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Spirited Away, Two Towers and ChubbChubbs Take Home Oscar Gold

On March 23, 2003 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the winners of this year's Oscars. Hayao Miyazakis SPIRITED AWAY (Walt Disney) was awarded the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, while visual effects stunner THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (New Line) took home the Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Eric Armstrong's THE CHUBBCHUBBS (Sony Pictures Imageworks) won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Many in the animation industry were delighted to see the award for Best Animated Feature lead off the awards. Presenter Cameron Diaz accepted on behalf of legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki who directed SPIRITED AWAY, but was not on hand to accept. In a statement released by his Tokyo's Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki wrote, "It is regrettable that I cannot rejoice from my heart over the prize because of the deeply sad events taking place in the world. However, I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to all my friends who have lent their effort in releasing SPIRITED AWAY in the United States and to all those who have shown their appreciation of the movie." Various animation members of the Academy were nervous that the voting had been opened up to the entire Academy membership in this category and feared that members would be swayed by marketing campaigns and studio politics over choosing the most deserving animated film. Some hope this sends a message that anime films can play well in the U.S. and deserve wider release. They also hope the victory of a traditional film will keep the medium alive with distributors and producers. Disney only released the film in 151 theaters taking in $5.5M while the feature toppled box office records in Japan. Studio Ghibli Producer Toshio Suzuki said that it was "most moving" to think that SPIRITED AWAY was initially rejected by a major U.S. movie distributor as unsuitable for the U.S. market. It was also the first Japanese feature film to win an Oscar (other than an honorable award) in a full-length feature category. MATRIX actor Keanu Reeves immediately followed Diaz to present the Visual Effects award to Jim Rygiel and Randall William Cook and first-time winners Alex Funke and Joe Letteri for TWO TOWERS. Jim Rygiel and Randall William Cook were part of the Weta Digital winning team last year for LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Cook made a special point of thanking the animation team at Weta. Funke got a physical effect pulled on him as his team's acceptance extended beyond the time limit so the microphone dropped down into the floor to cut off any further remarks. Later backstage, Rygiel explained director Peter Jackson did not come to the awards not due to the war, but because he was too busy cutting the third installment of THE RINGS trilogy due out December 2003. TWO TOWERS also won for Best Achievement in Sound Editing, with statuettes going to Ethan Van der Rhyn and Michael Hopkins. Later on in the broadcast, Actress Jennifer Garner (ALIAS, DAREDEVEL) was joined on stage by a computer-generated 3D Mickey Mouse to present the Animated Short Award to THE CHUBBCHUBBS, directed by Eric Armstrong. During his acceptance, Armstrong said animation and the award is "about the team, not the individual." Armstrong told AWN during a pre-Oscar event that SPI is looking into a longer form of CHUBBCHUBBS and is enthusiastically looking at his many other ideas. He said the buildup to the awards has been amazing but he'll be relieved to get back to a more normal life and focus on work again in the coming weeks. Between the war in Iraq and the lack of pre-show buildup, the Oscar broadcast on ABC was the lowest rated on record, drawing an average of 33.1 million viewers according to Nielsen Media Research and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. For a complete list of all winners go to http://www.oscars.org/75academyawards/index.html.

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