LOS ANGELES (AP) - The diversity of the nominees was the talk of the Oscars going into Sunday's ceremony - all the first-timers, young and old, actors and filmmakers from all over the world coming together to celebrate the best in film.
But it was an esteemed Hollywood veteran who ended up being the big winner when the night was done.
After all the years and rejections, all the cinematic masterpieces that were bafflingly snubbed, it was Martin Scorsese's night.
Scorsese finally won his long-elusive Academy Award, for "The Departed," and finally directed a best-picture winner. Despite the many years he had to wait, he maintained his signature sense of humor.
"Could you double-check the envelope?" Scorsese joked after longtime friends and colleagues Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas announced he'd won.
The longtime director had been nominated five times previously, for classics including "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas." At 64, he ultimately took home the prize for a film that took him back to his roots: a gritty, bloody story of cops and mobsters outsmarting each other on the streets of Boston.
"The Departed" also earned Oscars for William Monahan's adapted screenplay (based on the Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs") and for longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker's film editing.
"This is the third film you've given an Oscar to, made by Martin Scorsese. Believe me, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him," she said, having previously won for "The Aviator" and "Raging Bull." "Working with Marty is quite something. It's tumultuous, passionate, funny and it's like being in the best film school in the world."
The best-picture race had looked wide open, with "The Departed" beating out "Babel," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen." But most of the other major categories turned out just as expected.
Forest Whitaker won best actor for his devastating portrayal of Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."
"It is possible for a kid from East Texas, raised in South Central L.A., in Carson, who believes in his dreams ... to touch them, to have them happen," said Whitaker, a gentle giant who seemed to have trouble catching his breath.
Front-runner Helen Mirren won the best actress award for her subtle portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen." Mirren had won every imaginable prize before this, and took time to thank the woman she played, a role she's said was daunting.
"For 50 years and more, Elizabeth Windsor has maintained her dignity, her sense of duty and her hairstyle. She's had her feet planted firmly on the ground, her hat on her head, her handbag on her arm and she's weathered many, many storms," Mirren said. "If it wasn't for her I most certainly would not be here."
Jennifer Hudson, who'd also been heavily favored coming into the awards, won best supporting actress for her showstopping performance as Effie White in the musical "Dreamgirls." This was her film debut: Just a few years ago, Hudson was a contestant on "American Idol."
"Look what God can do. I didn't think I was gonna win," the statuesque star said through sobs. "If my grandmother was here to see me now. She was my biggest inspiration for everything because she was a singer and she had the passion for it but she never had the chance."
But Hudson's "Dreamgirls" co-star, Eddie Murphy, was upset in the supporting-actor category. Alan Arkin was a surprise winner for "Little Miss Sunshine," in which he played a cantankerous but ultimately loving grandfather who reluctantly traipses with his family on a road trip. Murphy had grabbed nearly every other award heading into the Oscars and was considered the favorite for his unexpected dramatic turn as a tormented soul singer.
"Acting for me has always been and always will be a team sport," said Arkin, the veteran comic actor choking up a bit as he thanked his family. "I cannot work at all unless I feel a spirit of unity around me, so my main sense of gratitude goes to the entire cast and crew and production team of `Little Miss Sunshine' for creating the same sense of joy and trust and community that the film speaks about."
"Sunshine" writer Michael Arndt also was a winner for best original screenplay. He thanked the film's eclectic cast, "who collectively saved my life."
"When I was a kid my family drove 600 miles in a VW bus with a broken clutch," Arndt said in accepting the award. "It ended up being one of the funnest things we did together."
In the foreign language category, the German thriller "The Lives of Others" upset Mexico's "Pan's Labyrinth," which had come into the Oscars with six nominations and a wave of acclaim. The lavishly imaginative fairy tale did win for cinematography, art direction and makeup.
Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla won for his original score for the sprawling international drama "Babel." Santaolalla also won last year for his "Brokeback Mountain" score.
"This is the most international Oscars ever, which is a huge deal, I think," host Ellen DeGeneres said in her opening monologue. "Spain is in the house and Japan is representin'. I think I see a few Americans, as well. Of course I'm talking about the seat fillers. No one can fill a seat like an American."
"An Inconvenient Truth," about Al Gore's crusade to educate people about global warming, won for best documentary feature and for Melissa Etheridge's original song, "I Need to Wake Up." It was the clear front-runner, having received kudos from critics groups across the country.
"I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring us, inspiring me, showing that caring about the Earth is not Republican or Democrat, it's not red or blue, we are all green," Etheridge said. "This is our job now."
But in a year when so many of the winners seemed easy to predict, the Oscar broadcast was even more boring than usual. The first two awards handed out were for art direction and makeup and the ceremony ran nearly four hours. DeGeneres, who likes to boogie in her daytime talk show, tried to spice things up by doing it here, too - grabbing a tambourine and dancing around the Kodak Theatre accompanied by a gospel choir.
Later on, as Gore and best-actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio took the stage together to announce that the academy is taking steps to be more environmentally friendly, DiCaprio asked whether the former vice president had anything to announce.
"Now are you sure, are you positive, that all this hard work hasn't inspired you to make any other major, major announcement to the world tonight?" DiCaprio nudged.
Gore, playing along, pulled a piece of paper from his tux jacket pocket, unfolded it and began: "I'm going to take this opportunity, right here and now, to formally announce ... ," before being played off by the orchestra, to loud laughs.
In a rare moment that truly was funny and entertaining, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly bemoaned, in song, the Oscar tradition of snubbing comedies.
But the musical "Dreamgirls," which was up for a leading eight nominations, only won two. Besides Hudson's supporting-actress win, it was honored for sound mixing. It was even shut out in the costume category, despite its dazzling 1960s gowns and groovy `70s get-ups. The frothy, fanciful "Marie Antoinette" won instead.
Last year's highest-grossing film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," won the Oscar for best visual effects. The movie took in over $420 million at the box office but only got that one award.