- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The third installment of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was named best picture in last night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

The Middle-earth epic “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” won all 11 Oscars for which it was nominated, including best director honors for Peter Jackson.

The film version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbit saga triumphed at the 76th annual Academy Awards, winning Oscars for visual effects, sound mixing, makeup, costume, art direction, best song, best musical score, editing and best adapted screenplay.

Its 11 Oscars tied “The Return of the King” with “Titanic” and “Ben Hur” for the most in Academy Award history.

Sean Penn was named best actor for his role as a vengeful father in “Mystic River,” while Charlize Theron won best actress honors for her role as a real-life Florida killer in “Monster.”

Renee Zellweger was named best supporting actress for her role as a hardy mountain woman in the Civil War saga “Cold Mountain,” and Tim Robbins took the supporting actor Academy Award for his performance in “Mystic River.”

Mr. Robbins played an emotionally crippled murder suspect in the Clint Eastwood-directed drama.

“In this movie, I play a victim of abuse and violence,” Mr. Robbins said in accepting his first Oscar. “If you are a person who has had that tragedy befall you, there is no shame in seeking help and counseling.”

At last night’s ceremony, Miss Zellweger — who added pounds for her down-to-earth role in “Cold Mountain” — noted this year’s trend toward less-glamorous female roles. Miss Theron likewise gained weight — and wore splotchy makeup and fake bad teeth — for her Oscar-winning portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.”

“I hope it’s a trend, meaning interesting parts playing women who are multifaceted and really rich in their journeys. It’s what interests me most,” Miss Zellweger said backstage. “The more you can change yourself, the more removed the character is from your own experiences, the more rewarding it is.”

The glitzy pageant returned to full-glamour mode for the first time since 2001. The September 11 terrorist attacks cast a shadow over the 2002 Oscars, and security concerns heightened by war in Iraq caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to cancel the traditional red-carpet arrivals last year.

In addition to “The Return of the King,” other nominees for best-picture honors were “Lost in Translation,” an offbeat comedy about American friends in Tokyo; the 19th-century sea adventure “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”; the Depression-era racing saga “Seabiscuit”; and “Mystic River,” a brooding thriller about three old friends reunited by a murder investigation.

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy has grossed $2.8 billion in theaters worldwide. The three films came out just a year apart. Each of the first two installments — “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” — were nominated for best picture but lost, and Oscar watchers say getting the top award this year would amount to academy voters’ recognition of the popular 10-hour saga.

“We’ve all had a long time to anticipate the coming of the end,” Sean Astin, who played sturdy hobbit Samwise Gamgee, said backstage at the Screen Actors Guild awards, where he and his castmates were honored with the best-ensemble performance prize. “So we’ve all experienced moments of sadness and pain and relief and glee that it’s over.”

Liv Tyler, who played the elf princess Arwen, said her role in the trilogy was a life-changing experience.

“I’ve learned a lot about patience and endurance and, I guess, what it really is to make a movie. And I’ll be different forever,” Miss Tyler said.

The undersea adventure “Finding Nemo” won the best animated feature Oscar for Disney and Pixar Animation. Filmmaker Errol Morris won the best documentary Oscar for “The Fog of War,” about Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

The Oscars came three weeks earlier this year after academy officials decided to move them up from the traditional late-March date. The move was intended to boost sagging television ratings for the Oscar broadcast, with academy executives figuring the earlier ceremony would make the show a fresher draw for audiences worn out by Hollywood’s prolonged awards season.

This year’s Oscars were not without headline-making disputes. Last fall, top studios and their trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, sought to ban special video copies of Oscar contenders sent to awards voters so they can watch the films at home.

Producers and distributors of smaller films complained that the ban on so-called “awards screeners” would put them at a disadvantage against studio competitors, which have huge budgets to promote their movies to academy members.

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