- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — With the Oscars to be presented today, the talk in Hollywood yesterday turned away from whether front-runner film “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” would win best picture to whether it would sweep the board and capture every category in which it is nominated.

Even before nominations for the U.S. film industry’s top honors were announced on Jan. 27, the third film in the trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels about a war for control of a mythic Middle-Earth was the favorite to win the best picture Oscar.

Nothing has happened in five weeks to change that notion.

“Return of the King” received 11 Oscar nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, more than any other film, topping the 10 received for the seafaring tale “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”

Both movies figure prominently in categories such as art direction, costume design, film editing and other technical award groups, but they were shut out of the acting categories.

Oscar historian Robert Osborne said once every few years a movie comes along that overwhelms Oscar voters with its combination of popularity and filmmaking prowess.

The last time that happened was the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic,” a winner of 11 Oscars that, not coincidentally, earned most of its nominations in technical categories.

Security at the Kodak Theater in downtown Hollywood, where the 76th Annual Academy Awards take place, was tightened even further today with police on every corner shielding the red carpet where stars like Nicole Kidman, Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jude Law will parade into the show.

The event is being broadcast at 8 p.m. on ABC.

At Beverly Hills hotels like the Peninsula and the Four Seasons, celebrities were being outfitted for the gala with designer tuxedos, couture gowns and diamonds galore.

Last year, with the war in Iraq under way, fashion was played down and the red carpet affair was canceled. This year, Oscar glitz is back in style with top designers Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani and Prada all dressing the stars.

One question remaining is what will Billy Crystal do onstage as master of ceremonies. In recent years, Mr. Crystal has been one of Oscar’s most popular hosts with his razor sharp wit. But this year, he and Oscar producer Joe Roth have stayed mum about their plans for the show.

Normally, Oscar watchers would expect a political outburst or two among the acceptance speeches. But the talk may be curtailed by a five-second delay on the live telecast, which will be used for the first time.

Oscar organizers have promised not to use the delay to edit acceptance speeches, but will do so only in case something like obscene language slips out, or perhaps, a breast.

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