It was a night to remember for “Titanic.” The epic drama about two lovers aboard the ill-fated 1912 luxury liner continued its passage into film history by winning best picture at Monday night’s 70th annual Academy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium.
The film, which recently supplanted “Star Wars” as the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history, earned 11 Oscars, tying 1959’s “Ben-Hur” as the most honored film in Academy history.
“Titanic’s” Oscar haul included best picture, cinematography, film editing, sound, costume design and art direction, as well as a best director Oscar for James Cameron.
Cameron has enjoyed box office success with “Aliens,” the two “Terminator” movies and “True Lies,” but had never received a nomination for his work. On Monday night, he also shared an Oscar for best editing, the first time a director has won in both categories.
The Oscar win represented an emotional triumph for Cameron, whose name was repeated like a mantra in thank-you speeches over the course of the evening. His three-hour-plus film had been a subject of considerable second-guessing and controversy, especially when its $200-million budget appeared to have killed any chance of the film making its money back for 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures, the two studios that co-financed the picture.
Flushed with victory, Cameron howled, “I’m king of the world!” He thanked his cast and his parents, Phillip and Shirley, whom he affectionately dubbed “my original producers.”
Accepting the award from presenter Warren Beatty, an obviously elated Cameron chortled, “I don’t know about you, but I’m having a really great time.” When he returned to accept the best picture award, Cameron was more somber, asking for a few moments of silence for the 1,500-odd people who died on the Titanic.
An odds-on favorite after winning a boatload of awards leading up to the Oscars, “Titanic” joins the ranks of bigger-than-life Oscar-winning epics as “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dances With Wolves” and “Braveheart.” The film was a labor of love for Cameron, who wrote the script, co-edited and co-produced the film, and spent several weeks in 1995 shooting footage of the real-life Titanic wreckage that was used in the film.
The one area in which “Titanic” hit an iceberg was in the acting categories. In what was clearly a popular victory, Jack Nicholson won best actor for his prickly comic performance in the James L. Brooks film “As Good as It Gets.” This was the third Oscar for the 11-time nominee, who previously won best actor for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and best supporting actor for Brooks’ 1983 film, “Terms of Endearment.”
Nicholson, sounding hoarse, joked about “Titanic’s” dominance. “I’ve had a sinking feeling all night up to here,” he said, adding, “we’re very proud of the picture.” He dedicated his win to a host of heroes, including Miles Davis, Robert Mitchum and J.T. Walsh. “They’re not here anymore, but they are in me,” he said.
Nicholson’s co-star, Helen Hunt, won best actress for her portrayal of a harried single mother who develops an emotional relationship with an eccentric writer, played by Nicholson. Hunt won out over four British actresses, including Golden Globe winner Judi Dench, normally favorites with the academy.
Winner of two Emmys for her comic role in the TV series, “Mad About You,” Hunt originally studied acting with her father, Gordon Hunt, an acting coach and TV director whom she thanked in her acceptance speech. Her highest praise went to director Brooks, who also co-wrote the film. “I’m here for one reason--Jim Brooks,” Hunt said in her acceptance speech. “I thank God for giving me a little piece of you.”
With its period costumes and historic significance, “Titanic’s” sweeping victory dramatized the nostalgia-tinged ceremony, which honored the 70th anniversary of the Academy Awards.
The telecast showcased a reunion of former Oscar winners from the past six decades, including such familiar faces as Sean Connery, Anne Bancroft, Shirley Temple and Robert De Niro, as well as Luise Rainer, who was named best actress in 1936 and 1937.
Honored by the academy for life achievement, “Singin’ in the Rain” director Stanley Donen received a standing ovation, tap dancing and singing “Cheek to Cheek” from “Top Hat,” a 1935 hit starring his idol, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. The telecast kicked off with a 3 1/2-minute film featuring clips of all 69 best picture winners. Emcee Billy Crystal also made a special introduction of 90-year-old Fay Wray, star of the 1933 version of “King Kong.”
“Good Will Hunting,” which had been touted as a possible best picture dark horse, wasn’t shut out entirely. Childhood friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, 27 and 25, won original screenplay for the emotional drama about a blue-collar math wizard’s struggle to make peace with his own genius.
Best supporting actor went to Robin Williams, as the therapist trying to help Damon. It was Williams’ fourth nomination, his first in the best supporting category. In an emotional but relatively subdued acceptance speech, Williams acknowledged his late father, saying, “I want to thank my father, up there, the man who when I said I wanted to be an actor, he said, ‘Wonderful, just have a backup profession, like welding.’ ”
Critics’ darling “L.A. Confidential” also picked up two statuettes. Director Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland won for best adapted screenplay. And Kim Basinger received the supporting actress award for her role as a high-class call girl who resembled 1940s femme fatale Veronica Lake.
She beat out sentimental favorite Gloria Stuart, the 87-year-old actress who played Old Rose in “Titanic.” Overcome with joy and surprise with her first Oscar nomination, Basinger also thanked her father, saying, “If anyone has a dream out there, please know that I’m living proof that they do come true.”
“The Full Monty,” the evening’s underdog contender, won an Oscar only for Anne Dudley’s original musical or comedy score. James Horner won for his dramatic score for “Titanic,” and also for the song, “My Heart Will Go On,” which he co-wrote with Will Jennings. The Dutch film “Character,” a father-son drama set in the 1920s, won for best foreign film. Winner for best feature documentary was “The Long Way Home,” a film about the turbulent journey of Holocaust survivors to Israel after World War II.
The show ran late, clocking in at three hours and 42-plus minutes--17 minutes longer than the film “Titanic” and a new Oscar record.
Crystal, hosting his sixth Oscar telecast, jokingly complained that “I didn’t want to do the show this year, but the academy talked me into it.” He opened the program with a film parody of the nominated films, which included him posing nude as Kate Winslet being sketched by Leonardo DiCaprio, dressing in Kim Basinger’s frock coat and platinum-blond locks from “L.A. Confidential,” and being choked by his friend, Robin Williams, co-star of “Good Will Hunting.”
Noting that most of the best actor nominees were over 50, Crystal quipped: “Matt Damon must feel like he’s playing on the senior’s tour.” Crystal wasn’t the only one supplying laughs. Introducing “Titanic” as a best picture nominee, Arnold Schwarzenegger said he had previously made three movies with Cameron, including both “Terminator” films, in what Schwarzenegger termed the director’s “early, low-budget art house phase.”
Cameron’s script wasn’t nominated, making it the first time since 1965’s “The Sound of Music” that a film won best picture without its screenplay being nominated. But “Titanic’s” Oscar triumph represented a vindication for its studio backers, especially 20th Century Fox, which had put up $135 million, the lion’s share of the film’s mammoth budget.
It was Fox who had been cast as the villain at last year’s awards, after having balked at paying $35 million to bankroll “The English Patient,” which went on to win nine Oscars, including best picture, after finding financing elsewhere.
Times staff writer Susan King contributed to this story.
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THE BIG WINNERS
* Best Picture: “Titanic”
* Best Actor: Jack Nicholson, “As Good as It Gets”
* Best Actress: Helen Hunt, “As Good as It Gets”
* Best Supporting Actor: Robin Williams, “Good Will Hunting”
* Best Supporting Actress: Kim Basinger, “L.A. Confidential”
* Best Director: James Cameron, “Titanic”
* Best Original Screenplay: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, “Good Will Hunting”
* Other Oscars for “Titanic”: Cinematography, art direction, costume design, film editing, original dramatic score, original song, sound, sound-effects editing and visual effects.
* Rest of the coverage in Calendar: F1-F5
* ‘MAD’ ABOUT THEM: Oscar winner Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser have agreed to do another season of NBC’s “Mad About You.” F6