Los Angeles -- Before Monday night, conventional wisdom had it that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would be scared off by "The Silence of the Lambs'" graphic brutality.
Instead, the voting members seemed to have been as excited as the average moviegoer was by the uncompromising intensity of this psychosexual roller-coaster ride.
It's encouraging evidence that the academy, long known for preferring films it's easy to sleep through, is finally waking up.
"The Silence of the Lambs," then, is the first Best Picture winner in some time to have actually rattled people's cages, as was the evening's biggest "surprise" -- Anthony Hopkins' Best Actor Oscar for his toothsome portrayal of "Silence's" madman, Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The smart money was on Nick Nolte to save "The Prince of Tides" from a shut-out. But let's, as Dr. Lecter might say, face it: Hollywood sharks, who make up a big proportion of the academy's voting membership, would rather think of themselves as murderous geniuses than as guys with so little control that they'd actually sleep with their shrinks.
Along with Jodie Foster's Best Actress, Jonathan Demme's Best Director and Ted Tally's Best Adapted Screenplay awards, "Silence" also nailed the evening's largest trove of Oscars ("Terminator 2" was second with four of the little gold-plated guys).
More remarkable, "Silence" is the first movie to nab all five top categories it was eligible for since 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and only the third in history to do so ("It Happened One Night," 1934, was the first).
The election of a movie as provocative, sense-assaulting and cinematically exciting as "Silence" signals a welcome move toward hipness for the traditionally stodgy academy. And talk about being essentially '90s: "Silence" is the second $100 million-plus grossing Orion Pictures release in a row to win the Best Picture Oscar, following 1990's "Dances With Wolves."
Orion, in Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, is essentially out of business.
The show itself evoked the evening's fast and smart overall tone. From host Billy Crystal's mercifully minimalist (and, another Oscar tradition-breaker, genuinely funny) opening production number to the surprise guest appearance of "The Addams Family's" Thing, this year's ceremony, along with most of the awards handed out, was unusually intelligent, up-to-date and (gasp) artistically sound.
For the most part, anyway. Jack Palance's delightfully vulgar acceptance speech (and the accompanying impressive physical display) for his "City Slickers" Best Supporting Actor Oscar was an early indicator that an uncharacteristically hot night was going to be had by all.
Mercedes Ruehl's perky acceptance speech for her "Fisher King" Best Supporting Actress Oscar was admirably free of the usual maudlin "I've worked so hard for this" sentiments (although category rival Juliette Lewis stole the show with her trendy corn-row hair style).
And let's hear it for the double dose of politically incorrect gutsiness the academy displayed in its Best Screenplay choices, Callie Khouri's ballistic female buddy Original Screenplay "Thelma & Louise" and Tally's gender-blendering Adapted Screenplay thrill ride.
It's hard to say what was more cutting-edge contemporary: the Atlantis space shuttle crew's zero-gravity greeting to Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award winner George Lucas, or "Terminator 2's" deserved sweep of the high-tech categories, despite its traditional Oscar sin of being the year's most popular movie.
And it was more than appropriate to honor "JFK" cinematographer Robert Richardson and editors Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia for their groundbreaking achievements in the two most cinematic categories; while Oliver Stone's conspiracy theories remain questionable, there's no arguing that these men have profoundly advanced their respective crafts.
Top Oscar winners:
* Picture: "The Silence of the Lambs."
* Actor: Anthony Hopkins, "The Silence of the Lambs."
* Actress: Jodie Foster, "The Silence of the Lambs."
* Supporting actor: Jack Palance, "City Slickers."
* Supporting actress: Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King."
* Director: Jonathan Demme, "The Silence of the Lambs."
* Best original song: "Beauty and the Beast."
The best of everything in 1991 at the movies
Here are the Oscar winners.
Picture: "The Silence of the Lambs."
Actor: Anthony Hopkins, "The Silence of the Lambs."
Actress: Jodie Foster, "The Silence of the Lambs."
Supporting actor: Jack Palance, "City Slickers."
Supporting actress: Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King."
Director: Jonathan Demme, "The Silence of the Lambs."
Original screenplay: Callie Khouri, "Thelma & Louise."
Adapted screenplay: Ted Tally, "The Silence of the Lambs."
Foreign film: "Mediterraneo," Italy.
Art direction: "Bugsy."
Costume design: "Bugsy."
Documentary feature: "In the Shadow of the Stars."
Documentary short subject: "Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment."
Film editing: "JFK."
Makeup: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
Music original score: "Beauty and the Beast."
Music original song: "Beauty and the Beast" from "Beauty and the Beast."
Animated short film: "Manipulation."
Live action short film: "Session Man."
Sound: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
Sound effects editing: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
Visual effects: "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."
Honorary Oscars announced in advance: Irving G. Thalberg Award, George Lucas; Lifetime Achievement Award, Satyajit Ray; Gordon E. Sawyer Award, Ray Harryhausen.