to a few more critical approaches. During Crystal's opener, writer/director Michael Moore (who made an infamous anti-war speech at last year's ceremony) appeared in a clip from "The Return of the King," crying, "Stop this war! Shame on you, hobbits, shame on you! This is a fictitious war. This lord was not elected by the ..." before being squished by a giant, rampaging mastodon. And accepting his best actor Oscar, Sean Penn quipped, "If there's one thing that actors know — other than that there weren't any WMDs — it's that there isn't any such thing as 'best' in acting."
Selected winners at the 76th annual Academy Awards:
- Best Picture: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Directing: Peter Jackson - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn - "Mystic River"
- Actress in a Leading Role: Charlize Theron - "Monster"
- Actor in a Supporting Role: Tim Robbins - "Mystic River"
- Actress in a Supporting Role: Renée Zellweger - "Cold Mountain"
- Cinematography: "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"
- Costume Design: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Makeup: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Music (Song): "Into the West" - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Music (Score): Howard Shore - "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
- Visual Effects: "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
For a complete list of winners, check out Oscars.com.