Judging by the crowd's reaction at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, it was a happy ending for the 79th annual Academy Awards show.
Scorsese, who won his first Oscar on his eighth nomination, took the stage to an outpouring of emotion when he picked up his directing award. "Could you check the envelope?" he cracked when he picked up the award, his first after being denied in his seven previous nominations.
"The Departed," detailing the tense and violent confrontations of a police officer trying to expose the inner workings of an Irish crime syndicate in Boston, was the night's big winner, gathering four Oscars. It also won for best adapted screenplay, by William Monahan, and for film editing, by Thelma Schoonmaker.
Like Scorsese, Forest Whitaker also earned his first Oscar, winning as best actor and then making one of the night's most dramatic acceptance speeches. Whitaker appeared winded as he cradled his statuette, telling himself to "take a breath" before he began his speech. He spoke of his childhood in East Texas and the L.A.-adjacent community of Carson, and said he wanted to become an actor because of "my desire to connect to everyone" and portray "that light that lives in each of us."
Helen Mirren's Oscar for best actress in "The Queen" had to be one of the least-surprising announcements of the evening. But Mirren made one of the more unconventional speeches of the night, personally thanking a reigning monarch - Queen Elizabeth II, whom Mirren portrayed - for her "courage and consistency" and ending her speech by saying, "Ladies and gentleman, I give you the queen!" while holding her statue aloft. It was her first Oscar on her third nomination.
Veteran actor Alan Arkin also celebrated his first Academy Award on his third nomination; he was named best supporting actor for his role as a cantankerous, drug-addicted grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine." Arkin, 72, had been nominated most recently in 1969, when he received the nod for his lead role in "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." He teared up as he read his acceptance speech off a piece of paper, saying he was "deeply moved by the open-hearted appreciation our small film has received."
Jennifer Hudson turned emotional, too, as she accepted her award as best supporting actress for her role in "Dreamgirls." "I didn't think I was going to win," she exclaimed through tears before thanking her grandmother for inspiring her.
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Going into the show, few pundits seemed to agree on which movie would be named best picture. No film stood out for an overwhelming number of nominations; although "Dreamgirls" led the list with eight nominations, it was excluded from the contests for best picture and best director. It wound up winning two Oscars, getting the nod for sound mixing in addition to Hudson's acting award.
Two of the contenders for best picture were shut out of the major awards. "Babel," which had been nominated for seven awards, won only for best original score. Director Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" won one Oscar, for sound editing, after being nominated in four categories.
While Mirren's best-actress award put an impressive centerpiece on "The Queen's" mantle, it was the only win for the film that earned six nominations. And the other best-picture contender -- "Little Miss Sunshine" - added the award for best original screenplay, by Michael Arndt, to Arkin's Oscar.
But each film in the best picture race had believers who painted scenarios under which their favorite would get the prize. Many industry-watchers expected "The Departed" to win support from voters who wanted to honor Scorsese. The 65-year-old director acknowledged those sentiments in his acceptance speech.
"So many people over the years have wished this for me," Scorsese said. "This is for you."
When the nominations were announced in January, many observers noted the international and multicultural reach of films that had been honored. Show host Ellen DeGeneres pointed out that theme in her opening monologue, noting, "If there weren't blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars or anyone named Oscar."
Indeed, international films ruled the early awards; "Pan's Labyrinth," a fantasy by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro set against the fascist reality of 1944 Spain, took the first two statuettes presented, for art direction and makeup. The next award, for animated short film, was won by a Canadian-Norwegian production, "The Danish Poet." Although the next two Oscars were given to U.S. productions, each had international themes: "West Bank Story," the winner of best live-action short film, and "Letters From Iwo Jima," which won for sound editing.
"Pan's Labyrinth" won three Oscars, also picking up the statue for cinematography, but oddly, it didn't win for best foreign language film. That award went to "The Lives of Others," from Germany.
As the ceremonies unfolded, environmentalism also turned out to be a central focus. "An Inconvenient Truth," which followed former Vice President Al Gore's crusade to raise awareness about global warming, won for best documentary feature. And the winner for best animated feature, "Happy Feet," ostensibly aimed at a children's audience, carried a serious undertone about global warming.
Security was extra heavy during the arrivals because of the presence of Gore, who not only went onstage when "Inconvenient Truth" won, but earlier made an onstage pitch with Leonardo DiCaprio for green technologies. The audience showed ample affection for Gore; DeGeneres' monologue got its biggest reaction when she contrasted best supporting actress nominee Hudson, who didn't win enough votes in her "American Idol" bid, with Gore, who got the most votes in the 2000 presidential election but also didn't win the contest.
Before the show, as the stars strode across the red carpet into the Kodak Theatre, a question that had delighted fashion-watchers for weeks - - would Meryl Streep, nominated for her role in "The Devil Wears Prada," actually wear Prada to the ceremony? Answer: She did, sporting a Prada black silk radzmire coat over a black satin skirt and an emerald green belt.
On a mostly gray afternoon, temperatures threatened to dip below 60, no doubt chilling many of the celebrities but certainly not cooling the ardor of the fans who filled the bleachers to witness Hollywood's top glamour event. "Oh, my God, we're so close - I'm going to call everybody," said Barbara Johnson of Southfield, Mich., as she and her husband, Milton, made their way to second row seats.
Going into the show, few pundits seemed to agree on who would win the best picture award. Even on a night with few clear front-runners, academy voters still managed to deliver some surprises. Arkin's victory in the best supporting actor category was one; many people had expected Eddie Murphy, a box office champion who had never been nominated previously, to win for his turn as a soul singer in "Dreamgirls."
Another upset came when voters gave the award for best original song to "I Need to Wake Up," from "An Inconvenient Truth." Not only was it the first time a song from a documentary won the award, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge's anthem edged three songs from Hollywood's biggest musical of the year, "Dreamgirls."
The academy also handed out two special awards.
Longtime studio executive Sherry Lansing was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in recognition of her charity work and public service. Lansing, former chairwoman of the Paramount Motion Picture Group, has been active in raising money for cancer research and is a member of the University of California Board of Regents.
Ennio Morricone, 78, who has composed the scores for more than 400 films, received a special award for his "magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music." Morricone, who gave his acceptance speech in Italian, is noted for his work in his native country, including "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "Cinema Paradiso." But he also worked on Hollywood productions such as "The Untouchables" and "Bugsy." He had been nominated for five Oscars in his career but had not previously taken home a statuette.