The man with the golden sword - the Oscar statuette's origins

Los Angeles, Feb 22 (IANS) In 1928, Mexican film director Emilio "El Indio" Fernandez was approached by the art director of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Cedric Gibbons, with a most unusual request. Would Senor Fernandez be willing to pose naked for Gibbons's current project - a golden statue of a knight holding a crusader's sword?

Fernandez, not surprisingly, was reluctant, but finally relented. And thus came into existence the greatest prize in all of moviedom - the Oscar statuette.

Known officially as the Academy Award of Merit, with various apocryphal stories explaining the nickname 'Oscar' in circulation, Gibbons's knight stands atop a reel of film with five spokes representing the original five branches of the Academy, and come Feb 22, a select few individuals from all over the world will be granted the chance to take home one (or more) of the golden figures.

The ceremony at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles will air from 6.30 a.m. IST Monday, and this year many millions of bleary-eyed Indians will switch on their televisions for the chance to see one of their best-loved compatriots taste Oscar glory.

Ten and three are the numbers to remember - the first being the number of nominations that audience favourite "Slumdog Millionaire" has garnered, and the second being the categories in which A.R. Rahman, India's numero uno composer is nominated.

Rahman has already picked up a Golden Globe and a BAFTA in addition to numerous critics' awards, and it is fair to say that there will be some degree of shock if he goes home empty-handed from Sunday night's ceremony.

Slumdog's director Danny Boyle and indeed the film itself are also hotly tipped as winners, though they are by no means dead certainties. In a strong year for film, David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" has been nominated in 13 categories, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for leading man Brad Pitt.

Also in the reckoning are two films inspired by true events: Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon", which is a dramatisation of the televised 1977 interviews between British broadcaster David Frost and former US president Richard Nixon; and Gus Van Sant's "Milk", a biopic of assassinated American politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

The lead actors of both "Frost/Nixon" and "Milk" have been nominated for Best Actor - Frank Langella as Nixon, and Sean Penn as Milk. Character actor Richard Jenkins has been shortlisted for his performance in "The Visitor", and Hollywood bad boy Mickey Rourke's comeback role in "The Wrestler" rounds out the men's category.

Kate Winslet is being hotly tipped to win her first Oscar for her role as a Nazi concentration camp guard under trial years after the Second World War in "The Reader". Any early celebration plans she may have made after being named as the winner in a recently-circulated internet document will have to be put on hold, however, after the said list was denounced as fake by event organisers.

Brad Pitt's partner Angelina Jolie has been shortlisted for her work in Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling", as has Anne Hathaway for "Rachel Getting Married". Melissa Leo is the darkest of dark horses for her work in "Frozen River", with two-time winner and 15-time nominee Meryl Streep closing out the Best Actress category for her depiction of a no-nonsense nun in 1960s America in the film "Doubt".

Oscar organisers have promised to shake things up a little this time around, the first sign of which is the recruitment of Hollywood hunk Hugh Jackman as host, rather than the usual stand-up comic or TV comedian. But whether the intent is to make you laugh or to make you swoon, one thing is for certain - award nights don't come any glitzier or any more glamorous than the Oscar night.

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