Doubts over Oscars as stars get cold feet at last minute

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The Independent US

A big question is hanging over tomorrow night's Oscars ceremony in Hollywood, and it has nothing to do with speculation over which film will end up carrying off the largest clutch of golden statuettes. The question is whether the event will take place at all. And, if it does, whether any celebrities will want to show up.

A big question is hanging over tomorrow night's Oscars ceremony in Hollywood, and it has nothing to do with speculation over which film will end up carrying off the largest clutch of golden statuettes. The question is whether the event will take place at all. And, if it does, whether any celebrities will want to show up.

Even with the war in Iraq now under way, the official word is that the show will go on. Some adjustments are being made in recognition of the gravity of the moment. The red-carpet arrivals will be drastically scaled back, and the usual no-holds-barred extravagance of the evening's dress code will be replaced with something a little more understated.

But the organisers concede that if events in Iraq become so momentous as to overshadow everything else, they may have to admit that the world has more important things to worry about than whether Julianne Moore, Renée Zellweger or Nicole Kidman deserves the accolade of best actress for 2002.

Gil Cates, the awards show producer, and ABC, the television network broadcasting it in the United States, have ruled nothing out for now, and might not make a final decision on going ahead with the event until today. Mr Cates said: "We are continuing our efforts to bring the show together on Sunday, but we do understand that ABC may adjust to war coverage if it is required and that ABC news will cover news as it happens."

Many stars are making clear that they do not relish the prospect of squirming under the lights in full glamour regalia when soldiers and civilians are dying under heavy bombardment half a world away. Will Smith and Angelina Jolie, neither of them up for any awards, have withdrawn as presenters at the show. Peter Jackson will not be present either. He is not up for best director but his film, the latest instalment of The Lord of the Rings, is up for a clutch of awards.

Alberto Grimaldi, the veteran Italian producer of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York, is staying in Italy, even though he might win best picture, and Aki Kaurismaki, whose Man Without a Past competes for best foreign- language film, has written to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to say his absence will have a very specific political motivation. "Cinema should live, but this chance should also be given to Iraqi civilians – children, women and men," he wrote.

The war has cast a pall on pre-Oscar parties, many of which have been either scaled back or cancelled. Vanity Fair will be dispensing with its traditional red-carpet line tomorrow night, and many others will be exchanging the usual champagne and caviar for beer and sandwiches. "At the moment, the plan is for everything to go on but be more subdued," said Harvey Weinstein, co- chairman of Miramax, which has no fewer than 40 nominations in the Oscars race.

The mood is heavily influenced by the fact that many performers and film makers have spoken out passionately against the war and do not now want to be part of some inanely superficial entertainment designed to distract the American public, and the soldiers barracked in Kuwait, from the seriousness of the invasion that President George Bush has unleashed.

Several participants have said they will wear peace pins, among them Dustin Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Jim Carrey, Ben Affleck, Michael Moore and Kirsten Dunst. Others are considering wearing pieces of duct tape as a deliberate jab at the Bush administration, which recently covered itself in ridicule by suggesting that Americans should buy rolls and rolls of it to tape up their windows and doors in the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack.

Actors involved in the scripted parts of the Oscars show will not be permitted to ad lib and give their views on world affairs, but award winners will have 45 seconds to say whatever they like – whether it is to thank God, their mother and their agent, or to ruminate on the nature of the new world security order based on unilateral pre-emption rather than collective action.

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