Chicago was named best picture at the Academy Awards ceremony last night in Hollywood but Roman Polanski's The Pianist almost pipped it to the post, winning in best director, actor and adapted screenplay categories.

It was a surprising turn of events, with the holocaust drama upsetting a long-anticipated sweep for frontrunner Chicago. The hit musical took a total of six awards - another triumph for producer/financier Miramax Films - and it looked like it would be dominant after taking five Oscars in quick succession for supporting actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), editing, costume design, art direction and sound.

But in the first sign that StudioCanal's European production The Pianist was going to be a big winner, Adrien Brody beat favourites Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson to the best actor Oscar. Screenwriter Ronald Harwood beat Bill Condon for Chicago, David Hare for The Hours and Charlie Kaufman for Adaptation and dedicated his Oscar to the obviously absent Polanski. When Polanski's name was read out by his Frantic star Harrison Ford as best director, many in the auditorium stood to applaud the veteran film-maker. Polanski had spent the evening in Paris having dinner with friends, explained Harwood backstage.

Meanwhile The Hours picked up only one Oscar from its nine nominations for actress Nicole Kidman, and Gangs Of New York - nominated for ten awards - failed to bag a single statuette. Director Martin Scorsese, up for the fourth time for that film, once again walked away empty-handed.

Even though his country Spain failed to select Talk To Her as its foreign-language film submission, Pedro Almodovar won in the best original screenplay category for the film - his second Oscar. He is only the fourth writer in Academy history to win an Oscar for a foreign-language script. The other winning films were Marie-Louise in 1945, Divorce - Italian Style in 1962 and A Man And A Woman in 1966. "I would like to dedicate this award to all the people that are raising their voices in favour of peace, respect of human rights, democracy and international legality," said Almodovar, not alone among winners who referred to the war in Iraq.

Racing onstage to collect the award from last year's Best Actress winner Halle Berry, Brody swept her up in his arms and kissed her on the lips, then made a moving speech in which he made an impassioned plea for peace. "Whatever you believe in, whether it's God or Allah," he said, "may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution."

Australia's Nicole Kidman, nominated last year for Moulin Rouge, collected her first Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, and with leading roles in Dogville, The Human Stain, Cold Mountain and (if ready) Birth coming this year, she should certainly be nominated next year as well. Kidman said in her speech that with the world in turmoil, art remained "important".

Few winners or presenters voiced opinion about the war in Iraq, although the irrepressible Michael Moore would not be prevented by Academy guidelines from having his say.

Walking up to collect the Oscar for best documentary feature for Bowling For Columbine, Moore was given a standing ovation. He brought his fellow nominees onto the stage with him and said that they were on stage in solidarity with him. Echoing his speech on Saturday at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards, he referred to his win in the non-fiction category saying "these are fictitious times with fictitious election results where we elect a fictitious president, we go to war to fight a fictitious war for fictitious reasons."

Shouting "Shame on you, Mr Bush," Moore was drowned out by both cheers and catcalls and then music, but backstage in the press room the reception was more unanimously favourable. "Anyone who voted for me for this award knew that I wasn't going to give a speech thanking agents and lawyers and agents of lawyers and lawyers of agents," he said. "I'm an American and you don't lose your citizenship when you enter the doors of the Kodak Theatre. I speak my mind in my films and I speak my mind here."

Asked whether he thought he would be blacklisted in Hollywood for his comments, he said: " I don't work in Hollywood. I am funded by Canadians and other people who don't live here. Hollywood voted for the film, though."

At his next spot on stage, the evening's host Steve Martin joked that "The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."

Another category which caused an upset was best song which went to Eminem and his collaborators for "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile. U2 had been the favourites to win for "The Hands That Built America" from Gangs Of New York or at least Kander & Ebb for "I Move On" from Chicago. Eminem was the only nominated song artist who didn't attend the show and perform his nominated song, but the award was picked up by Luis Resto who co-wrote the music with him and Jeff Bass. Resto said backstage that Eminem aka Marshall Mathers had simply not expected to win.

A heavily pregnant Zeta-Jones won for her first nomination for playing Velma Kelly in Chicago and was presented with the award by her Entrapment co-star Sean Connery. She acknowledged "everyone watching in South Swansea" as well as her husband Michael Douglas. "My hormones are just too way out of control to be dealing with this," she said. "And to my husband, who I love, I share this award with you," she concluded to Douglas, "along with this one too" patting her stomach.

Chris Cooper was named best supporting actor for playing the orchid thief in Spike Jonze's Adaptation. Cooper also won the Golden Globe in January for his performance, but in recent weeks Christopher Walken was considered a competitor after winning the BAFTA and SAG award for Catch Me If You Can. Cooper paid tribute to co-star Meryl Streep - a loser tonight for her supporting role in the film - saying that "working with this woman was like making great jazz."

Miramax also scored with Frida, which won two Oscars - for makeup and for Elliot Goldenthal's music score. Goldenthal dedicated his award to the people and artistic and political legacy of Mexico, where the film was set and shot. Conrad L Hall won his third Oscar posthumously for his cinematography on Road To Perdition.

Meanwhile Caroline Link's Nowhere In Africa won the best foreign language film Oscar for Germany, marking the first time the reunified Germany has won the category and the first time a German film has won since Volker Schloendorff's The Tin Drum (West Germany) in 1979. The Tin Drum was the only previous Germany win. Nowhere In Africa has been an early favourite ever since the nominations were announced; its Oscar win should boost its US theatrical run through Zeitgeist Films which began on March 7, 2003. Link did not attend the ceremony.

32 year-old Danish film-maker Martin Strange-Hansen and his producer Mia Andreasen won Oscars for their 31 minute live action short film This Charming Man (Der Er En Yndig Mand) about an unemployed man who dresses up as a Muslim to win over his childhood sweetheart, a language teacher in Copenhagen. It was produced by M&M Productions and Novellefilm Productions and fully financed by Short Fiction Film Fund Denmark which has now closed down. "We were the last film to be financed by them," said Strange-Hansen backstage.

Eric Armstrong's The ChubbChubbs!, which won animated short film, was financed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and screened before Sony's summer 2002 releases Men In Black II and Stuart Little 2. The short documentary subject winner Twin Towers is a 34 minute film about two brothers, one a fireman, one a police officer, who were both killed in the attack on the World Trade Centre on Sept 11, 2001.

A special Oscar was presented to Peter O'Toole by Meryl Streep. Backstage O'Toole was on wry form. Asked what he thought about movies today, the oft-nominated Brit replied: "When they're good, they're very very good and when they're bad, they're horrible," said O'Toole.