A major crisis was only narrowly averted by Helen Hunt, the American who took the best actress Oscar from under the nose of the four British nominees. The first time she saw Her Majesty Mrs Brown, she insisted, she was convinced Dame Judi Dench would get the Academy Award. "And in my mind tonight she has," she said. "And so has Julie Christie, and so has Helena Bonham Carter, and so has Kate Winslet."
The full strangeness of the Oscars was on display on Monday night, when stretch limos, with their televisions aglow but occupants otherwise invisible, crowd the streets of South Central around the Shrine Auditorium. It is the night, after all, when people who dress up and pretend for a living do their best to persuade a world audience that they are, by turns, tearful, ecstatic and lost for words.
In the end, Titanic's night of triumph fell strangely flat, though the film dominated the evening from the moment presenter Billy Crystal sank to the stage on a giant prow. "What a shock," said Madonna, drily, summing up the mood as she announced that "My Heart Will Go On", the theme tune sung by Celine Dion which has been virtually inescapable in America this spring, had won best original song.
Titanic scooped 11 of 17 possible Oscars, tying Ben Hur's record, and including one for Briton Peter Lamont, for art direction. As predicted, it cleaned up the production and technical awards and delivered two statuettes to director James Cameron, for best director and best editing and one for producer Jon Landau for best film, while its acting and writing were ignored. Notable by his absence was the male lead Leonardo DiCaprio, who is rapidly emerging as Hollywood's biggest heart-throb but failed to be even nominated for best actor.
Cameron, initially ridiculed for running the film hugely over-budget, now celebrated as one of the great Hollywood directors, asked for a moment's silence for a film based "on a real event where real people died". Then he borrowed a line from his own script, crowing: "I am the king of the world! This is a night to remember. Let's party till dawn."
If it was any consolation to the British crowd, the ceremony seemed one of the dullest of recent years, devoid of much real excitement or drama. For an event that celebrates the young and the beautiful, it was curiously heavy with faces of the past,
including a line-up of ancient Oscar winners that included Luise Rainer, 88, who won in 1936 for The Great Ziegfield.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two rising young actors who won for jointly writing the screenplay for Good Will Hunting, attended with their mothers. The best impromptu performance of the night came from Mike Van Diem, whose film Character won the Oscar for best foreign film, four days before it opens in the US. Drunk with delight, he introduced himself to Sharon Stone as "just another crazy Dutch director". "This ought to tell you that it probably has, you know, like damn stunning subtitles," he said from the stage.
Helen Hunt, a celebrated US TV comedienne, took her first major film role starring opposite tornadoes in Twister. She had emerged late in the game as the favourite for the comedy As Good as It Gets opposite Jack Nicholson, who took the Best Actor award.
British losers were gracious in defeat. Kate Winslet declared she was "not in the slightest" disappointed, though it is the second time - after her nomination for Sense and Sensibility - that Oscar has escaped her. "I'm just thrilled to be here," said Dame Judi, who had won the Golden Globe that often signals Oscar success. "I have seen people I have only ever seen on the screen."
The Full Monty, with four nominations, was never favourite for best picture or best director, while a plagiarism suit, whatever its merits, may have hurt the chances of Simon Beaufoy for winning best screenplay. Only Anne Dudley, the composer, won an Oscar. "I think Hollywood really liked this movie, but they couldn't bring themselves to give it best picture with Titanic in the ring," she said. "I think they wanted to give it something and I was there."
Winners of the 70th Academy Awards
"Titanic" (20th Century Fox/Paramount)
Best performance by an actor in a leading role:
Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets" (TriStar)
Best performance by an actress in a leading role:
Helen Hunt in "As Good as It Gets" (TriStar)
James Cameron, "Titanic" (20th Century Fox/Paramount)
Best performance by an actor in a supporting role:
Robin Williams in "Good Will Hunting" (Miramax)
Best performance by an actress in a supporting role:
Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" (Warner Bros.)
Best achievement in art direction:
"Titanic" Art direction Peter Lamont, Set direction Michael Ford
Best achievement in costume design:
"Titanic." Deborah L. Scott
"Men In Black." Rick Baker and David LeRoy Anderson
Best live action short film:
"Visas And Virtue." Chris Tashima and Chris Donahue
Best animated short film:
"Geri's Game" Jan Pinkava
Best documentary short subject:
"A Story Of Healing." Donna Dewey and Carol Pasternak
Best documentary feature:
"The Long Way Home." Rabbi Marvin Hier and Richard Trank
Best achievement in visual effects:
"Titanic." Robert Legato, Mark Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher and Michael Kanfer
Best achievement in sound:
"Titanic." Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Gary Summers and Mark Ulano
Best achievement in sound effects editing:
"Titanic." Tom Bellfort and Christopher Boyes
Best film editing:
"Titanic." Conrad Buff, James Cameron and Richard A. Harris
Best original dramatic score:
"Titanic." James Horner
Best original musical or comedy score:
"The Full Monty." Anne Dudley
Best original song:
"My Heart Will Go On" from "Titanic." James Horner and Will Jennings.
Best foreign language film:
"Character." the Netherlands (A First Floor Features production)
Best adapted screenplay:
"L.A. Confidential." Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson
"Good Will Hunting." Ben Affleck and Matt Damon
Best achievement in cinematography:
"Titanic." Russell Carpenter