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Lincoln helmer Steven Spielberg had been considered the front-runner for much of awards season, though support for Lee — who also won best director for Brokeback Mountain in 2006 — had been building in recent days.
Life of Pi — based on the acclaimed Yann Martel novel that most thought was impossible to adapt for the big screen — has grossed $583.4 million worldwide for 20th Century Fox, much of it overseas. It is Lee’s first 3D film.
“This is a great night for me and everybody who liked this movie,” Lee told reporters backstage, Oscar statuette in hand. “Here’s the thing: I think it was miracle that I could make this movie. I carried anxiety for four years.”
Life of Pi won a leading four Oscars on Sunday: best director; achievement in cinematography for Claudio Miranda; achievement in visual effects for Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliot; and best original score for Mychael Danna.
Although the best picture and best director Oscars often go to the same film, neither Life of Pi nor Brokeback Mountain won the big prize.
Lee said that as he was leaving the stage Sunday night, Jack Nicholson — who announced the best picture winner with help from first lady Michelle Obama — spotted him and shouted out, “Crouch,” a reference to Lee’s 2000 Oscar contender Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Most of Life of Pi was shot in Taiwan, where Lee was born. “This movie really belongs to the world, and I share my excitement with Asian people and people everywhere,” he said.
Life of Pi has grossed nearly $100 million in China alone.
Asked if he would work with 3D technology again, Lee again said he’d love to remake 2001: A Space Odyssey.
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