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Oscars '98

'Titanic' Snags 11, Ties for Record

Hunt, Nicholson Win for 'As Good as It Gets' Roles

March 24, 1998|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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.

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