As anticipated, Helen Mirren received best actress as the British monarch Elizabeth II in "The Queen," Forest Whitaker won best actor as the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," and Jennifer Hudson earned supporting actress for her film debut in the musical "Dreamgirls."
The evening, however, was filled with many surprises. Alan Arkin won supporting actor for "Little Miss Sunshine" over heavily favored Eddie Murphy for "Dreamgirls." "Little Miss Sunshine" also won original screenplay for first-time scribe Michael Arndt. And the dancing penquin fable "Happy Feet" upset Pixar/Disney's "Cars" for animated feature.
The Mexican gothic fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" finished second behind "The Departed" with three Oscars, including for cinematography, yet lost the foreign language film award to Germany's thriller "The Lives of Others." And the three nominated songs from "Dreamgirls" were passed over in favor of rock singer Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up" from the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
Here's a blow by blow recap of the action:
5:32 p.m. -- Candid, fun clips of nominees in all the categories. When asked why he didn't win for "Lawrence of Arabia," Peter O'Toole stares at the camera and simply says, "Somebody else did." Alan Arkin says "Losing builds character." Screenwriter Peter Morgan of "The Queen" quipped, "Any sexual thought about the queen is a treasonable thought." Eddie Murphy just stared at the camera.
5:35 p.m. -- The nominees stand up in the auditorium, a record 177 artists and craftsman, applauding themselves and one another.
5:36 p.m. -- Ellen DeGeneres walks on stage wearing a burgundy velvet pantsuit and white boots. A bald Jack Nicholson applauds DeGeneres. "This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl," she says. "I've always wanted to host the Academy Awards. I assume for you in the audience it was a dream come true for you as well. Let that be a lesson to you kids out there: Aim lower."
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5:39 p.m.-- DeGeneres, who sounds congested, says, "You don't know who's going to win unless you're British and then you know you have a pretty good shot."
5:41 p.m. -- DeGeneres talks with Abigail Breslin. "She's filled with joy and hope." Then to eight-time nominee Peter O'Toole: "You know what they say, 'third time's the charm.' "
5:44 p.m. -- DeGeneres with tambourine in hand leads a choir of African-American gospel singers down the aisle of the Kodak, celebrating the nominees.
5:45 p.m. -- Nicole Kidman, dressed in a red gown replete with a big bow at her shoulder, and Daniel "James Bond" Craig present the night's first Oscar for art direction to Eugenio Caballero and Pilar Revuelta for the gothic Spanish fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth."
5:49 p.m. -- Maggie Gyllenhaal recaps the scientific and technical awards, which she hosted Feb. 10 in Beverly Hills.
5:53 p.m. Will Ferrell, with extremely curly hair, sings "a comedian at the Oscars is the saddest man of all." Jack Black joins him in the musical number, lamenting that the Oscars traditionally ignore comedies. John C. Reilly stands up in the audience and jumps on stage as the trio sing about the roles they'll take to win an award, including Ferrell singing that he'll lose 40 pounds to play Ralph Nader. Then the trio announced the nominees for best makeup.
5:58 p.m. --John C. Reilly announces the winners for best makeup are David Marti and Montse Ribe for "Pan's Labyrinth."
6 p.m. -- DeGeneres gossips with a stagehand backstage that Judi Dench won't be here tonight, saying, "She's having 'knee surgery' -- on her eyes." Then she introduces Abigail Breslin and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, who introduces the nominees for animated short film. The winner is Torill Kove for "The Danish Poet."
6:03 p.m. -- Abigail Breslin and Jaden Christopher Syre Smith also present the award for best live action short to "West Bank Story," a comedy musical about Israelis and Palestinians directed by Ari Sandel.
6:06 p.m. -- A clip screened of the nominated "Letters from Iwo Jima," narrated by nominated director Clint Eastwood.
6:11 p.m. -- DeGeneres introduces the Hollywood Film Chorale Sound Effects Choir, which proceeds to make noises of tires screeching, showers, birds, wind, helicopters whirling, and airplanes taking off while clips of these are screened behind them. Steve Carell and Greg Kinear of "Little Miss Sunshine" present the award for sound editing to Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for the World War II drama "Letters from Iwo Jima." Murray's father was a Marine veteran of the famous island battle.