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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 05:58 GMT
Review: Oscars ceremony 2004
by Ben Sutherland
BBC News Online

This year's Oscars ceremony promised a return to the glitz missing from last year, as well as a return to much-loved host Billy Crystal. But what was it like?

The opening video sequence for the Oscars featured Michael Moore being squashed by the foot of a giant Olephant from The Return Of The King.

Billy Crystal

It was a declaration from the outset of how the emphasis on the 76th Academy Awards would be firmly about ditching the politics and, perhaps, the unease of last year.

Sean Connery kicked off the show with a portentous - and slightly ridiculous - speech about movies being the common link between all humanity.

But from then on, the emphasis was on fun all the way, helmed by Billy Crystal on a magnificent return to form.

Following the recorded opening sequence - in which he appeared as almost every leading character from the nominated films - Crystal strode onto stage beaming in a pair of sunglasses.

He burst into a brilliant sequence of rewritten songs - The Sound of Music's Favourite Things was reversioned to become "This is the Gang In The Lord Of The Rings," for example.

Charlize Theron and Adrien Brody
Crystal called Charlize Theron "the future Mrs Crystal"
It also included O' Man River rewritten to Mystic River, with the lyric "Men your age are either dead or dying - but not Clint Eastwood, you just keep rolling along." Even better, Crystal walked down into the audience to croon this right at Eastwood's side.

He finished the sequence with some panache, going down on one knee, arms outstretched.

But from Blake Edwards' wheelchair speeding across the stage to Adrien Brody freshening his breath before announcing Charlize Theron as best actress, nearly everyone seemed to be playing for laughs.

Robin Williams - described by Crystal as "the reason for our five-second delay" - managed to compress more or less his whole routine into a sublime three minutes while presenting best animated film.

Katharine Hepburn
Julia Roberts presented a tribute to the late Katharine Hepburn
Williams and Crystal were not the only comedy duo appearing - Ben Stiller cropped up as a cardigan-wearing Starsky, paired with a smartly-attired Owen Wilson, clearly not "playing" Hutch.

Later, Jack Black and Will Ferrell launched into a hilarious "You're Boring" song about those who made their speeches too long - a brave move considering their targets were sat right in front of them.

Even the tributes to those who died last year - usually the solemnest moments of reflection - were played light.

Tom Hanks presented a particularly enjoyable collection of clips of 18-times Oscars presenter Bob Hope, while Julia Roberts paid tribute to Katharine Hepburn by recalling one of her best lines - "acting is the most minor of gifts. Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four".

Dig at Bush

Meanwhile Pink Panther writer/director Blake Edwards used an on-stage slapstick routine to pick up his Lifetime Achievement award - he came on stage in an electric wheelchair, which then sped up and shot through a wall. Edwards re-emerged - helped by presenter Jim Carrey - in a dusty, torn suit.

Crystal found a new comedy theme as the show went on and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King continued on its historic sweep.

At one point he declared: "It's now official - there's nobody left in New Zealand to thank."

Even Tim Robbins, widely expected to make a political speech, was beaming as he picked up his best supporting actor award, although he did go on to highlight the problems victims of abuse and violence face.

War message

However politics was not entirely written out of the script.

Crystal got huge laughs and applause for a dig at President Bush - "I come and go as I please, so it's kind of like the Texas National Guard."

He also made a number of suggestions of various political figures' favourite films - Hilary Clinton loved Kill Bill, Donald Rumsfeld Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, while Saddam Hussein "loved Holes."

Sean Penn made a passing reference to the Iraq situation as he picked up best actor, beginning his speech "If there's one thing that actors know - other than that there are no WMDs..."

But only Errol Morris, picking up best documentary feature for Vietnam study The Fog of War, used the platform to hit the subject head on.

"I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again," he said.

"If people can stop and think and reflect on some of this issues in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good here."

Crystal's response? "I can't wait for his tax audit."


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