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'Gladiator' Triumphs: Roberts, Crowe Win

Academy Awards: Ridley Scott's epic wins best picture, but no film dominates. Steven Soderbergh takes directing honors for 'Traffic.'


The 73rd Academy Awards had all the elements of its best films--winning stars, a fast pace and a suspenseful ending. Best picture nominees "Gladiator," 'Crouching Tiger" and "Traffic" each seemed in the running for the top prize right up until the end with four Oscars apiece.

But it was "Gladiator," a tale of revenge in ancient Rome that recalled the sword-and-sandals epics of the past, that was named best picture of the year.

Double nominee Steven Soderbergh won as best director for "Traffic," becoming the first double nominee in the same category to win; he was also nominated for "Erin Brockovich."

The one award that was least surprising went to Julia Roberts, who took home the statuette for the title role as in "Erin Brockovich." Roberts, Hollywood's biggest female star, was nominated twice before for "Pretty Woman" (best actress) and "Steel Magnolias" (supporting actress), but did not win. She was the odds-on favorite this time, after getting the Screen Actors Guild award, a Golden Globe and a number of critics awards.

"I have a television, so I'm going to spend some time here to tell you some things," she said, a response to host Steve Martin's mention that the Academy would give a high-definition TV to the person who made the shortest acceptance speech.

Then, looking down into the pit where conductor Bill Conti was ready to strike up the orchestra, she added: "And sir, you are so quick with that stick, so why don't you sit because I may never be here again."

The popular actress thanked dozens of people, including her director. "Steven Soderbergh, you truly just made me want to be the best actor that I suppose I never knew I could be or aspired to." And finally, apparently on the verge of tears, she squealed a loud laugh and shouted, "I love the world! I'm so happy! Thank you!"

Russell Crowe won the best actor Oscar for "Gladiator," in which he played a general of the Roman Empire who avenges the murder of his family as a gladiator in the Coliseum.

Crowe, an Australian who was nominated and lost last year for "The Insider," said, "You know when you grow up in the suburbs of Sydney or Auckland or Newcastle like ["Gladiator" director] Ridley [Scott] or Jamie Bell [of "Billy Elliot"), or the suburbs of anywhere, a dream like this seems vaguely ludicrous and completely unattainable. But this moment is directly connected to those childhood imaginings. And anybody's who's on the downside of advantage and relying purely on courage, it's possible."

Throughout the evening, the award tally shifted back and forth among "Gladiator," and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Traffic."

Art director Tim Yip won the first award of the night, for recreating ancient China in great detail for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." The Chinese-language film not surprisingly went on to win the best foreign film Oscar, but also scored in other categories.

After "Crouching Tiger" cinematographer Peter Pau won, he rattled off a list of mostly Chinese names in his thank you speech, calling his award "a great honor to me and to Chinese people all over the world." And Tan Dun, who won best original score, said, "Tonight I see boundaries being crossed."

"Gladiator" won for its costume design by Janty Yates; best sound by Scott Millan, Bob Beemer and Ken Weston; and visual effects by John Nelson, Neil Corbould, Tim Burke and Rob Harvey.

The awards for supporting roles went to first-time nominees Marcia Gay Harden and Benicio Del Toro.

Harden won for her portrayal of artist Lee Krasner in the low-budget film "Pollock," directed by her co-star and fellow Oscar nominee Ed Harris.

Harden's on-stage acceptance speech was brief, but backstage she explained to reporters, "As an actress who came up in New York City in the theaters, waiting tables and all of the above, I never dreamt of this. I swore that if I ever won an Oscar I would thank all the waiters and waitresses who used to cover my shift for me so I could run downtown on the subway and audition. With 45 seconds you just can't give it to the waiters."

Del Toro won for his performance as a dedicated and honest Mexican cop in Tijuana in "Traffic"--a role that earned him a best leading actor award from the Screen Actors Guild. Del Toro is also the second actor to win an Oscar for a role performed primarily in a foreign language. Robert DeNiro won for his mostly Italian part "The Godfather II."

Del Toro also may be remembered as the only actor ever to dedicate his Oscar to the locations where the film was shot, Nogalas, Ariz. and Nogalas, Mexico. "As an actor, the location is so important and the people were so humble, so beautiful that it really made it easy for me to get into it," Del Toro said backstage, "And I think it helped all the actors and I think it helped the film."

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