In a history-making night for Hollywood, Summit Entertainment’s “The Hurt Locker” dismantled the competition at Sunday’s 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony, winning six Oscars including best picture and best director for Kathryn Bigelow — the first female helmer ever to receive the honor.
“There’s no other way to describe it, it’s the moment of a lifetime,” Bigelow said in her acceptance speech for director.
After dedicating her prize to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bigelow didn’t even have time to leave the stage before she was called back to accept the picture Oscar with fellow producers Mark Boal and Greg Shapiro.
In what industry watchers had often framed as a David-vs.-Goliath battle between the low-budget Iraq War actioner and Fox’s 3D sci-fi juggernaut “Avatar” — and also between ex-spouses Bigelow and “Avatar” helmer James Cameron — it was the smaller film that emerged victorious, also winning for original screenplay, film editing, sound editing and sound mixing.
The awards, handed out at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, not only capped a remarkable run for “The Hurt Locker” but also repped a vindication of sorts. After riding a nearly unflagging wave of awards-season momentum, pic weathered several last-minute controversies over the accuracy of its portrayal of military life, as well as a widely aired Academy campaign violation by producer Nicolas Chartier, who was barred from attending the festivities but was singled out for praise in Shapiro’s speech.
With just under $15 million in domestic grosses as of Sunday, “The Hurt Locker,” as the lowest-grossing film to win best picture in modern history, reps an ironic choice in the year the Academy had expanded the category from five to 10 nominees, seeking to boost ratings by accommodating more populist fare. “Locker” prevailed over not only “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film of all time, but also crowdpleasing hits including Warner Bros.’ “The Blind Side,” Sony’s “District 9,” the Weinstein Co.’s “Inglourious Basterds” and Disney/Pixar’s “Up,” as well as solid performers “Precious” (Lionsgate) and “Up in the Air” (Paramount). The only best-pic nominees that grossed less than “Locker” were specialty-division dramas “An Education” (Sony Classics) and “A Serious Man” (Focus Features).
Besides “Locker,” the only picture nominees to score more than one win were “Avatar,” with three, and “Precious” and “Up,” which took two apiece. “The Blind Side” and “Inglourious Basterds” each drew an acting nod, while “District 9,” “An Education,” “A Serious Man” and “Up in the Air” were shut out. Though it wasn’t nominated for picture, Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” came away with two awards.
Geoffrey Fletcher won adapted screenplay for “Precious,” based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, upsetting presumed favorite “Up in the Air.” Fletcher, fighting back tears onstage while “Precious” helmer Lee Daniels fought back tears in the audience, dedicated his win to “precious boys and girls everywhere.”
By contrast, no surprises were to be found in the acting categories, with the wins captured by thesps who’d already claimed prior guild and critics’ prizes. Lead actor honors went to “Crazy Heart’s” Jeff Bridges and “The Blind Side’s” Sandra Bullock, while the supporting actor prizes went to Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (“Precious”) — all of whom had previously swept the Critics’ Choice Awards (where Bullock tied with Meryl Streep), the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards.
While Bullock, Waltz and Mo’Nique were first-time nominees, Bridges won on his fifth try, having previously received a lead nomination for “Starman” and supporting noms for “The Last Picture Show,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” and “The Contender.”
“My mom and my dad, they loved showbiz so much,” said Bridges, accepting for his performance as a hard-drinking, has-been country musician. “This is honoring them as much as it is me.”
“Crazy Heart” also picked up the original-song prize for Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett’s tune “The Weary Kind.”
Taking the stage after winning for her turn as football mom Leigh Anne Tuohy in “The Blind Side,” Bullock asked the audience, “Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?” She went on to praise her fellow nominees individually, then teared up as she thanked her mother, Helga Bullock.
Mo’Nique drew a standing ovation when she accepted the supporting actress trophy for her much-feted turn as a horrifically abusive mom in “Precious.”
“I would like to think the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” Mo’Nique said, in a subtle dig at those who had critiqued her apparent reluctance to campaign. She also saluted Hattie McDaniel, who won the Oscar in the same category 70 years ago for “Gone With the Wind,” “for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to.”
Waltz nabbed the supporting actor Oscar for his turn as a supremely eloquent Nazi in “Inglourious Basterds.”
“Oscar and Penelope,” Waltz said upon receiving his trophy from last year’s supporting actress winner, Penelope Cruz. “That’s an uber-bingo.”
A clue to a potential “Locker” sweep arrived early on when Boal won for his screenplay, which was drawn from his experience as a journalist embedded with an American EOD team in Iraq. “You honor me and humble me with this,” said Boal, who, like Bigelow, dedicated his award to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the memory of his late father.
Boal became only the fourth person to win Oscars for original screenplay and picture for the same film, joining Billy Wilder (“The Apartment”), Marc Norman (“Shakespeare in Love”) and Paul Haggis (“Crash”).
Later in the evening, “Locker” defeated “Avatar” in three technical categories, winning editing and both sound awards.
“This is a little embarrassing,” said Paul N.J. Ottosson after taking the stage twice in rapid succession to accept for sound editing and, with Ray Beckett, sound mixing.
“Avatar” did come away with a clutch of craft and technical wins, including cinematography, visual effects and art direction. Rounding out the strong showing for sci-fi in the tech categories, “Star Trek” received the first Oscar ever given to the durable franchise, for makeup.
“Up” picked up prizes for Michael Giacchino’s original score and for animated feature (it was the only film in that race also nominated for best picture). Disney/Pixar now has a three-year winning streak in the animation category after its wins for “Ratatouille” and “Wall-E,” and holds the record with five overall.
One of the night’s hardest-to-call races, foreign-language film, ended in victory for Argentina’s crime thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes.” Only the second Argentinean pic to win, after 1985’s “The Official Story,” “Secret” beat out Israel’s “Ajami,” Peru’s “The Milk of Sorrow” and two heavily favored Cannes prizewinners: Germany’s “The White Ribbon” and France’s “A Prophet.”
“I would like to thank the Academy for not considering Na’vi a foreign language,” helmer Juan Jose Campanella said in a rambling speech.
The Oscar for costume design went to “The Young Victoria’s” Sandy Powell, a two-time past winner for “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Aviator.” Powell dedicated her third Oscar to costume designers on contempo-set pics, whom she said were underrecognized. “This is for you, but I’m gonna take it home tonight,” she said.
Scooping up the documentary feature prize was “The Cove,” helmer Louie Psihoyos and producer Fisher Stevens’ expose of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.
The animated-short prize was given to French toon “Logorama,” accepted by producer Nicholas Schmerkin, who, after apologizing for his accent, thanked “the 3,000 non-official sponsors that appear in the film.”
“Logorama” beat out Brit animator Nick Park’s latest “Wallace and Gromit” entry, “A Matter of Loaf and Death,” marking the first instance in four-time winner Park has lost in this category to a filmmaker besides himself.
“Music by Prudence,” directed by Roger Ross Williams and produced by Elinor Burkett, drew the nod for documentary short. “The New Tenants,” directed by Joachim Back and produced by Tivi Magnusson, won for live-action short.
In keeping with the night’s overall heavy emphasis on genre fare, the Academy included a montage of clips from classic horror films, as well as a brief look at the making of “The Dark Knight” before the announcement of the sound awards.
For the first time, the Academy handed out its Governors Awards at a separate ceremony. John Calley received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award and Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman and Gordon Willis received honorary awards on Nov. 4.
The Academy Awards were broadcast live on ABC. Event was produced by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, and hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.