Oscar Shockers: Polanski, Brody Unlikely Winners

ByABC News
March 24, 2003, 1:50 AM

March 24 -- Oscar Night had all the unlikely twists and turns of a Hollywood-manufactured plot with a fugitive taking best director and a relative unknown crowned best actor.

Fears that the show would be put off by the war, in the end, made the very existence of the show even more unlikely. But Oscar prevailed.

"Well, I'm glad they cut back on all the glitz," said Steve Martin in his opening monologue. "You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight. That'll send them a message."

To be sure, filmmaker Michael Moore brought the anti-war protests to the podium, blasting President Bush as a "fictitious president" who is sending the country to war for "fictitious reasons." Others expressed concern for U.S. troops and hopes for a quick resolution.

But even leaving politics aside, this year's Academy Awards proved to be the most surprising in recent years.

Let's take a look: 1. Fugitive Wins Best Director Roman Polanski, who cannot set foot in the United States without going to jail won the Academy Award for best director for the Holocaust drama The Pianist.

Polanski fled the United States for France in 1978 as he was about to be sentenced to prison for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Backstage, Pianist screenwriter Ronald Harwood bristled when reporters raised the controversy. "I will discuss his work as a director of a film and no other aspect of his life tonight. I have nothing to say about it."

2. Adrian Brody Beats Oscar Legends To appreciate Adrian Brody winning best actor, consider the competition. Jack Nicholson came into the evening with three Oscars. Michael Caine had won two, and Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicholas Cage one each. Each of these veteran actors are perennial nominees.

Before this year, Brody had never been nominated for a major award and his film, The Pianist, grossed a modest $18 million domestically, less than each of the other nominees.

With a win, Nicholson would have tied Katherine Hepburn as the actor with the most Oscars. That's instant, feel-good history an Oscar moment in the making that Hollywood would just love to relish. But it was not to be.