Gladiator won Best Picture, as expected, but Steven Soderbergh surprised the room by taking the Best Director Oscar at tonight's Academy Award ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Soderbergh won for Traffic, one of two films for which he was nominated (the other was Erin Brockovich), and had been widely expected to split his own vote. Visibly surprised at the win, Soderbergh said backstage that "all of you must know that I wasn't expecting to win this."

Traffic was a big winner at the show, turning four out of five of its nominations into Oscar gold. Benicio Del Toro won Best Supporting Actor, Stephen Gaghan won Best Adapted Screenplay and Stephen Mirrione won an editing award.

In total Gladiator won five Oscars including Best Actor for Russell Crowe as well as in costume design, sound and visual effects categories. But for director Ridley Scott, it was a bittersweet victory. Scott, who was widely expected to be eclipsed by Ang Lee, failed to win - beaten instead by Soderbergh. "I owe this to one bloke and his name is Ridley Scott," said Crowe in his acceptance speech. "Ridley Scott, you invaded three continents with your tireless perfectionism and brought new meaning to the phrase mad dogs and Englishmen in the noonday sun," said producer Douglas Wick in his acceptance speech.

Lee's Chinese language Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon walked away with four Oscars including Best Foreign Language Film for Lee himself. However, many had been anticipating that the blockbusting film would win in other major categories - certainly for Lee, who had won the DGA award, the BAFTA and the Golden Globe previously, as director - and maybe even for Best Picture.

Onstage Ang Lee thanked "my collaborators in Hong Kong and China who helped to make the movie" and cinematography winner Peter Pau said that the Oscar "was a great honour to me, to the people of Hong Kong and Chinese people all over the world."

Backstage, Pau said that the film's success indicates that Hong Kong's film industry will be more aggressive in "doing more things like Crouching Tiger." "I definitely see a change coming," he added. Other winners for Crouching Tiger included Tan Dun, the first winner of an Oscar from mainland China, for best original score and Tim Yip from Hong Kong for best art direction.

Another upset occurred in the Best Supporting Actress category when Marcia Gay Harden took the prize for playing Lee Krasner in Ed Harris' film Pollock; Kate Hudson was favourite to win for Almost Famous. But Cameron Crowe did win the Best Original Screenplay prize for Almost Famous - beating another frontrunner Kenneth Lonergan for You Can Count On Me.

Biggest non-surprise of the evening was the Best Actress win for Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich. The megastar delighted the audience with her exuberant thank you speech. "I love the world" she said. "I'm so happy, thank you." However, Roberts said backstage that she forgot to acknowledge the real Erin Brockovich in her speech. "I'll send her a little something to celebrate," she said.

European talent winning Oscars included the UK's Janty Yates, costume design winner for Gladiator. Yates whose credits include Enemy At The Gates, Welcome To Sarajevo and Jude, applauded the vision of director Ridley Scott for whom she has since costume designed Hannibal and she thanked Scott's son Jake Scott for whose directorial debut Plunkett And Macleane she also designed the costumes.

Also winning for Gladiator in the visual effects category were three Brits - Neil Corbould, Tim Burke and Rob Harvey (alongside American John Nelson) who worked on the film from UK effects outfit The Mill.

Winner for live action short film was the 34-minute German short Quiero Ser (I Want To Be') from director Florian Gallenberger and Mondragon Films. Shot in Mexico City, the film is the story of two orphaned brothers struggling to live on the streets. One betrays the other over a girl, and they separate, only to be reunited 25 years later.

Animated short film winner was also from Europe. UK/Dutch co-production Father And Daughter, produced by Cloudrunner Ltd (UK) and CineTe Filmproductie (Netherlands) was directed by Michael Dudok De Wit. The eight minute film, which also won the BAFTA award earlier this month, is the story of a young daughter whose life is affected by the perennial absence of her father.

Documentary winners, however, were both American. Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer's Into The Arms Of Strangers: Stories Of The Kindertransport was fully financed by Warner Bros. Telling the story of the Jewish children transported to the UK from Germany prior to the war, it continues a tradition of Holocaust-themed documentaries winning the Oscar which has included The Last Days (1998), The Long Way Home (1997), Anne Frank Remembered (1995, documentary feature) and One Survivor Remembers (1995, documentary short). Oppenheimer relayed backstage how her own mother was one of the children rescued from the approaching storm in Germany; her parents however were killed.

First time film-maker and LA resident Tracy Seretean won the documentary short subject award for Big Mama, a 40-minute film about an 89 year-old African American grandmother struggling to raise her troubled nine year-old grandson under the watchful eye of the cynical child welfare system in Los Angeles.

Octagenarian producer Dino De Laurentiis dedicated his Irving Thalberg award to the Italian film industry and hoped that it would produce "new ideas and fresh talent". He also encouraged the Hollywood studios not to be afraid to give chances to new and young talent.

Honorary Oscar winner Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter of West Side Story, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf', The Sound Of Music and North By Northwest, bought a political note into the proceedings, addressing the issues currently raised by the Writers Guild Of America strike. "I accept this rarest of honours on behalf of all screenwriters but especially those in the Writers Guild Of America," he said. "We have suffered anonymity far too often. I appeal to all movie critics and feature writers to please always bear in mind that a film production begins and ends with a screenplay."

Of all the studios, Universal came out top with eight Oscars - five for Gladiator (which it co-financed with DreamWorks), one for Erin Brockovich, one for U-571 and one for Dr Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Sony Pictures won seven - four for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was released by Sony Pictures Classics and co-financed by Columbia Pictures Asia, one for Pollock, another Sony Classics release, and one each for Erin Brockovich and Almost Famous which it co-financed with Universal and DreamWorks respectively.

DreamWorks took six Oscars - five for Gladiator and one for Almost Famous. It is the second consecutive Best Picture win for the studio, which originated both films, after American Beauty last year.

USA Films won four awards for Traffic, Paramount and Warner Bros took one award each for Wonder Boys and Into The Arms Of Strangers respectively.


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