'Titanic' sails off will golden cargo Nicholson, Hunt, Basinger, Williams steal some thunder, but technical, directing, best picture awards earn epic film its place in Oscars history.

March 24, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Titanic," James Cameron's $200 million historical epic about the 1912 sea disaster, was the best picture at the 70th Academy Awards last night. The Oscar capped 11 wins for the movie, which tied with 1959's "Ben-Hur" for the most Oscars won in history.

"Titanic's" 14 nominations tied the record set by 1950's "All About Eve."

"My heart is full to bursting, except to say, 'I'm the king of the world!' " So said James Cameron with a triumphant whoop, echoing Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film, as he received the Oscar for best director.

For Cameron, the victory must have been extra-sweet: Just last summer he was under fire for going $100 million over budget on the technically daunting film, as well as for his explosive temper on the set. Critics buried "Titanic" before it even left its slip, but it went on to become the highest-grossing picture in North America and garnered its share of artistic respect as well.

Cameron asked that the audience join him in a few moments of silence for "Titanic," urging them to "listen to the beating of your own heart, which is the most important thing in the world."

Other than Cameron's characteristic blend of sincerity and hubris, this year's Oscars ceremony was an orgy of taste and restraint, with a few warm surprises; in fact, at times the proceedings were subdued to the point of catatonia.

The first award announced was also the evening's first upset, when a visibly stunned Kim Basinger took the Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance in "L.A. Confidential." Gloria Stuart, the 87-year-old actress who played a present-day survivor in "Titanic," was expected by most odds-makers to win.

If anything stood in the way of "Titanic," it would have been "L.A. Confidential," which was deemed best picture of 1997 by most critics' groups. But besides Basinger's award, the film won only for best adapted screenplay.

Although "Titanic" had managed to sweep the awards in most technical categories, in artistic categories, the winners were sprinkled throughout the nominees. Every film that was nominated went home with something in its pocket.

Helen Hunt won best actress for "As Good As It Gets," beating a line-up that included British veterans Julie Christie and Judi Dench. Jack Nicholson also won best actor for his performance as an obsessive-compulsive author in that film. He has been nominated a record 11 times and has won Oscars twice before, for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Terms of Endearment."

The best supporting actor Oscar went to Robin Williams, who had been nominated three times, for his performance as a perseverant psychologist in the coming-of-age drama "Good Will Hunting." That film's writing team, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, also won for best original screenplay.

Even "The Full Monty," the British working-class comedy that was this year's dark horse, won for best musical or comedy score.

Still, it was a night to remember for the cast and crew of "Titanic." In addition to Oscars for costume design, art direction, film editing, visual effects, sound, cinematography and sound effects, "Titanic" won for best original dramatic score for James Horner's musical score and best original song for "My Heart Will Go On."

Last year's Oscars, which went to such non-major-studio fare as "Shine," "Fargo" and "The English Patient," led to 1996 being dubbed the "Year of the Independents." This year Hollywood came back with a vengeance: Such major players as Warner Brothers, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Sony were represented in the field of nominees, all of which shared a penchant for such modest -- but enduring -- values as story, character and strong emotion. "As Good As It Gets," "The Full Monty," "Good Will Hunting" and "L.A. Confidential" shared smaller canvases and attention to detail and story that have been missing from recent Hollywood productions.

But, as a film featuring clips from the 69 previous best films amply demonstrated, Hollywood has always been at its best when it sold the story with spectacle. And it was that tradition that "Titanic" so grandly evoked. In addition to being the sort of big-budget extravaganza that defines Hollywood's more explosive side, the $200 million "Titanic" was just as much a product of Cameron's personal vision and determination as the scrappiest independent film: When the film went over budget, Cameron gave up his own percentage of the box office rather than compromise.

The Academy Awards ceremony got off to what is fast becoming a traditional and beloved start: host Billy Crystal's hilarious montage of clips from films nominated for best motion picture, wherein he inserts himself in key scenes. Whether he was being dunked into a toilet in the middle of "L.A. Confidential" or performing as Sammy Davis Jr. in the hold of the Titanic, he never missed a beat.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.