In a new honors ceremony marred by a phalanx of absent winners, fantasy spectacular "Lord of the Rings" led winners in the American Film Institute (AFI) awards by scooping three prizes.
The celluloid version of the dark Middle Earth of J.R.R Tolkien won the AFI movie of the year award, as well as pips for production designer and digital artist of the year emerging as a narrow victor from a very muddled field.
The prizes were handed out at the inaugural AFI awards ceremony, the latest addition to an already crowded Hollywood awards schedule that would like one day to rival the greatest prizes of all, the Oscars and Golden Globes.
They were the first major honors to be handed down as Tinseltown's awards machine builds up to full steam ahead of the Academy Awards on March 24, with "Lord of the Rings" emerging as a possible serious Oscar contender.
"For me, it was the best picture because it was a personal journey for all of us involved and everything was against us bringing these stories to film but we have done it," said young actor Elijah Woods who stars as Frodo Baggins in "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring."
The first in the 270-million dollar trilogy of "Rings" pictures was shot at more than 100 locations in New Zealand with more than 350 different sets used in the mega production, the first simultaneous shooting of three pictures.
But the risk and massive investment appears to be paying off.
Bob Shaye, chief executive of producers New Line Cinema played down the risk he took by commissioning three pictures to be produced at the same time, but conceded he was a little nervous at the start of filming.
But, he said: "I never lost confidence and my enthusiasm became unbridled when I saw what these people had done. They made an incredibly entertaining and satisfying film," he said after receiving the film of the year award.
Oscar winner Denzel Washington won best actor in a film for his role police drama "Training Day."
Oscar laureate Sissy Spacek won the award for best actress in a movie for her role as a fraught housewife in family drama "In the Bedroom."
Spacek, who won an Academy award for her performance in "A Coal Miner's Daughter, refused to speculate on her Oscar potential following a long lull in her career, saying she preferred to focus on the present honor.
"I'm enjoying every moment," she said. "I've been around long enough to know that it doesn't happen very often and when it does you have to enjoy every moment and that what I'm going to do."
Plush Parisian musical spectacular "Moulin Rouge," starring Nicole Kidman, took second place with two AFI awards -- for composer and editor of the year.
Another top name, Gene Hackman, won featured actor of the year -- a new term for best supporting actor -- for his role as an outcast father in "The Royal Tennenbaums."
Actress Jennifer Connelly picked up the same honour for playing the wife of schizophrenic maths genius John Forbes Nash Jr., played by Oscar winner Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind."
The single AFI award for "In the Bedroom" was a disappointment for the producers of film which had been one of the evening's two favorites, along with military action drama "Black Hawk Down" which failed to win a single award despite its five nominations.
The prize for best director went to veteran Robert Altman for his 1930s comedic suspense thriller "Gosford Park," while "Memento," won a screenwriter of the year award for Christopher Nolan.
In the television stakes, mafia drama "The Sopranos" won three out of seven television awards including best drama series, best actors for both its male and female stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco.
But the field was very wide, with most of the pictures nominated for film of the year winning no more than one award, further confusing the already cloudy vision of the Oscar prediction pundits.
The ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel was attended by a constellation of stars including Dustin Hoffman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ben Kingsley, Samuel L. Jackson, Elijah Woods and fellow "Lords" star Sean Astin.
But nine of the winners of the 19 film and television categories -- including Hackman, Washington and Altman -- failed to show up at the ceremony, causing embarrassment for the organizers of the would-be major awards player.
The AFI jury was made up of actors, writers, producers, critics, academics and other industry experts -- AFP
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )