Hollywood veterans Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock won their first Oscars. Bridges, a second-generation performer, won best actor for his role as Bad Blake, a boozy country music has-been, in Crazy Heart.
"Thank you, Mom and Dad, for turning me on to such a groovy profession," said the 60-year-old actor, whose first nomination was in 1971. "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)," a ballad from the film, won original song.
Bullock, the Miss Congeniality of comic actors, proved that she was equally adept at drama as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real-life adoptive mother of NFL star Michael Oher in The Blind Side.
"Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?" joked Bullock, 45, accepting her award. On Saturday she won a Golden Raspberry as worst actress for All About Steve, making her the first performer to win an Oscar and Razzie in the same weekend.
The comedian Mo'Nique won the supporting-actress Oscar for her shattering performance as the abusive mother in Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire. She thanked the Academy for showing "it can be about the performance and not the politics."
Mo'Nique, 42, also cited Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar (Gone with the Wind), "for enduring all that she had to, so that I would not have to." Precious screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher won for best adapted screenplay.
Christoph Waltz, 53, captured supporting-actor honors for his role as the nefarious Nazi in Inglourious Basterds.
Up, Pixar's soaring animation about a retiree who pursues a long-deferred adventure, took two Oscars, one for best animated feature, the other for Michael Giacchino's sprightly score.
The wins by The Hurt Locker and Precious marked another year in which indies triumphed over studio blockbusters.
Given the 10 nominees for top movie and a new voting system for best picture, there was no clear front-runner as Hollywood prepared to celebrate the movies of 2009, a robust year at the box office.
Not since 1943, when Casablanca was named best picture, had there been 10 contenders in the top race. An added wrinkle was the new "preferential voting" system for best picture, which guaranteed that the winner received not the most votes, but a majority of them.
As the nominees and presenters filed into to Kodak Theatre, across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt where the Academy Awards were first held in 1928, the dominant color of the gowns was an azure hue that might be called Na'vi blue. (After the color of the tribespeople in Avatar.) Both Zoe Saldana, who played the Na'vi Pocahontas in Avatar, and Cameron's wife, Suzy Amis, wore dresses in that shade. Likewise Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, who played the mother and the title character in Precious.
Star Trek, J.J. Abrams' reboot of the beloved franchise, was presented the award for best makeup by Ben Stiller, outfitted as a Na'vi, with blue skin and frisky tail.
Last night's show opened with the 10 lead-actor and actress nominees on stage, followed by a musical number from Neil Patrick Harris introducing the evening's emcees as "the biggest pair since Dolly Parton."
Co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (co-stars of It's Complicated) began the show with cheeky patter modeled on the naughtiness of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Tweaking George Clooney and celebrating their It's Complicated co-star Meryl Streep, Martin and Baldwin were intermittently funny but often fogey-ish. In its first hour, the show front-loaded young talent (Amanda Seyfried and Miley Cyrus) and popular categories such as animation.
The late John Hughes, subject of a posthumous tribute from his discoveries Molly Ringwald and Matthew Broderick, received the evening's first standing ovation.
Argentina's El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret of Your Eyes), a murder mystery, was the surprise winner for foreign film, edging out Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, widely considered the favorite.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/