Yes, I realize other bloggers are writing about this today, but I'd like to add my two cents.
Ten years ago today was the culmination of probably the first period of time in my life when I was obsessively waiting and anticipating the release of a movie. In recent years, I have spent long, impatient months awaiting the release of Harry Potter books and movies, Lord of the Rings movies, Pirates of the Carribean movies, and to a lesser extent other event pictures, such as the Spider-Man films and the Star Wars prequels. I suppose you could say that Titanic was my first fandom, my first experience in gathering with other similarly obsessed people on internet forums and eagerly discussing the latest news, revelations, and reviews from early screenings. I frequented the message boards of Tim Doyle's now-defunct "Countdown to Titanic" site, which, if I'm not mistaken, evolved into what is now Counting Down. I read the script online at Drew's Script-O-Rama, and even followed some reviews on Doyle's site to what would eventually become my staple of movie news on the web, Ain't It Cool News.
I learned a good deal about the real history of the sinking, fell in love with the stage musical Titanic, which was also quite a smash in 1997, and agonized when the release dates kept being pushed back. What started as a simple "ooooh, that sounds interesting" in response to reading that this was the next project for Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, I was a fan, shaddup) had become a full blown obsession. I collected news articles and reviews, and by the time I sat down to watch the film, I couldn't even watch the opening credits without getting choked up. Not because it was such a goshdarn moving opening credits sequence (though it's quite effective, in my opinion), but because I was thinking about all the other people I'd met over the last several months who were sitting down to watch it at the same time I was. This was an event.
Is it perfect? Of course it isn't. The dialogue is sometimes painfully awkward and stale. But if you can get past that (and all the "JACK!" and "ROSE!" going on in the final hour), it's really quite brilliant. There are some genuinely good performances (yes there are, don't look at me like that). Say what you want about Billy Zane, and I could say plenty, but DiCaprio and Kate do some truly good work here. They're the heart of the picture and a big reason why we care so much. But what really sells the film to me are the ancillary performances - Bernard Hill, Frances Fisher, Kathy Bates, Ioan Gruffudd, Victor Garber, and Gloria Stuart deliver some of my favorite moments in the movie. Despite the lackluster dialogue, the story itself is very well crafted and does its darndest to get you ready for the last third of the movie.
And oh, what a last third it is. Perhaps the most moving parts to me are the moments that don't involve our tragic pair of lovers. There is absolutely nothing in the film that moves me more than the "Nearer, My God, To Thee" sequence. Historical purists complained about this being the American version of the hymn, rather than the version which the orchestra would have played (if indeed they did play that song, a detail which is dubious on its own). But even though that may not have been factually accurate, it was the perfect way to express what is happening on the screen. Watching the Strauss couple holding each other as the water rushes in, the mother putting her children to bed so they won't be afraid, and ship designer Andrews making a small adjustment to the clock on the mantle in the smoking room are some of the most meaningful moments in the movie to me. And having had the fictional love story presented to us, we can imagine that all of the unnamed people we are seeing go through this absolute hell have stories just as interesting and moving as Jack's and Rose's.
I saw this movie eleven times, and I don't regret one. Every time I watched it, and despite the magnificent last hour, something in my brain half-hoped that this time, the ship would veer just a little more to the left and not hit the iceberg. That's what I call compelling storytelling.