LOS ANGELES -- Last night was a great time to be Joel and Ethan Coen, as the Minnesota-born brothers performed an Oscar hat-trick, collecting gold statuettes for producing, writing and directing 2007's best picture winner, No Country for Old Men.
The film, the story of a drug deal gone horribly bad and the aftermath gone even worse, was the evening's most-honored film, winning four Oscars.
European actors made a clean sweep of the acting awards, with the United Kingdom's Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton, Marion Cotillard of France and Javier Bardem of Spain taking home the golden statuettes.
The heavily favored Day-Lewis, who was named best actor of 1989 for My Left Foot, won last night for playing a perilously ruthless oil tycoon in There Will Be Blood. Cotillard was named best actress for playing French chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, while No Country for Old Men's Bardem was named best supporting actor. And in an upset that left the winner's mouth agape, Michael Clayton's Swinton came out of nowhere to win for best supporting actress, maintaining the supporting Oscar categories' reputation for surprises.
Cotillard's win was the first acting Oscar awarded to a French-language film.
"I'm so proud of this film," Cotillard said backstage, still all but hyperventilating after her surprise win. "We had so much more than fun," she said, before regaling the backstage press with a few verses of what she said was her favorite Edith Piaf song, "Padam Padam."
Swinton, in winning for playing a corporate lawyer perhaps in over her head, bested co-favorites Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There), as well as 83-year-old Ruby Dee, whose performance in American Gangster marked her first-ever nomination.
"I'm sort of stoked, as they say," said Swinton, who appeared stunned when her name was announced. "It's completely astonishing, and I'm amazed I'm still standing."
Noting that both supporting Oscars went to European actors, Swinton crowed backstage, "Dude, Hollywood is built on Europeans. I'm just sad I couldn't give a speech in Gaelic."
Minutes later, while Swinton was being interviewed backstage, Cotillard's win was announced.
"See what I'm saying about Europe?" she said with a smile.
Bardem's win for supporting actor was far more predictable. His turn as a psychopathic murderer in No Country for Old Men has garnered just about every supporting actor award there is. Accepting the award, Bardem used the occasion to thank his mother in his native Spanish.
Pixar's Ratatouille won the Oscar for best animated feature, earning a second gold statuette for director Brad Bird. He won his first animated feature for 2004's The Incredibles.
"It's no less sweet," Bird said backstage. "If you make a movie, you're just hoping to get it out on time ... and that people like it."
Oscar host Jon Stewart mined the 100-day writers' strike for much of his opening monologue, noting the tension between writers and producers and referring to the Oscars as the "makeup sex." He also lamented one of the strike's casualties, noting that Vanity Fair canceled its post-Oscar party in deference to the writers.
If the magazine really wanted to pay tribute to the writers, he suggested, "maybe some day, invite some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. ... They won't mingle, don't worry."
The evening's first Oscar went to Alexandra Byrne's costumes for Elizabeth: The Golden Age - her first win after three previous nominations. Other Oscars were awarded to The Bourne Ultimatum (editing, sound mixing and sound editing), La Vie en Rose (makeup), The Golden Compass (visual effects), Atonement (original score) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (art direction). Diablo Cody won the original screenplay nod for Juno. "Falling Slowly," from the contemporary romantic musical Once, won best original song.
Short subject Oscars went to Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth's "Freeheld" (documentary), French director Philippe Pollet-Villard's "The Mozart of Pickpockets" (live action) and British director Suzie Templeton's "Peter and the Wolf" (animated). Dan Klores's Taxi to the Dark Side won for best documentary feature.
As the Hollywood writers' strike dragged on earlier this month, and with actors promising to honor the writers' planned picket of the ceremony, academy officials were forced into devising several contingency plans. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Sid Ganis and show producer Gil Cates consistently promised the ceremony - usually the year's second most highly watched TV program, behind only the Super Bowl - would go on as scheduled. The plan was for a broadcast that would rely heavily on film clips from previous years.
The Feb. 13 settlement allowed Hollywood to breathe a collective sigh of relief, although it did result in a frantic two weeks of last-minute preparations. "Gil Cates is juggling as best he can," Ganis said late last week.
TV audiences got a taste of what the Oscars might have been like early in last night's telecast, with a four-minute compilation of memorable moments from past ceremonies - everything from a pregnant Eva Marie Saint threatening to go into labor after winning for 1954's On the Waterfront to last year's honorary Oscar for Peter O'Toole.
Later, Stewart introduced a "tribute" to binoculars and periscopes in the movies by reminding the audience, "had the writers' strike continued, they would have had to pad the show with even more montages."
Even with the strike safely out of the way, Oscar organizers were forced to deal with the unexpected. Betraying everything that has ever been said about Southern California, the week leading to yesterday's ceremony was a meteorological mess, with rain almost every day. Weather forecasters wore glum faces as they predicted continued rain throughout the weekend, playing to fears that showers could drench the red carpet for the first time in recent memory.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of high fashion at stake, academy officials were taking no chances; giant, clear plastic tarpaulins were strung over the arrivals line. Good thing, too, because the first in a series of short showers started just as the limousines began pulling up to the red carpet. But with all those people milling around under a clear plastic tent, things got uncomfortable quickly.
Said Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, who was introducing the stars as they began their walks down the red carpet, "It's kind of like being an orchid in a hothouse here."
Select Oscar winners
The Counterfeiters, Austria
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
No Country for Old Men
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bourne Ultimatum
Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
"Falling Slowly" from Once
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
The Bourne Ultimatum
La Vie en Rose
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
"Peter & the Wolf"
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets" ("The Mozart of Pickpockets")
The Golden Compass