LOS ANGELES – There was only one king at the 76th annual Academy Awards. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (search) won a record-tying 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director for Peter Jackson (search).
It was the crowning moment for Jackson who toiled on the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy for seven years and made the first-ever fantasy film to win a best picture Oscar.
"I'm so honored and relieved that the academy and the members of the academy that have supported us have seen past the trolls and the wizards and the hobbits in recognizing fantasy this year," said Jackson, who just a few years ago was an obscure New Zealander known mainly for his art-house film "Heavenly Creatures.”
The final film in the “Rings” trilogy – an ensemble – was not nominated in any of the acting categories, though.
In the most nail-biting race of the night, Sean Penn (search) won the best actor award for his role as a distraught father in "Mystic River." It was Penn's fourth Oscar nod and his first win. Going into the awards show, many speculated that Penn, a notorious Hollywood outsider, would lose to either Bill Murray or Johnny Depp.
Being true to his image as a rebel, Penn made one of the few political comments of the night during his acceptance speech.
"If there's one thing that actors know, other than there weren't any WMDs, it's that there is no such thing as best in acting," he said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. "And that's proven by these great actors that I was nominated with."
Continuing her sweep of the season's awards, South African beauty Charlize Theron (search) won the best actress award for "Monster." To play the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron let go of her model image by gaining 30 pounds and going through hours of makeup to age her skin.
"This has been such an incredible year," she said while clutching her Oscar. She also took home the Golden Globe earlier in the year.
In the supporting actor category, Tim Robbins (search) won for his role as a man suspected of murder in "Mystic River." The outspoken actor refrained from making any political remarks, but did make something of a public service announcement about victims of abuse.
"In this movie, I play a victim of abuse and violence," Robbins said. "If you are a person who has had that tragedy befall you, there is no shame in seeking help and counseling."
Renee Zellweger (search) won her first Oscar, for best supporting actress, after being nominated and losing in the past two years. She won for her role as a tough mountain woman in the epic Civil War film "Cold Mountain."
Sofia Coppola (search) took home the award for best original screenplay for her moody film "Lost in Translation" about two Americans suffering through loneliness and alienation in Tokyo.
"Thank you to my dad for everything he taught me," said Coppola, whose father is “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola.
Billy Crystal (search) returned to the Oscar telecast for the first time since 2000. He began with a video montage in which he spoofed most of the nominated films by inserting himself into scenes, including Diane Keaton's nude scene in "Something's Gotta Give."
On stage, he broke out into a song-and-dance, comedy routine, joking that “Return of the King”’s 11 nominations equaled “one for each ending.”
Showing that the final film in the trilogy truly was indeed king, "Return of the King" took home every technical award it was nominated for, including art direction, costume design, visual effects, makeup, sound mixing and film editing.
"Did you know people are moving to New Zealand just to be thanked," Crystal said part way through the awards show after "Return of the King" had already won seven awards.
The fantasy film was also apparently music to academy voters’ ears. It won for original score and original song. The film’s 11 Oscars tied the record with “Titanic” and “Ben Hur.”
One of the year's highest-grossing films, the undersea adventure "Finding Nemo" won for best animated feature.
French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand's "The Barbarian Invasions," an alternately merry and melancholy story of a dying man's reunion with his estranged son, won the foreign-language honor.
Director Errol Morris' "The Fog of War" — a portrait of Robert McNamara, U.S. defense secretary for much of the Vietnam War — won the Oscar for feature-length documentary. Morris compared U.S. military action overseas in Iraq with the Vietnam era.
"Forty years ago, this country went down a rabbit hole in Vietnam — millions died," Morris said. "I fear we're going down the rabbit hole once again."
Among the special tributes of the night were ones to Bob Hope, Gregory Peck and Katharine Hepburn, who all passed away in 2003.
On the red carpet, glamour returned to Hollywood’s highest honor after two years in which the usually high fashion and outlandish behavior was muted by world events — the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2002 and the Iraq war in 2003.
The Oscars were aired three weeks earlier this year after academy officials decided to move them up from the traditional late-March date. The move was intended to boost sagging television ratings for the broadcast, with academy executives figuring the earlier ceremony would make the show a fresher draw for audiences worn out by Hollywood's prolonged awards season.
In the post-Janet Jackson climate, ABC decided to air the ceremony with a five-second delay so censors could edit out anything objectionable.