"This is the first time I ever held one in my hands," said the director of the Holocaust drama that re-creates one of the darkest events in human history and yet chooses to emphasize heroism and nobility rather than evil.
"This is the best drink of water after the longest drought of my life," Spielberg said as he came to the stage a second time, for the Best Picture award. The film also won five other Oscars, for a total of seven awards, leading its competitors.
And "Jurassic Park," Spielberg's other picture this year, won three awards, coming in second in the sweepstakes. "The Piano" also took three Oscars.
Spielberg has been nominated three times before in the director's category and never won; it was widely held that his incredible early success with such films as "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Arc" and "E.T." had alienated and embittered older Academy members.
Tom Hanks won the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor at the 66th Annual Academy Awards for his performance in "Philadelphia" as a gay lawyer dying of AIDS who sues the prestigious law firm that fired him.
"The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels," Hanks said in tribute to people who have died of AIDS. "We know their names; they number a thousand for every red ribbon worn tonight."
Holly Hunter won for Best Actress for "The Piano," in which she played the mute mail order bride of a New Zealand plantation owner. Anna Paquin, an 11-year-old who played her daughter and spoke for her in the film, won Best Supporting Actress.
"Jane Campion: I love you, I love you," Hunter said in paying tribute to her director and author of the screenplay. "Thank you so much for giving me a character and an experience that was so difficult to say goodbye to -- except I don't have to say goodbye. It's everybody's now and that is such a gift."
Tommy Lee Jones won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a federal marshal pursuing escaped convict Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive."
Ms. Paquin's victory was a stunning upset in a category where Winona Ryder was held to be the front-runner for her performance in "The Age of Innocence."
Ms. Paquin's eyes lit up with amazement when she heard her name. The actress, who said earlier she had not prepared a speech because she doubted she would win, gasped for breath and stood trembling for a few seconds after being handed her statuette, then rushed through a series of "thank yous." She is the youngest Oscar winner since 10-year-old Tatum O'Neal won in the same category for "Paper Moon" 20 years ago.
Jones appeared under a gleaming dome and then announced to a stunned world: "I am not bald. I am working." He had shaved his head for a movie role as baseball great Ty Cobb.
The Supporting Actor category was one of the few in which a non-"Schindler's List" employee was given a chance at winning. Jones defeated Ralph Fiennes, who played the evil German SS officer Amon Goeth in the Holocaust epic. But the win was by no means an upset.
"Schindler's List" began its climb toward dominance when Allan Starski and Ewa Braun were given the Academy Award for Art Direction. The awards continued to roll in. Long-time movie composer John Williams won Best Score, Janusz Kaminski won in cinematography for his eloquent and expressive black and white work. Then "List's" Michael Kahn won for Best Film Editing.
Finally, Steven Zallion won for his screenplay adaption of the Thomas Kenneally novel that formed the basis of the Holocaust drama.
Jane Campion won for Best Original screenplay for "The Piano."
"Jurassic Park" began a mini-sweep of technical awards; the eerily convincing dinosaur epic, which was also directed by Spielberg and has gone on to become the most successful movie ever made, won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for its prancing, terrifying thunder lizards. In a novelty acceptance, the four recipients comically yakked over each other in an orgy of thanks-yous; it was funnier than most of host Whoopi Goldberg's tired jokes. The dinosaur picture also won for best sound effects and for best sound.
One of the evening's most sentimental moments arrived when )) Glenn Close presented an honorary Oscar to Deborah Kerr, the classy British actress who defined good taste in the '50s and '60s.
Following a montage of her most memorable scenes, Miss Kerr strolled majestically on stage and seemed to stumble through three thank-yous. Then she said, honestly, "I've never been so frightened in all my life. But I feel better now because I know I'm among friends."
Her past Academy nominations have included "From Here to Eternity," "The King and I," "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" and "The Sundowners," but Monday night's honor was her first Oscar.
Another prestigious prize, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, went to long-time star Paul Newman for his charitable donations -- over $8 million dollars from a line of food products that bear Newman's name. Newman's friend and co-star in "The Color of Money," Tom Cruise, presented the award.
"Belle Epoque," a Spanish language romantic comedy, won the award for Best Foreign Language film.
Bruce Springsteen won an Oscar for "Streets of Philadelphia," which he wrote and performed for Jonathan Demme's AIDS-themed "Philadelphia." "I guess it's all downhill from here," the rock star said in his acceptance speech.
Three makeup artists who transformed Robin Williams into "Mrs. Doubtfire" won for that astonishing transformation; the category was another where the winners triumphed over the Spielberg epic of the Holocaust.
"Age of Innocence," with its lush period recreations, won an Oscar for best costume design, which went to Gabriella Pescucci.
The ceremonies were being held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a day after a strong aftershock to the Jan. 17 Northridge quake shook the auditorium, but leaving no apparent damage.
Whoopi Goldberg was host, succeeding Billy Crystal, who declined to return after four years.
The list of presenters could fulfill the needs for any studio's annual product. They included past winners Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, Geena Davis, Goldie Hawn, Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson, as well as Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Elijah Wood, Johnny Depp, Jeff Bridges, Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin.
This year's theme was the people behind the camera. A special feature was a ballet to music from the nominated scores.
Two stellar awards already have been announced: Paul Newman, whose salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and other food products benefit a variety of charities, is the recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Long overlooked for the best actor Oscar, Newman received an honorary award in 1986 for a career that included such films as "Hud," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "The Hustler." The following year, he was named best actor for "The Color of Money," the
sequel to "The Hustler."
Three technical Oscars were presented in earlier ceremonies to Panavision Inc. for lens development, Manfred G. Michelson of Technical Film Systems Inc. for film processor development and Petro Vlahos for his technical contributions to the motion picture industry.