Despite the hobbits, Jews win a few Oscars

los angeles | The 76th Academy Awards brought much cheer to New Zealand, home of the 11 Oscars-winner “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” but little to the Jews.

“Rings” composer Howard Shore gained two awards from the sweep by the fantasy epic. His wins give the Canadian-born composer three Oscars from the trilogy.

There was a dollop of consolation in the best actor win for Sean Penn, son of the late Jewish television director Leo Penn.

The elder Penn was the grandson and great-grandson of rabbis and the son of Russian and Lithuanian immigrants, whose surname, Pinon, was anglicized at Ellis Island. He grew up near his father’s Jewish bakery in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles.

Leo Penn was married to Catholic actress Eileen Ryan and, according to reports, Sean and his two brothers were raised in a secular home.

Jewish comedian Billy Crystal, returning for his eighth stint as master of ceremonies, was in top form, serenading director Clint Eastwood for his “Mystic River, as dark and murky as mom’s chopped liver.”

Crystal also had some fun with the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” which opened Wednesday, Feb. 25, noting that the Academy Awards were being simulcast in Aramaic (a language resurrected for much of “Passion’s” dialogue.)

Jack Black had one of the comic highpoints of the evening when he, along with Will Ferrell, crooned the alleged lyrics to the song that plays when an Oscar recipient has exceeded the allotted time for acceptance speeches.

The actor Adrien Brody drew hearty laughs when he made light of his emphatic kiss of Halle Berry at last year’s ceremony.

During the In Memoriam segment, commemorating entertainment industry figures who had died in 2003, the mention of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, was met with markedly sparse applause. The passing of controversial director Elia Kazan was also met with faint applause.

In the documentary feature category, the Vietnamese war-era “The Fog of War” by Jewish documentarian Errol Morris beat two nominees focusing on rather dysfunctional Jewish families. “Capturing the Friedmans,” which centers on a father and son convicted of child molestation, might have been hurt by charges brought by six of their former victims that the film had distorted important information about the case.

The other entry, “My Architect,” chronicled the professional triumphs and highly unorthodox personal life of American architect Louis Kahn.

Director/producer Steven Spielberg of “Jaws” to “Schindler’s List” fame, had no movie in contention and had to limit himself to presenting the best picture Oscar to Peter Jackson for “The Lord of the Rings.”

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent