Basinger, Williams Win Early Awards

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Kim Basinger, who played the stunning hooker in "L.A. Confidential," took the first Oscar of the evening Monday at the 70th Academy Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. An obviously moved at being chosen best supporting actress, Basinger said she wanted to thank "everybody I've ever met in my entire life," including the film's director, Curtis Hanson.

"If anyone has a dream out there, just know I'm living proof they do come true," she said.

The sentimental favorite for the award had been Gloria Stuart, 87, who made a silver screen comeback as a woman who survived the Titanic in the James Cameron film that was nominated for a record 14 nominations. She was the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar.

Also competing in the category were Minnie Driver of "Good Will Hunting," Julianne Moore of "Boogie Nights" and Joan Cusack of "In & Out."

Robin Williams, the good-hearted therapist in "Good Will Hunting," won the best supporting actor award. Other nominees were Anthony Hopkins of "Amistad," Burt Reynolds of "Boogie Nights," Greg Kinnear of "As Good as It Gets" and Robert Forster of "Jackie Brown."

The first Oscar for "Titanic" went to Deborah L. Scott for costume design.

Host Billy Crystal launched the evening with ploy similar to one he used last year, in which he became a character in each of the films nominated for best picture. When he came onto the stage at the Shrine, he sang a medley of songs with clever tributes to each of the films, including a takeoff on "Day and Night," in which he substituted the first names of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, nominated for best screenplay written directly for the screen for "Good Will Hunting." Damon was also nominated for best actor for the film. Commenting on the relative youth of Damon among the Oscar nominees, Crystal said, "Matt Damon must feel like he's playing on the senior tour."

The stars arrived in full designer regalia, including Cher wearing her tribute to "Titanic," set off with a dramatic headpiece.

After a three-year absence, Crystal resumed as emcee last year.

This year's Oscar pageant was a celebration of comebacks, with a batch of nominees who had been largely forgotten, including Peter Fonda, Julie Christie, Robert Forster and Stuart.

The nostalgia theme extended to the ceremony's invitation list. The academy invited every living winner of the supporting and lead acting awards. Also among those attending was civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, who was a special guest of the motion picture academy.

The worldwide TV audience was projected at 1 billion. As Crystal joked: "A billion people are watching this, except Linda Tripp, who's taping it."

The ratings were expected to be better than last year's numbers, largely because of the monster draw of "Titanic," which has made nearly $500 million in North America.

The big questions at the 70th annual awards show were how many Oscars "Titanic," the 3-hour, 20-minute love story set aboard the doomed ocean liner could win and whether it could sweep past the record of 11 won in 1959 by chariot-race epic "Ben-Hur."

"Titanic" tied a record for most nominations set in 1950 by "All About Eve," and the irony of the evening was that it couldn't expect a best picture award to do that much to boost box office. Too many people have already seen it.

In 14 weeks of distribution, the film has broken all box office records. Since its release, "Titanic" has earned $494.7 million in North America; overseas, it has earned about $750 million.

Industry analysts predicted its foreign haul could rise toward $1 billion if it dominates the Academy Awards.

Up against "Titanic" in the best picture category were the critical favorite "L.A. Confidential," the American comedy "As Good as It Gets," the British comedy "The Full Monty" and "Good Will Hunting," a hit film about a working-class math genius.

Jack Nicholson was considered the favorite for best acting honors, thanks to his performance in "As Good as It Gets."

But he was up against a man truly on the comeback trail--Peter Fonda, whose father Henry was a movie legend. Peter's performance in "Ulee's Gold" won rave reviews.

Also contending were Dustin Hoffman for "Wag the Dog," newcomer Matt Damon for "Good Will Hunting" and Robert Duvall for "The Apostle." Duvall on Saturday won the Independent Spirit Award for best actor in an independent movie.

Helen Hunt was the favorite for best actress for her role as the waitress in "As Good as It Gets," even though critics swooned over Dame Judi Dench's performance as Queen Victoria in the little-seen "Mrs. Brown."

Hunt was the only American nominated in the category against four British actresses--Dench, Kate Winslet of "Titanic," Julie Christie of "Afterglow" and Helena Bonham Carter of "The Wings of the Dove."

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