In a three-fold stunner, Hollywood gave Holocaust drama “The Pianist” Oscars on Sunday for director Roman Polanski, actor Adrien Brody and screenwriter Ronald Harwood.
None had been viewed as favorites despite strong critical support for the intense portrayal of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman surviving the Nazis’ attempts to exterminate Warsaw’s Jewish community.
Harwood said Polanski, who did not attend the ceremonies at the Kodak Theater, should also have been given the screenwriting award.
He recounted that Shirley Maclaine had said, “I deserve this” on receiving her Oscar two decades ago.
“Well, I wish I could say that, but I can’t,” Harwood said. “Roman Polanski deserves this. He’s a great director and a wonderful colleague. And I want to thank him and, of course, you for this splendid honor.”
The selection of Polanski, who was also nominated for directing Oscars for “Chinatown” and “Tess” and for screenwriting for “Rosemary’s Baby,” may have stemmed partly from the reaction of Academy members to seeing a film based partly on Polanski’s own experiences as a Holocaust survivor who lost his family in Poland.
Polanski topped frontrunners Rob Marshall for “Chicago,” who had won the Directors Guild award three weeks ago, and four-time nominee Martin Scorsese for “Gangs of New York.” He also beat out Pedro Almodovar for “Talk to Her” and Stephen Daldry for “The Hours.”
Polanski’s selection marked only the sixth time in 55 years that the Academy has differed with the DGA winner.
Brody’s selection also confounded many forecasters, who had positioned the contest as a race between Daniel Day-Lewis for “Gangs of New York” and three-time winner Jack Nicholson for “About Schmidt.”
Brody himself admitted he was stunned on hearing his name announced.
“The name — I didn’t know my name,” the elated thesp proclaimed. “I haven’t really written a speech because every time I wrote a speech for the past one of these things I didn’t win. But, you know, there comes a time in life when everything seems to make sense — and this is not one of those times.”
Brody, 29, topped Nicolas Cage for “Adaptation,” Michael Caine for “The Quiet American,” Day-Lewis for “Gangs of New York” and Nicholson for “About Schmidt” — all of whom have won Oscars.
Brody’s victory marks the first time that a quartet of previous winners has been topped by a first-time nominee.
Brody lost 30 pounds and learned to play the piano for the film.
“If it weren’t for the insomnia and the sudden panic attacks, this has been an amazing, amazing journey,” he said.
Brody went well past the 45-second limit, thanking his parents, Polanski and the “blueprint” provided by Szpilman’s book.
“This is a tribute to his survival,” he added.
Brody also made history by being the youngest ever choice for Best Actor. The previous youngest Best Actor recipient had been Richard Dreyfuss, who received the kudo for “The Goodbye Girl” in 1977 when he was 30.
Harwood’s victory for Best Adapted Screenplay also represented something of an upset, since David Hare had won the Writers Guild Award two weeks ago for his work on “The Hours” and Charlie Kaufman and the fictional Donald Kaufman’s “Adaptation” had won most of the other key awards season trophies.
“The Pianist,” which won the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, has grossed $19 million domestically since being released in December by Focus Features.
Host Steve Martin made light of Polanski’s absence from the proceedings, quipping in his opening monologue, “Roman Polanski’s here. Get him!”
Polanski fled the U.S. 25 years ago after his conviction on a sexual assault charge and lives and works in Paris.