Was The Hurt Locker's victory over Avatar for Best Film the only surprise in Sunday night's ceremony?
And the Oscar goes to...
Those who tipped James Cameron's science fiction juggernaut Avatar to be the big winner at the Oscars failed to learn the film's central lesson: that it can be foolish to underestimate seemingly lesser foes. More than 10 years in the making and costing a record sum to produce, the futuristic tale was beaten to both Best Film and Best Director by the Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker, made with a fraction of the budget.
After taking more money than any film in history at the box office, Avatar was thought by many be a shoo-in for the Best Picture. But Cameron was denied a chance in the limelight by his ex-wife, The Hurt Locker filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow in not just the Best Director category, but also Best Picture. Bigelow also became the first woman ever to receive directing the honour. The Hurt Locker also trumped Avatar on the number of awards earned, with six to three. The sci-fi epic won for its production design, cinematography and visual effects. Cameron's previous film, Titanic, won 11 awards in 1998.
Aside from Avatar's defeat, the rest of the evening was remarkably short on surprises, with all of the acting awards going to performers who were expected to receive the prizes. The long-out-of-favour actress Sandra Bullock took home the Best Actress prize for her role in The Blind Side. She plays a mother who takes in an African American boy from a broken home and encourages him to pursue a career in American football. Bullock became the first person to win an Oscar and a Golden Raspberry (for Worst Actress in All About Steve) in the same year.
Those who believed that 2010 would finally be Jeff Bridges' year to win an Oscar were proved correct; he was first nominated in 1971 and has been overlooked three times since then. At Sunday's ceremony he was recognised for his portrayal of a country singer in Crazy Heart. The first award of the night was given to the Austrian Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor. His brilliantly evil turn in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds first won him an award at last year's Cannes Film Festival. The Best Supporting Actress gong went to the comedienne Mo'Nique, who was also hotly tipped to win for her performance as an abusive mother in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.
The only other big surprise of the evening came when the Argentinian film The Secret in the Eyes, about a man attempting to solve a murder committed 30 years earlier, won Best Foreign Language Film. Many had expected the honour to go to the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's pre-First World War drama The White Ribbon, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. Pixar's Up also scooped two awards, Best Animated Feature and Best Score. The eco-documentary The Cove, which lifted the lid on Japan's secret dolphin slaughter, won the Best Documentary award, beating similarly politically motivated fare such as Food Inc, Burma VJ and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
The Best Picture category contained 10 nominees for the first time since 1943, when Casablanca won the prize. Also nominated alongside The Hurt Locker this year was George Clooney's recessionary drama Up in the Air, the South African apartheid-with-aliens fable District 9 and the Coen brothers comedy A Serious Man. Each failed to win a single award despite being nominated in a number of categories.
It was a good night for home-grown American talent, with several British films and stars overlooked. The actor Colin Firth missed out on the Best Actor gong despite delivering what many consider to be the finest performance of his career in A Single Man. The newcomer Carey Mulligan and the previous winner Helen Mirren were both up for Best Actress but were overlooked in favour of Bullock. The award for Best Costume did go to a UK production, however: The Young Victoria.
Last year's reboot of Star Trek took home an award for Best Make-up, while Crazy Heart bagged a second award for Best Original Song. Best Adapted Screenplay went to The Hurt Locker, as did the award for sound and film editing.