'Gladiator' leads Oscar race with 12 nominations

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— Hollywood's resurrection of Rome marches on: ''Gladiator,'' the glitzy successor to ''Ben-Hur'' and ''Spartacus,'' led the Oscar field Tuesday with 12 nominations, including best picture, actor and director.

Another tale of ancient warriors, the Mandarin-language ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' was next with 10 picture, director and foreign-language film among them.

Also receiving best picture nominations were the candy-shop romance ''Chocolat,'' the legal drama ''Erin Brockovich'' and the drug-trade saga ''Traffic.''

Steven Soderbergh grabbed two of the five best-director slots, for ''Erin Brockovich'' and ''Traffic'' which could hurt his chances of winning if the two films siphon votes from each other. The last time a director was nominated twice in the same year was Michael Curtiz in 1938, for ''Angels with Dirty Faces'' and ''Four Daughters.'' (He lost.)

The other director nominees Tuesday were Stephen Daldry for ''Billy Elliot,'' Ang Lee for ''Crouching Tiger'' and Ridley Scott for ''Gladiator.''

''Gladiator,'' the first Roman spectacle since the 1960s, also grabbed nominations for actor Russell Crowe, supporting actor Joaquin Phoenix and Hans Zimmer's score. The computer wizardry used to recreate ancient Rome was named for visual effects.

''Those effects were crucial,'' said David Franzoni, a producer on ''Gladiator'' who also shared an original screenplay nomination for the film. ''I'd never seen Rome rebuilt where it looked real. It always looked like a set. I was never convinced from those old movies that I was looking at ancient Rome. But we were able to show what Rome looked like. That Goodyear blimp shot of the Colosseum you couldn't have done that any other way.''

In their heyday, gladiator flicks fared well at the Oscars. ''Ben-Hur'' won best picture and 10 other Academy Awards in 1959. (Its total of 11 is tied with ''Titanic'' for the most ever.) A year later, Peter Ustinov took the supporting-actor statue for ''Spartacus,'' which also won Oscars for costumes, sets and cinematography. ''Cleopatra'' had a best-picture nomination for 1963 and won four technical Oscars.

On top of its stunning visuals, ''Gladiator'' caught on because the frenzy of deadly spectator sports resonated with audiences, said Douglas Wick, another of its producers.

''There's much of Rome that feels very contemporary,'' Wick said. ''A population distracted by entertainment from more serious issues. The idea of celebrity athletes. ... It always felt relevant.''

It was the second year in a row that DreamWorks, the studio co-founded by Steven Spielberg, had the film with the most nominations. ''Gladiator'' was co-produced by Universal and DreamWorks, with the latter releasing the film domestically. A year ago, DreamWorks won best-picture honors with ''American Beauty.''

''Crouching Tiger'' is only the third film to earn both best-picture and foreign-language film nominations. The others were ''Life Is Beautiful'' in 1998 and ''Z'' in 1969. Last weekend, ''Crouching Tiger'' hit $60 million, passing ''Life is Beautiful'' as the domestic box-office champ among foreign-language films.

Top categories shaped up largely as expected, but there were a few surprises. Ed Harris was nominated for best actor and Marcia Gay Harden for supporting actress for ''Pollock,'' a film biography of painter Jackson Pollock that generally had been overlooked for earlier movie honors.

''I'm very proud of the movie and all the performances,'' said Harris, who also made his directing debut with ''Pollock.'' ''This is especially nice since you're nominated by your peers.''

The best-actor category includes two other nominees who played real-life creative figures: Javier Bardem as Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas in ''Before Night Falls,'' and past Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade in ''Quills.''

Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks was nominated for ''Cast Away'' and Russell Crowe for ''Gladiator.''

Julia Roberts is the best-actress front-runner for ''Erin Brockovich.'' But her competition may be the strongest among the acting categories, including past Oscar winners Juliette Binoche in ''Chocolat'' and Ellen Burstyn in ''Requiem for a Dream.''

''Everybody says this is Julia's year and she's got a lock on it. Maybe that's true, but I don't know,'' said Burstyn, 68, who won best actress in 1974 for ''Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore'' and was nominated four other times between 1971 and 1980.

''I'm so pleased at this age that a role like this would come along, which I consider the most challenging of my career.''

Also nominated are Joan Allen in ''The Contender'' and Laura Linney in ''You Can Count On Me.''

''A year ago, if someone told me I'd be getting this, I wouldn't believe it,'' Linney said. ''You Can Count On Me,'' a low-budget indie film, came out of nowhere a year ago to split the top honor at the Sundance Film Festival. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan earned a nomination Tuesday for original screenplay.

''I'm a little surprised it's gone as far as it has gone,'' he said.

Besides Phoenix, supporting-actor slots went to Jeff Bridges for ''The Contender,'' Willem Dafoe for ''Shadow of the Vampire,'' Benicio Del Toro for ''Traffic'' and Albert Finney for ''Erin Brockovich.''

Harden will compete for supporting actress against Judi Dench for ''Chocolat,'' Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand for ''Almost Famous,'' and Julie Walters for ''Billy Elliot.'' Dench and McDormand both have won Oscars.

The Oscars will be presented March 25 in a live broadcast on ABC-TV.

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