The Oscar battlefield at the 73rd Annual Academy Awards was a tense, evenly matched showdown between most-nominated films Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which were neck and neck throughout the night, but the Roman epic took home the most spoils, with five wins, including Oscars for Best Picture and for Best Actor for Russell Crowe.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took home four awards, including Best Foreign Language Film, but director Ang Lee, who won the Directors Guild of America award, lost out to double-nominee Steven Soderbergh in the Best Director race.
Soderbergh's surprise win — many pundits expected his nomination for Erin Brockovich in the same category to cancel out his Traffic nomination as it did at the DGA awards — came as a shock to the director too. "I think I looked pretty surprised, didn't I? You must know that I really didn't anticipate this. I didn't see it coming," said the bespectacled auteur. "I was having a great time, I got to see a lot of my friends get up there. It's going to take awhile to process."
Traffic tied Tiger in awards, including Oscars for Benicio Del Toro, screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, and Best Editing.
The anointing of Oscar favorite Julia Roberts went off just as predicted as she took home the Best Actress award for Erin Brockovich. The pretty woman can now add "Oscar winner" in front of her name. Roberts stopped the show with her acceptance speech, telling the conductor to "put down that stick, I'm going to be here for a while," in defiance of the 45-second speech time limit. She proceeded to talk for what seemed like 45 minutes, at one point giving an ecstatic half laugh, half yell: "I love it up here!" She said making the movie was "sinfully fun" and ended with "I love the world! I'm so happy, thank you."
"A girl's got to have her moment," the exuberant winner said backstage, adding, "Everybody tries to get me to shut up. It didn't work with my parents and it didn't work now."
After being passed over last year for his slow burn as a tobacco industry whistleblower in The Insider, Russell Crowe was victorious in the Best Actor race for his role as mighty Maximus in Gladiator. He beat out Oscar favorite Tom Hanks, actor's actor Ed Harris, fellow Australian Geoffrey Rush, and Spanish dark horse Javier Bardem.
As befits the "strength and honor" code of the film's mostly male combatants, Crowe paid homage to two men who inspired him, his late grandfather and his uncle.
Backstage, Crowe revealed that the cross pinned to his Armani three-quarter-length tuxedo jacket was his grandfather's MBE medal. "That stands for 'Member of the British Empire,'" said the new Oscar winner. "My grandfather was awarded the medal for his work as a war photographer in the second World War."
Besides honoring his family, Crowe praised his Gladiator director, Ridley Scott, whose film won the Best Picture Oscar but who personally lost out to Steven Soderbergh in a rare director-best picture split. "Really, folks, you know I owe this to one bloke, and his name is Ridley Scott," Crowe said.
In the first major upset of the evening, Pollock star Marcia Gay Harden beat out It Girl Kate Hudson and previous Oscar winners Judi Dench and Frances McDormand with her role as Lee Krasner, the wife of Jackson Pollock, in the Ed Harris biopic about the painter. The 41-year-old Harden characterized herself as a "New York theater actress," adding, in the Brooklyn, N.Y., accent she adopted in the film, "and now I'm here!"
You could characterize Benicio Del Toro's win as a rare example of the Academy giving the award to the right actor in the right year. Instead of the able (and oft overlooked) Albert Finney snagging a career Oscar for Brockovich, it was first-time nominee Del Toro who took home an Oscar to set beside his Golden Globe and his Screen Actors Guild Award. — Sharon Knolle
Click here for a complete list of the winners.