Fight scenes and Roman romance impressed the academy enough to give Gladiator the nod for Best Picture.
"It takes a lot of people to make a Coliseum, but it only takes one or two to mess it up. To all the wizards who brought to life the sights, sounds and citizens of a faraway world, we should take a chisel to this statue and give you your fair share," said Douglas Wick, a producer of Gladiator, which also won for Best Sound, Best Costume Design, and Best Visual Effects.
Crowe's commanding performance as a Roman general carried the movie, and showed his incredible range - far different from the chubby tobacco company executive he played in The Insider.
As many Hollywood watchers expected, Julia Roberts won Best Actress for her role as a working class woman who battled environmental polluters in Erin Brockovich.
When she won, an ecstatic Roberts ascended the auditorium stage and warned that she would be speaking for a long time "because I may never be here again." She clutched her first Oscar and said, "This is quite pretty."
Every actress nominated in the Best Actress category was highly acclaimed: Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me), Joan Allen (The Contender), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem For A Dream), and Juliette Binoche (Chocolat). But Roberts won the Golden Globe and she had Miramax's monster promotion team behind her all year.
Steven Soderbergh won the Oscar for Best Director for Traffic. Because he had the rare distinction of having two of his films in the running, he also lost the award as director of Erin Brockovich. Also in the hunt were Steven Daldry (Billy Elliot), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Ridley Scott (Gladiator).
Cameron Crowe won Best Original Screenplay for Almost Famous while Best Screenplay Adaptation went to Stephen Gagan for Traffic.
As expected, the Best Supporting Actor award went to Benicio Del Toro for his role as Tijuana police detective Javier Rodriguez in Traffic. He beat out Jeff Bridges (The Contender), Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire), Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich), and Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator).
Marcia Gay Harden edged out the favorite Kate Hudson of Almost Famous and took away the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lee Krasner, the long-suffering wife of artist Jackson Pollock in Pollock. "Ed Harris, thank you for inviting me to share your passion," she said to her director, who also played the title role and was a Best Actor nominee.
Harden also beat such distinguished competition as former Oscar-winner Frnces McDormand (Almost Famous) and Judi Dench (Chocolat).
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the dreamlike martial arts tale from Taiwan, scored four Oscars - Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score.
Director Ang Lee thanked "my friends and family in Taiwan and to my collaborators in Hong Kong and everyone, people in China who helped so much. You make this movie. This is a great honor."
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