In an Oscar convocation with the least xenophobic results in years, the Kodak Theatre seemed more like a meeting at the U.N. than an awards show.
In fact, the 80th Oscars nearly made history with four foreign-born acting winners drinking the milk shakes off their American counterparts by sweeping all four thesping categories (Cotillard, Day-Lewis, Swinton and Bardem) with Marion Cotillard following Sophia Loren to become only the second actress ever to win for a foreign-language performance.
The only other year that Oscar dug the foreign acting contingent as much was 1964, when Brits Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Peter Ustinov and Russian Lila Kedrova all grabbed the top acting honors.
There really were no huge surprises among the major winners, even though most pundits were predicting Julie Christie to win for lead actress in "Away From Her." However, it became abundantly clear in talking to voters in the last week that "La Vie En Rose" was finally being seen in big numbers by the academy, which was translating into a surge of votes for Cotillard. The French star rode the wave of Golden Globe (for whatever that was worth this year) and L.A. Film Critics awards when Picturehouse decided she needed to come to L.A. and "work it" for a month during the key voting period.
She was everywhere. She did several Q&As which drew thunderous applause when she appeared in person at the end, a 32-year-old beauty who transformed herself (with the help of newly minted Oscar-winning makeup artists) into the essence of the great French chanteuse Edith Piaf, who died in her 40s looking like an 80-year-old woman.
Picturehouse chief Bob Berney helped engineer the same trick for Charlize Theron in 2003 when that 32-year-old stunner (less than two months older than Cotillard) deglammed and disappeared into the skin of serial killer Aileen Wournos and also won a best actress Oscar. That victory also toppled the plans of another veteran: Diane Keaton in "Something's Gotta Give," who like Christie was going for a second statuette in the category.
Come to think of it, we recall Theron telling us at her CineVegas tribute in June that if Cotillard didn't win the Oscar for "La Vie" (which she had just seen) there would be "no justice."
The season took several turns, and Christie emerged with a lot of precursor awards and front-runner status. But Cotillard's personal touch in the final weeks of the race helped turn the tide and get academy voters to watch.
The L.A. visit was key. It may only have been a few votes between them in the end.
She's had a hell of a run, winning BAFTA two weeks ago in Christie's backyard, and then grabbing the French Oscar -- the Cesar award -- Friday night in Paris.
When we caught up with her late Saturday night after she was being chatted up by Steven Spielberg, she seemed a radiant combination of joy and jet lag.
"I feel like I am just floating on a beautiful cloud right now," she told us.
Tonight "floating" turned into "soaring."
Remarkably, nine of the lead or supporting actress winners since 2000 have won for playing real- life people, a trend worth noting in future Oscar pools.
In the wide-open supporting actress race, Swinton's win for the admired best picture nominee, "Michael Clayton," seems natural since hers was probably the most widely seen performance in the category against competition from actresses whose nominations were virtually the only attention their films received.
Like Cotillard, Swinton spent a good deal of time in L.A. doing the Q&A circuit and started collecting the dividends of that effort when she won the BAFTA two weeks ago.
Both actresses made their acceptances with class, style, wit and emotion, and both seemed genuinely shocked when their names were called.