The small independent war drama "The Hurt Locker" won six Academy Awards on Sunday night, including best picture and director for Kathryn Bigelow -- marking the first time a woman has taken home such an honor.
In doing so, the film, which has grossed less than $15 million, beat out the biggest box office film ever, James Cameron's sci-fi epic, "Avatar." Adding to the drama of it all: Bigelow used to be married to Cameron.
"There's no other way to describe this, it's the moment of a lifetime," said a tremulous Bigelow, upon receiving the directing Oscar at the 82nd annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre. She dedicated the award to the men and woman in the military who risked their lives and wished that they'd all come home safely. (But who decided to play her off with the old Helen Reddy song "I Am Woman"?)
It was a night of firsts. All four of the acting Oscars also went to first-time winners.
A standing ovation greeted Sandra Bullock as she clutched her best actress Oscar, for "The Blind Side." The award was the result of Bullock's decision a few years back to reassess her career to seek more challenging roles. It was the best move she ever made.
"Did I really earn this or did I just wear you all down?" Bullock said as she accepted the award for playing a real-life Southern wife and mother who took in a homeless African American teen-age boy and changes his life forever. She said she dedicated the Oscar to "Moms who take care of all the babies no matter where they come from." She broke into tears as she honored her late mother for guiding on her way.
Jeff Bridges also thanked his late parents -- his father, actor Lloyd Bridges, and his mother, Dorothy -- as he won best actor for playing a boozy country singer in "Crazy Heart." "Thank you, Mom and Dad, for turning me on to such a groovy profession."
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The win was all but guaranteed for the actor who had been nominated for an Academy Award four times before -- once for best actor and three times for supporting actor. Bridges has nearly swept every honor that came his way this awards season.
Mo'Nique, considered the shoo-in for supporting actress as the vile, abusive mother of a pregnant teen in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," fulfilled the honor. The comic talk-show host, who opted out of doing extensive campaigning this awards season, thanked the academy and said it proves that a win "can be about the performance and not the politics." Moments earlier, Geoffrey Fletcher won for adapted screenplay for "Precious." Holding back the tears, Fletcher said: "I don't know what to say. This is for everybody who works on a dream every day." His win was a surprise: Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner were the favorites for "Up in the Air."
And as expected, Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who dominated the awards season in his category, danced away with supporting actor for playing a brutal Nazi Jew hunter in "Inglourious Basterds."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences expanded the best picture roster from five nominees to 10 this years to try to make things more interesting, but the majority of the Oscars doled out went to just a handful of the best picture nominees: "The Hurt Locker," "Avatar," "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," and "Up."
"The Hurt Locker" also won original screenplay for Mark Boal, film editing for Bob Murawski and his wife, Chris Innis, and sound editing for Paul N.J. Ottosson. Ottosson had barely left the stage when he was called back to share a second honor, for sound mixing, along with Ray Beckett.
"Avatar," meanwhile, won only three trophies, all in technical categories: Visual effects for Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones; art direction for Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg and set decoration for Kim Sinclair and cinematography for Mauro Fiore.
"Up" won animated film and original score for Michael Giacchino.
Other honors handed out:
Argentina's "The Secret in their Eyes" won foreign language film. "The Cove," about the secret slaughter of dolphins in Japan, won documentary. One activist involved in the film held up a sign urging audiences to text their support, but that is a no-no: The cameras quickly pulled away. Original song went to Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett for "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)."
Awards in the short-film categories were "Logorama" for animated, "Music by Prudence" for documentary and "The New Tenants" for live action. Costume design went to Sandy Powell for "The Young Victoria."
Ben Stiller, decked out in "Avatar" N'avi blue, complete with tail and braid, presented the makeup award to "Star Trek."
The show kicked off with Neil Patrick Harris, who got rave reviews for hosting the Tonys and the Emmys last year, performing a musical number -- "No One Wants to Do It Alone." It was a reference to the hosts of the show, the wild and crazy Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, or, as Harris called them, "the biggest pair since Dolly Parton."
And with that, the hosts came down from the heavens at the Kodak Theatre, holding hands.
The witty, salty banter that ensued included putting on 3-D glasses to spot Cameron in the audience and joking that Meryl Streep, with whom the two starred in "It's Complicated," is the most nominated performer in academy history. Or, as Martin said, the performer with the most losses. (Then they joked about having a threesome with Streep on the set.)