The ancient Roman epic "Gladiator" took best picture and earned Russell Crowe an Oscar for best actor at the 73rd Academy Awards here Sunday, while Taiwan's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and drug docudrama "Traffic" won four Oscars apiece.
British director Ridley Scott's swaggering, sword-swinging tale of ancient Rome won a total of five golden statuettes, beating out "Crouching Tiger," "Traffic," "Erin Brokovich," and "Chocolat" for the top film award, but lost out in seven other categories in one of the tightest Oscar races in years.
Crowe -- as the valiant Maximus in the movie -- continued his transformation into one of Hollywood's most bankable leading men, winning the best actor Oscar.
Crowe had been nominated for best actor last year for his portrayal of a tobacco company executive in "The Insider."
The New Zealand-born Aussie paid tribute to friends, family, and colleagues, but made special mention of Scott, saying: "But really folks, you know, I owe this to one bloke and his name is Ridley Scott."
In the academy voting, Crowe bested two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks ("Cast Away"), veteran Ed Harris ("Pollock"), Spaniard Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls") and Geoffrey Rush ("Quills"), another previous winner, to pick up his first Oscar.
The best actress award went as expected to Julia Roberts, a three-time nominee, for her role as a real-life crusading and cleavage-bearing law clerk in "Erin Brockovich."
Roberts played a tough-talking single mother who discovers that a powerful utility is poisoning the drinking water of a local community.
Roberts won over four other nominees: Joan Allen ("The Contender"), Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat"), Ellen Burstyn ("Requiem for a Dream") and Laura Linney ("You Can Count on Me").
"I would like to start with telling you all how amazing the experience of feeling the sisterhood of being included in a group with Joan Allen, Juliette Binoche, Laura Linney, and Ellen Burstyn for the last weeks," she said in her acceptance speech. "It just felt like such a triumph for me to be in that list."
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," took the Oscar for best foreign language picture, overcoming competition from "Amores Perros" (Mexico), "Divided We Fall" (Czech Republic) "Everybody Famous" (Belgium) and France's "The Taste of Others."
With its romance, magical, gravity-defying acrobatics as sword-wielding combatants scamper up walls, leap over rooftops and dance atop bamboo forests -- "Crouching Tiger" combines Hong Kong action cinema and traditional Chinese historical romance.
"Crouching Tiger" -- which Taiwanese director Ang Lee has described as "Bruce Lee meets Jane Austen" did more than that -- did what many thought impossible, overcoming Americans' traditional aversion to subtitled foreign-language movies.
The 10 Oscar nominations garnered by Lee's fantasy are the most ever received by a foreign-language film, breaking the previous record of seven held by Italy's "Life is Beautiful." Many were stunned by its runaway box-office success.
"Crouching Tiger" also picked up Oscars for best art direction, best original musical score and best cinematography.
Accepting the award, Lee paid special thanks to "my friends and family in Taiwan, to my collaborators in Hong Kong and to everyone, people in China who helped us so much to make this move."
Steven Soderbergh earned best director award for "Traffic," an unflinching look at the world of drugs on both sides of the US-Mexican border.
His gritty docudrama-style film presents an unvarnished portrayal of drug trafficking and its impact both in producer countries and in first-world nations, and its toll on those who sell and police drugs.
Character actor turned overnight sensation Benicio Del Toro won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as a Mexican cop in "Traffic" while Marcia Gay Harden won the best supporting actress Oscar for her turn as the wife of tortured US painter Jackson Pollock in Ed Harris' "Pollock."
Aging folk-rock icon Bob Dylan won his first Oscar for best original song with "Things Have Changed," from the movie "Wonder Boys." Rock star Sting and Randy Newman were also up for the award -- AFP
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